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Chinese chequered

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Philip WhitfieldBy Philip Whitfield

The enemy of my enemy is my friend – Arab and Chinese proverb.

Fathom this out.

The Egyptian foreign policy moves towards rebelling against the United States and others who want to shape Egypt’s policies through their financial aids.

The words are those of Ambassador Mojtaba Amani, head of the Iranian Interests Office in Cairo in a dispatch from Xinhua’s Cairo correspondent to 57 Xuanwumenxi Street Beijing.

Thousands of people clack away in the Pencil Building housing China’s official news agency. Cairo is one of 107 foreign bureaus filing for Xinhua’s 20 newspapers, websites and 12 magazines in eight languages, including Arabic.

Xinhua reports directly to Zhongnanha the secretive compound housing the president’s imperious State Council and high-ups in the Communist Party’s Information and Propaganda section.

Say no more.

Amani granted Xinhua an exclusive interview after his boss the Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi had what he described as a tete-a-tete with President Morsy – the first proper pow wow between Egypt and Iran since Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

The inky got a scoop.

The diplomatic corps? Apoplectic.

I’ll let you into a secret. Foreign scribblers hang out with all sorts of people they normally wouldn’t be seen dead with when countries batten down the hatches.

As Xinhua’s guy proved: They leak.

One of my better sources when I was posted to Ireland was a Russian ambassador. He blabbed more about the IRA than any Irish government official would.

During the cold war you’d ignore the Brit and American diplomatic drinks in Moscow and head off to the Italian, Peruvian and Guatemalan embassies to find some blabbermouth Bolshies if you needed copy.

In Saigon, I hung out with Australians during the final days. They were so busy plundering autos by day they’d welcome a cold one on the veranda of the Hotel Continental at night.

During the Angola civil war your best bet was a Belgian diamond smuggler.

Egypt? Official statements are best taken with a pinch of salt.

Egypt’s alluring pearls are sealed in clamshells, pried open with finicky tweezing.

Let’s return to Xinhua’s exclusive.

First, note the medium chosen by the Iranians – Xinhua. The story wasn’t written for people in Egypt. It was written for the Chinese leadership to read.

Iran is notorious for sclerotic, inept communications. So a quick way to get the message out was to call in the Chinese news agency.

In his interview the Iran ambassador said: Egypt and Iran have different positions on the Syrian crisis, yet they both reject foreign interference in Syria.

He meant: We began the discussions by identifying areas we could agree on and set aside those we don’t. That’s par for the course when the parties to a diplomatic discussion are carrying baggage heavy enough to fell an elephant.

Ambassador Amani ruled out the claims that Egypt was reluctant to normalise ties with Iran.

He telling the Chinese leadership: Morsy’s only interested in cash on the barrelhead. You know we’re broke. It’s up to you if you want a piece of the action.

The rest was eyewash, except for a titbit.

The ambassador praised the efforts of Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey on Syria. He recommended involving other “neutral” states such as Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia to find a peaceful solution.

Pakistan mediating a foreign civil war? A trouserless man laughs at one with holes in his pants.

In a nutshell Iran is saying this: Trust Iran, China and Russia. The US, UK, the EU and pretty well everyone else are lubricious connivers.

Just in case Morsy missed the point, Xinhua quoted the Iranian ambassador thus: The United States interfere in the affairs of every place in the world, causing turmoil, violence and destruction, as in Afghanistan, Iraq and now in Syria.

Morsy gave as good as he got. The ambassador admitted Morsy told his foreign minister the non-completion of all “Egyptian revolutionary institutions” was the reason that Egypt was reluctant to establish full relations with Iranthe Egyptian side has some reservations, he added.

Some reservations?

Morsy’s itching for a photo-op with President Obama, which he can spin as: I stood up to the Big Kahuna.

Fat chance if Egypt’s moving towards rebelling against American aid, as Xinhua reports. Impossible, the US administration infers, unless Morsy’s anti-Semitism is repudiated.

If the Morsy-Obama huddle is perfunctorily put off it means Egypt is in the soup.

If Morsy accepts President Ahmadinejad’s invitation to chew the fat in Tehran for the second time in 12 months we’ll know something big’s up.

Mark Twain apologised to a friend for not having time to pen a short note. He’d have to make do with ramblings.

Xinhua boiled the interview down to 660 words. At three spoken words to the second the Iranian ambassador’s exclusive interview lasted all of three-and-a-bit minutes.

Fathom that.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.


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