Cairo, Jan. 15: Nearly three years ago, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood delivered a speech urging Egyptians to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists.
In a television interview around that time, the same leader described Zionists as “these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs”.
That leader, Mohamed Mursi, is now President of Egypt — and his comments may be coming back to haunt him.
Since beginning his campaign for President, Mursi has promised to uphold Egypt’s treaty with Israel and to seek peace in the region. In recent months, he has begun to forge a personal bond with President Obama around their successful efforts to broker a truce between Israel and Palestinian militants of the Gaza Strip.
But the exposure this month of his virulent comments from early 2010, both documented on video, have revealed sharp anti-Semitic and anti-western sentiments, raising questions about Mursi’s efforts to present himself as a force for moderation and stability.
Instead, the disclosures have strengthened the position of those who say Israel’s Arab neighbours are unwilling to commit to peace with the Jewish state.
“When the leader of a country has a history of statements demonising Jews, and he does not do anything to correct it, it makes sense that many people in Israel would conclude that he cannot be trusted as a partner for peace,” said Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Representatives of Mursi have declined repeated requests over more than three days for comment on his remarks. One reason may be that the re-emergence of his previous statements has now trapped him in a political bind.
While his past comments may be a liability abroad, he faces a political culture at home in which such defamation of Jews is almost standard stump discourse. Any attempt to retract, or even clarify, his slurs would expose him to political attacks by opponents who already accuse him of softness toward the US and Israel.
Signs asserting Mursi works for Obama are already common at street protests. Perhaps “the Muslim Brotherhood is so desperate for US support that it is willing to bend over backwards to humour the Israelis”, Emad Gad, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, suggested in a recent column.
Outlining Mursi’s dilemma, the Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef used the President’s anti-Semitic remarks to set up a contrast with his more recent collaborations with Washington and Israel, including the brokering of a ceasefire with Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Youssef, whose television programme broadcast the video clip about hatred on Friday night, juxtaposed Mursi’s 2010 statements denouncing “Zionists” and their western supporters, including Obama, with the Egyptian President’s more recent declaration that he hoped Egypt and the US could be “real friends”.
“Of course being in an international role has its rules and restrictions,” Youssef said on the programme, advising Mursi and his Islamist allies to retract their inflammatory talk: “Admit everything you said in the past was a joke, or stop bluffing.”
As the chief of the Brotherhood’s political arm before becoming President, Mursi was one of the group’s most outspoken critics of Zionists and Israel. He sometimes referred to Zionists as “Draculas” or “vampires”, using demonising language historically associated with anti-Semitism.
Although he explicitly denigrates Jews in the recently exposed videos, Mursi and other political and Brotherhood leaders typically restrict their inflammatory comments to the more ambiguous category of “Zionists”.