On June 3, a prominent Egyptian politician spoke openly – on live television – about turning a regional conflict with Ethiopia over water from the Nile River into a war with the United States and Israel.
You’d think that this would be important news worthy of coverage in the United States, maybe even a front-page story. It raises a number of important questions about the nature of the regime currently governing Egypt, which receives a substantial amount of military aid from the United States.
But instead of giving the story the attention it deserves, media outlets in the United States have ignored the story. The one media outlet that did acknowledge the story, the New York Times publishes a blog entry a few days later, but this entry ignores the most truculent statement made by the cabinet member.
Video of the meeting is available on Youtube courtesy of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). President Morsi called the meeting to sound out leaders about how to respond to Ethiopian plans to build a dam on the Nile River. The dam could result in less water for the Egyptian economy, which relies on the Nile for its water.
When the meeting began, the attendees did not know the proceedings were being broadcast live on Egyptian television. During this part of the meeting, attendees spoke about the prospects of using the Egyptian intelligence service to destabilize the Ethiopian government in an effort to stop the dam’s construction. This by itself is news, because it indicates that conflict over water from the Nile River could provoke a war with Ethiopia.
Things got interesting when Magdi Hussein, Chairman of Egypt’s Islamic Labor Party stated that the conflict over the Nile was not just with Israel but with the United States and Israel. According to the MEMRI translation, Hussein said he was “very fond of battles.” He continued:
With the enemies of course—with America and Israel, but this battle must be waged with judiciousness and calm.
He then called for attendees to swear themselves to secrecy as they prepare for a confrontation. “We need a popular plan for popular national security.”
As he spoke, someone handed Hussein a note, prompting him to say: “Okay … fine… The principles behind what I’m saying are not really secret… Our war is with America and Israel, not with Ethiopia. Therefore engaging in a war… This is my opinion….”
Egyptian President Morsi interrupted the discussion and stated, “This meeting is being aired live on TV.” His announcement evoked a round of embarrassed laughter.
Did Hussein shut up after being told he was on live television?
He doubled down with his rhetoric stating, that shutting off the water from the Nile would “turn the Egyptians into the world’s most extremist people.” (As if they aren’t already.)
He continued: “Imagine what this people would do if its water were turned off—what 80 million of us would do to Israel and America if our water was turned off.”
What Hussein has just done is threaten to turn a local conflict over water from the Nile River into a regional and global conflict with Israel and the United States.
Later in MEMRI’s video, Morsi is seen offering a corrective, stating that Egypt has a lot of respect for the Ethiopian people. “We are not about to start aggression against anyone whatsoever or affront anyone whatsoever.”
The upshot is this: Without knowing that the camera was rolling, prominent Egyptian politicians spoke openly about undermining the Ethiopian government in response to the construction of a damn.
Then one of the speakers brought America and Israel into the discussion and made it clear that he has hostile intentions toward these countries as well. He declared them enemies.
To make it all even more alarming, this same politician then upped the ante when he realized his message was being broadcast on live television, using the presence of the cameras and microphones as an opportunity to incite hostility toward the United States and Israel.
And to top it off, the story hardly gets any coverage in American media. It hardly shows up on a search on Nexis. The story did however, get covered in the Egyptian media.
To its credit, The New York Times did cover the story with a blog entry, but even this entry omits the quote: “Imagine what this people would do if its water were turned off—what 80 million of us would do to Israel and America if our water was turned off.”
By way of comparison, when Presidential candidate George Bush and his running mate Dick Cheney made a derogatory remark about New York Times reporter Adam Clymer, in a ‘hot mic’ incident of their own during the 2000 campaign, it got a huge amount of coverage. (In the week after the faux pas, it was mentioned in almost 300 news stories.)
This episode reveals the un-professionalism of both the Egyptian leaders and that of American news outlets.
Note June 13, 2013: The title and text of this article have been corrected to show that Hussein is not a member of the cabinet.