The battle over public opinion in Egypt this time is being steered in favor of the Egyptian state in the way that the Hezbollah in Egypt crisis has been depicted.
The signs of this victory can be seen in the Muslim Brotherhood’s reconsideration of its position in the ongoing battle between the Egyptian state and Hezbollah. Initially, the MB’s General Guide and some of his men said that they understood Egypt’s accusations against Hezbollah but that they would support Hezbollah in consideration of the sanctity of resistance and the Israeli enemy. The Muslim Brotherhood believed that the Egyptian authorities had betrayed the Palestinian resistance or, at best, had not offered it enough help.
Yet after the Secretary General’s televised speech in which he responded to Egypt’s accusations, and after he proudly acknowledged that the cell leader was a member of Hezbollah and that he had been assigned by the party to create a support group for the Palestinian resistance that would offer it arms and military supplies, the least that Nasrallah owned up to, there was a complete turnaround.
Many Egyptian intellects were angered by Hassan Nasrallah’s audacity to undermine the Egyptian state and the way that he dealt with Egyptian territories as if they were a natural extension of Hezbollah’s area of operation, whether this operation is of a military, logistic or intelligence nature. Even staunch Egyptian supporters of the Iranian Islamic state, Khomeinism and fundamentalist revolutionary parties, who are also defenders of the Egyptian opposition press, had no choice but to criticize Hezbollah for violating the sovereignty of the Egyptian state. The explanation for this that I have heard from several Egyptian intellectuals is that unlike the popular support Hezbollah enjoyed during the war on Gaza, the mood of the Egyptian masses has changed. The average Egyptian has been shocked by the audacity of Nasrallah in undermining the principle of sovereignty in Egypt. The writers close to Iran can only go along with the general atmosphere like any populist movement and if it becomes hostile, they would have to face the difficult situation of going along with that too.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which is the biggest support base for Hezbollah in Egypt, failed the divine party in this crucial battle with the Egyptian state and the Egyptian masses. It failed the Khomeinist party at a time when it most needed the oppositionist Brotherhood propaganda and anti-government campaigns of some revolutionary writers and media figures in Egypt. This time however, a counterattack was not possible. These revolutionaries had to make do with blaming Hezbollah for committing such a mistake and reproaching the Egyptian state for taking the accusations too far. The best among them would say, ‘Let us wait for the investigations, the final bill of indictment and then pass judgment and take a stand.’ This is the direct opposite of the media and political positions that were adopted by these Egyptian currents during the Gaza war. Back then, Nasrallah’s speech was one of war, instigation, revolution and rebellion in Egypt. Yet, the Muslim Brotherhood and Iranian-inclined writers were quick to offer Hezbollah their full support against the Egyptian state under the recurring pretext of the sanctity of resistance. It is the same pretext that Nasrallah used to justify planting the Shehab cell in Egypt. This time however, his allies in Egypt have not shown similar support. Has the resistance lost its sanctity this time?
The divine party had no one to resort to but its allies in Lebanon. So the problem-solver, the master of verbal rhetoric and the clean-shaven face of Hezbollah, Nabih Berri, stepped forth. He thought and thought and thought and in the end he said, “We want to eliminate ‘trouble-making.’” Let us take a closer look at the smart and creative expression used by the veteran politician. What he meant here is that such a dispute had been fabricated but he doesn’t tell us who by. Who put it together as a commodity for the public and the media? Egypt of course. It was Egypt that uncovered the cell, cast accusations and is now abandoning the divine party politically and with regards to the media. As for Hezbollah, it has been the victim of this fabrication.
Nabih Berri presented an even more creative theory; he said that what was happening between Egypt and Hezbollah was merely a case of difference in opinion. Al Alam website affiliated to the Iranian television channel of the same name quoted Berri as saying, “The resistance in Lebanon is devoted to the security and interests of the Arab nation and Egypt.” He called for closing the case and for dialogue to prevent such trouble-making. He also added: “The arrest of a Hezbollah cell in the Sinai Peninsula is a result of difference in points of views. One party views Gaza as a threat to the Egyptian regime, while the other party views Gaza as a base for resistance.” Therefore it is all about two different viewpoints and Egypt’s exaggeration was uncalled for.
Berri even went as far as giving his personal guarantee that Hezbollah would not violate Egyptian national security but he failed to tell us what he understands from the term ‘national security.’ Does he consider the smuggling of arms by a secret cell and the formation of intelligence and monitoring groups behind the government’s back a violation of national security?
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry, through Ahmed Aboul Gheit, closed the door in the face of Nabih Berri’s maneuvers as it stated: “The case of the group affiliated to Hezbollah is not subject to any political considerations or mediation attempts.”
Jamil al Sayyid, the imprisoned Major General detained over the murder of Rafik al Hariri wrote an article from his prison cell that was published in Assafir newspaper in which he shared his vision of the Hezbollah in Egypt case, which does not differ from that of Nabih Berri. It aims to console both parties; the Egyptian state and the divine party, as each have a logical point of view. The imprisoned Major General said that Egypt “has a right to be angry at its territories being used as a passage for providing military supplies to the Palestinian resistance in Gaza without permission. But on the other hand, we must acknowledge that Hezbollah also has a right to be angry for being defamed in such a manner. The leadership of this party sees that it only violated Egypt’s sovereignty for a much nobler cause; to lend a helping hand to the Palestinian resistance.”
What do we make of all this? It is merely requesting that Egypt gives it a rest and a warning to Hezbollah not to commit the same mistake again. What is really quite sad about all this is the absence of the Lebanese state from the entire issue, with the exception of a few very weak statements such as the statement that said that the Lebanese President Michel Suleiman ‘is interested in dealing with the issue.’
It is apparent in this crisis that all the efforts in support of Hezbollah have been focused in natural and local circles, namely Lebanon. The biggest support came from the Amal movement and the overtly bias Major General Jamil al Sayyid. Outside of Lebanon, Muqtada al Sadr was prompt in offering his fiery verbal support for Hezbollah. If Nasrallah’s men analyzed the situation well, they would have realized that the party was falling into the instinctive sectarian dungeon.
This brings us on to a critical point about some media agencies in Egypt and some official accusations leveled against Hezbollah. It was incorrect to accuse Hezbollah of attempting to spread the Shia doctrine in Egypt; this has negative sectarian undertones and will not help the situation. The harm lies in the targeting of an entire religious sect in the Islamic world rather than confining the battle to the currents supporting Iran and its nationalist, fundamentalist dreams. We ought to spare our region from adding fuel to the sectarian fire.
Moderate Lebanese Shia Minister Ibrahim Shams al-Din, who is anti-Hezbollah, was right to express his full support of Egyptian sovereignty and of Egypt’s right to uphold national security. However, he voiced his concern over the accusations of the attempts to turn Egypt into a Shia state because it is an accusation that is offensive to all Shia, and Hezbollah does not represent them all. Moreover, this accusation will not help in the war against Iran and its allies.
This remark had to be made so as to put the confrontation in its right context and to avoid jumping out of the Hezbollah frying pan and into the fire of counter-sectarian fanaticism.
As for Egyptian sovereignty, it will not be harmed as long as Egyptian political performance remains highly resolute and alert. Neither Hezbollah nor Nabih Berri will be able to harm the sovereignty of Egypt.