2. Sharm El-Sheikh Summit Barely Made It

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s readers might take it for granted that high profile summits like the ones held in succession this week at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and the Red Sea port of Aqaba would be thoroughly scripted, their outcome prepared in detail.

Not so.

A member of the US president’s party put it this way to DEBKA-Net-Weekly.

“Technically, everything was set up, but on a practical level, nothing really worked. As Bush raced from Egypt to Jordan, the problems only got bigger.”

In fact, they began even before Bush touched down in the Middle East. On his way from St. Petersburg to join the G8 in Evian, France, he received word that King Mohammed of Morocco had decided not to come to Sharm el-Sheikh.

“That was no small deal, by any means. Mohammed is chairman of the Arab League’s Jerusalem Committee. His absence would leave the internationally-approved peace plan called the Road Map without a formal Arab stamp of approval.”

The excuse the monarch offered was that he was needed at home to supervise the hunt for the Al Qaeda perpetrators of the deadly bombings in Casablanca on May 1. The spin doctors in Bush’s entourage went to work. They tried to play down a no-show that revealed Mohammed as scared to leave Morocco for fear that in his absence Al Qaeda would carry out more attacks or a military coup would be staged against the throne. The king knows his country, where the United States has deployed large numbers of military forces and intelligence units, is vulnerable to destabilization attempts. Certainly, Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network must not be permitted to pull off a victory even beyond its own expectations.

After King Mohammed opted out, the Americans began to fear that Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Abdullah, as soon as he discovered the Moroccan monarch was staying away, would also cancel, invoking the same Al Qaeda crisis excuse. That would have dealt the death blow to the Bush summit with Arab rulers.

But it soon became clear that he intended to show up, albeit with a different agenda from the one the Americans hoped to set, primarily an overall commitment to freeze funds and assistance to terrorist organizations and backing for the president’s two-state vision for solving the Palestinian-Israel conflict.

However, Abdullah had no interest in discussing anything but his own security concerns. He had plenty to tell the US president about his hunt and crackdown against the Al Qaeda terrorists behind the suicide bombings last month of residential compounds in Riyadh.

In the course of their searches, Saudi security forces turned up impressive stocks of explosives and chemical materials cached in hideouts raided in Riyadh, Jeddah, Medina and the Assir and Najran regions near the Yemeni frontier

This showed Al Qaeda to have piled up vast resources for launching large-scale chemical warfare in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East.

The attendance of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was not plain sailing either. A wave of vitriolic anti-American hate propaganda hit the Egyptian media as the date for the summit drew near.

The White House usually ignores the inflammatory content run in Egyptian opposition newspapers, diplomatically accepting the disingenuous claim by the president’s office that it has no control over those newspapers. However, prior to the Bush-Arab summit, the semi-official mainstream media raised its anti-US decibels to such a pitch that the US presidential aides in Sharm el Sheikh could no longer turn the other cheek.


Egyptian Hate Propaganda Greets Bush


The mildest opinion appeared on May 28, one week before the summit, in the state-controlled Al Ahram daily, in the form of advice to the Iraqi people to rise up and evict American forces from their land. “The Iraqi Ba’ath party’s participation in this struggle must not be ruled out,” said the writer, urging Iraqis to “fight for their independence and not wait for international aid that is unlikely to come.”

The US party heading toward Sharm el-Sheikh read this semi-official commentary as addressed to the Iraqi and Palestinian peoples alike – both urged to stand up and confront the United States. An editorial in Al Gomhouriya, a big-circulation government mouthpiece, was even blunter. On May 20, the paper warned that the death of an American soldier near Falluja west of Baghdad was a lesson for the United States that “its invasion and the destruction and murder it wrought will never bury the Iraqi resistance.

“The fires of resistance will continue to burn,” the Cairo daily thundered, “because Iraqis will never accept foreign domination, even if it is cloaked in crimson and silk. The people will never lie down for occupation despite honey-coated promises about democracy and prosperity (DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s emphasis).”

The Arabic usages of the term “crimson and silk” – items commonly sold in Middle East souks – were calculated by Mohammed Nafa, one of Egypt’s top columnists, to create suspense and draw readers into reading further. His reference to “promises” was understood popularly as as a personal aspersion against President Bush. He went on to write: “It is a proven fact that Bush and Saddam are two sides of the same coin. Both are murderers, oppressors, tyrants and dictators who have turned their backs on humanitarian laws and international norms…but the shock was even greater when it turned out that Saddam’s hell was actually Bush’s promised paradise. The man who killed dozens of people with his own gun is gone, is replaced by a man who strangles to death thousands with a silken rope. Saddam may have cut off heads but Bush has cut off livelihoods.”

The White House was livid. A strong, though secret, protest was posted to Mubarak telling him in no uncertain terms he had better put a stop to the incitement against the President of the United States. Mubarak ordered two journalists brought in for investigation. The hint of harsher measures in store persuaded Cairo’s journalistic community to tone down the rhetoric, though not by much.

Instead, the Egyptians launched a different kind of outrage. The day Bush arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday, June 2, Egyptian state television, which is received across the Middle East, broadcast a 90-minute shocker – one of the most venomous anti-Semitic programs to be screened in recent memory. Under the headline “Heroes of the Suez Canal”, a story unfolded about a number of Jewish families – the skull-capped men parodied with exaggerated beards and hooked noses – who conspired with the British forces that captured the canal in 1956 to rob ordinary Egyptians of their livelihoods and steal Egypt’s riches. The message was clearly understood by Egyptians and Palestinians as an analogy for America’s capture of Iraq in complicity with the same forces.


Unwilling and Disobliging Arab Summiteers


DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in the Gulf and Middle East report that Jordan’s King Abdullah, Egypt’s Mubarak, Bahraini leader Sheikh Khalifa, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Abdullah and the Palestinians’ Abu Mazen were all unwilling participants at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit. But none excepting King Mohammed dared turn down the US presidential invitation.

None of the five looked too happy riding the golf buggy Bush drove around the local Golf Resort to break the ice and arrange a lively group photograph. It was not surprising that the photo depicting morose Arab rulers with the American conqueror of an Arab country did not make it into any Arab newspaper. It was not something Bush’s new Arab golf buddies wanted their people to see.

Those rulers also made sure their peoples had nothing discomfiting to hear either, turning a cold shoulder to Bush’s request for gestures of goodwill to ease his path in Aqaba. In addition to a joint pledge to fight terrorism and choke the flow of money to terrorist organizations and their backers, the US president sought Arab recognition of Abu Mazen as the new Palestinian prime minister and the official Palestinian representative.

He was turned down. His Arab conferees insisted that no one but Yasser Arafat would win Arab recognition as legitimate Palestinian leader. They also dug in their heels when asked to call for the termination of the armed Palestinian uprising and refused to modify the Palestinians’ right of return and limit its applicability to a future Palestinian state – not to Israel.

As soon as the US president departed the Egyptian resort, anonymous hands circulated a joint communique – “the only one the Arab rulers are willing to support” – that contrasted starkly with the upbeat statements Bush and Mubarak delivered at the end of the American-Arab summit. The “unofficial” statement upheld the right of 1948 Palestinian refugees to return to any part of “historic Palestine”. The Arab Five thus brushed aside Bush’s main object in calling the conference, quoted by his aides in almost every behind-the-scenes conversation: “I destroyed a terrorist state in Afghanistan. I destroyed a terrorist state in Iraq, and I’m not going to help create a terrorist state on Israel’s borders.” The president was referring, of course, to a Palestinian state led by Arafat.

The only good news reaching President Bush at the Egyptian resort came from the leading Palestinian representatives, prime minister Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammed Dahlan. They informed US secretary of state Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that as of Sunday, June 1, they had begun relaying to CIA representatives in Jerusalem a flow of intelligence on Palestinian terrorist activities, including impending suicide attacks.

Heartened by this first crack in the implacable surface of 32 months of steady Palestinian violence, the President and his team flew into Aqaba, Jordan on Wednesday, June 4 for the most important event of his overseas diplomatic tour – a landmark conference with Abu Mazen and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.

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