Egyptians Have a New Post-Morsi Enemy, and It's Not Who You Think


Since the toppling of Egyptian President Morsi on July 3, there has been a significant rise in anti-Syrian and anti-Palestinian xenophobia in Egypt. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed concerns about the "arbitrary" arrests and detention of Syrians. In a statement they said, “UNHCR is concerned that Egyptian military and security personnel have been arbitrarily arresting and detaining an increasing number of Syrians, including several minors and people registered with UNHCR, amid growing anti-Syrian sentiment. UNHCR has been requesting access to 85 detained Syrians and assurances that they are not returned to Syria, stressing that they should be afforded fair and due process of law in Egypt.”

They went on to say, “There have also been numerous reports of xenophobic remarks and verbal attacks against Syrians, including disturbing statements made through certain media outlets.” There is a similar pattern in the way the Egyptian authorities are treating Palestinians — many are being deported and refused entry into Egypt. A soon as the military came into power, they passed emergency decrees which forbade Palestinians from entering the country via Cairo Airport.

There has been a sustained campaign in the Egyptian media which demonizes Palestinians and Syrians, accusing them of being "Pro-Morsi conspirators," violent revolutionaries, and terrorists that seek to "destroy" Egypt. One incident on Egyptian TV really encapsulates just how far-reaching this xenophobia is. TV host Shafki Al-Moniri, who presents a show on Al-Yawm TV, apologized to her viewers for not being in the country when Morsi was toppled. She tells her viewers that she was boarding a flight from Barcelona to Cairo, when she saw a man "acting suspiciously." He seemed "nervous" and he was eventually removed from the Egypt Air flight. She told her viewers that she later learned that he was Palestinian and then she went on to praise the military and security forces for making her "feel safe." She neglected to mention that he was probably "nervous" because the Egyptian military had forbade Palestinians entry to the country and were pulling them off flights.

On other Egyptian media outlets, there have been all kinds of anti-Palestinian and anti-Syrian rumors being reported. One Egyptian TV program accused Hamas in Gaza of having a "secret plan" to invade and occupy the Egyptian Sinai. Another accused President Morsi of working with Hamas and ordering the murder of 16 Egyptian border guards in 2012. Indeed, Morsi himself has been accused of being “of Palestinian origins,” and the fear that Syrians and Palestinians are working secretly to destroy Egypt, has been consistently reported as fact by a number of TV and media stations.

Within Egyptian nationalism there is a deep-seated chauvinism, which breeds fear and hatred of other Arabs. This type of Egyptian nationalism was born out of the failure of Egyptian Pan-Arabism and the signing of the peace treaty with Israel. Under Sadat and nurtured by Mubarak, a new nationalism was born in Egypt, and this nationalism emphasised Egypt’s historic uniqueness. The signing of peace with Israel led the Egyptian state to treat Palestinians as a security threat, and the government encouraged media outlets to frame Palestinians as a potential threat to Egypt. Over 30 years of demonization have led to a climate of hostility towards Palestinians, and this hostility has now been extended to Syrians too. The situation for Syrians and Palestinians looks very grim if the media and authorities do not curtail this xenophobia.