Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Egyptian newspaper covers "spy" story differently in Arabic and English

From Al Masry al Youm, English:

The announcement of the arrest of an Israeli man, Ilan Grapel, on charges of spying in Egypt has been met with skepticism in some quarters, especially as accounts emerge of a man who, if he were a spy, could only be described as "bumbling".

According to a Reuters report, Grapel was posting openly on his Facebook page about his presence and activities in Egypt – hardly the remit of a super spy.

Meanwhile, the evidence presented by Egypt's own spooks seems less than convincing. Again according to Reuters, photographs of Gapel offered by the prosecution as incriminating evidence were in fact taken from the Facebook page of a pro-Israeli group.

And for some analysts, the notion of sending such a spy – bumbling or otherwise – to Egypt right now makes no sense anyway.

Mohamed al-Gawady, a historian from the Arab Social Science Council, said that there seemed to be no tangible benefit to Israel from Grapel’s presence in Egypt, especially in the post-uprising era, when an exposé like this could severely harm the relationship between the two countries.

Activist and blogger Hossam al-Hamalawy also cast doubt on the story, writing on his blog that protesters in Egypt have been accused of being directed by Israel since the student riots of 1968.

“Seriously, what a soap opera,” he wrote.
However, in Arabic, the same newspaper is pushing the ridiculous spy narrative for all it is worth. In a long article it claims:

* Grapel entered Egypt on January 28, the "Day of Anger"
* The Mossad asked him to investigate the Muslim Brotherhood, Coptic Christians, the army and the protesters
* He held Egyptian flags during protests to gain the confidence of the Egyptians
* He pretended to be a freelance journalist, or a freelance photographer, or a reporter for a wire service.
* He asked questions about the presidential candidates.
* He spoke with journalists and intellectuals in cafes.
* He visited mosques and churches.
* He met with Salafis the day before the slaughter at a Coptic church and they told him that what they planned to do. So he came back the next day to video the riot.
* He tried to drive a wedge between the youth and the army.
* He had emails on his laptop to the Mossad.

Most of these are absurd - or normal. Why wouldn't a visiting aspiring Arabist meet with intellectuals in Cairo cafes, or visit mosques, or speak to Copts and Salafis?

Anyway, it is instructive that the English edition of Al Masry al Youm pretends to be sophisticated and skeptical while the Arabic edition is conspiracy-minded and accusatory.