President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is ruthlessly, if somewhat desperately, exploiting the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the American cruise missile attack on Khartoum and Afghanistan to secure international action against ‘terrorism.’ Taking credit for being the first to spot the threat posed by international terrorism, a euphemism for the global Islamic movement, he is persistently calling for a world summit to put in place a permanent programme, under the United Nations to combat this evil phenomenon.
The Egyptian proposal envisages a ‘concerted and orderly’ action against ‘terrorism’ taken on the basis of the resolutions of the UN security council. This was designed to give the impression that Egypt was opposed to unilateral responses such as the cruise missile attacks, to ‘terrorism.’ But in his desperation not to offend Washington, Mubarak accused the Sudanese government of hosting terrorist groups and declared that relations between his country and the US were as strong as ever, while foreign minister Amr Musa pointedly refused to condemn the missile strikes.
Some governments, like those of Britain, Germany and France have supported the missile assaults on Sudan and Afghanistan, but none has accused Khartoum of hosting terrorists as strongly as Mubarak has. To his abiding shame, a number of western politicians and commentators have condemned the American action as terrorist and have justified Muslim anger against the west, without condoning the attacks on the Nairobi and Dar es Salam US embassies.
Mubarak’s astonishing criticism of Khartoum came on August 24 in a speech to Egyptian university students gathered at the University of Alexanderia. He said he had advised the Sudanese regime repeatedly not to adopt the ‘terrorist elements’ found in its country. Some of them had tried to infiltrate into Egypt but had been caught, while others had committed the Addis Ababa incident ( a reference to the 1995 attempt on his life), he said.
He had also alerted the regime to the presence of Egyptain and African terrorists receiving training in bogus farms, he claimed - adding that it seemed that the National Islamic Front headed by Hasan al-Turabi was ‘a government inside the Sudanese government.’ This allegation that it is Turabi, rather than president Omar al-Bashir, who is in charge is a disgraceful repetition of western propaganda, which portrays Dr Turabi as one of the exponents of ‘Islamic terrorism.’
Mubarak then pointedly warned the Khartoum government of the deadly consequences of harbouring terrorists. He saw fit to explain to the students he was addressing that groups which practised terrorism under the banner of Islam had no links with Islam and that Islam, like other religions, had nothing to do with terrorism - making it plain that whenever he refers to terrorism he is referring to Islamic groups.
The Egyptain media and religious and cultural establishments, have of course supported Mubarak’s position. Shaikh al-Azhar Muhammad Tantawi could not even wait to reach his office returning from a trip to Malaysia to rubber stamp his boss’s platitudes on Islam and terrorism. He said at the airport on August 22 that he condemned all violence against the innocent and supported Mubarak’s call for an international conference to fight terrorism, which is rejected by all religions.
In his anxiety to ingratiate himself with Mubarak and the Americans, an official of the cultural establishment has invented a new theory about ‘Islamic trends: the moderate and the extreme.’ The secretary-general of Egypt’s supreme council of culture, Gaber Asfour says that in Islam there have always been two trends: the tolerant ‘trend of the mind’ associated with the river cultures of Egypt, Syria and Iraq, and the intolerant ‘trend of transmission’ associated with the harsh desert. According to him, ‘trend of transmissions’ means literal belief in the text of the Qur’an as God’s infallibly transmitted Word.
Asfour atttributes today’s clashes in Muslim countries to this cultural divide, arguing that the desert trend is responsible for producing extremists like Shaikh Osamah Bin Laden. The desert culture is opposed to the culture of the rivers and does not respect diversity of ideas and opinions, insisting only on one version of religion, he asserts.
While the Egyptian leader and his minions have been ingratiating themselves with Uncle Sam, demeaning their faith and fellow Muslims, some western politicians and commentators have opposed the US missile attack, branding it a terrorist act. Not only are they not Muslims but they are actually agonistics.
Wagner Daum, the German ambassador in Khartoum, faxed a message to his foreign ministry in Bonn immediately after the US missile strike on the Al-Shifa Pharmaceutical factory on August 20. He pointedly rejected American claims that it was a ‘chemical factory.’ Daum’s message to his foreign ministry was published by the German magazine, Der Spiegal on August 31.
Tony Benn, a British Labour member of parliament and former cabinet minister, attacked his leader’s endorsement of the US missile strikes and called for an understanding of the Muslim world’s grievances against the west. Writing in the London Guardian newspaper on August 24 he said: ‘Muslim anger against America must be understood: It is a response to the conduct of the US over the Middle East, when regular vetoes - 33 in all - have been used to protect Israel at the security council, and when Washington has insisted on the maintenance of the cruel sanctions against the people of Iraq, 500,000 of whom have died, when the victims have no power to overthrow the Iraqi government.’
The following day, the journalist John Pilger, writing in the Independent daily, argued that the ‘World’s worst terrorists are based in Washington and that it is Muslims who have been the greatest sufferers from State terrorism.’ Pilger also attacked the British prime minister and defence minister for supporting Clinton’s terrorist action.
In his uncompromising condemnation of the US missile strikes against Sudan and Afghanistan, he wrote: ‘By knowingly killing innocent people, for political ends, president Clinton is a terrorist. By supporting his action, the prime minister and defence secretary are accomplices. The dictionary meaning of terrorism allows no other interpretation, the rest is wilful obfuscation.’
Obviously Mubarak and his officials use different dictionaries, accusing the victims of terrorism, as they do, of being terrorists. And in their lexicons, supporters of terrorists, like Benn and Pilger, are themselves terrorists. Both men are well advised to stay out of Egypt. Associates of Osamah Bin Laden can come to grief in the land of the ‘tolerant trend.’
Muslimedia: September 16-30, 1998