Among the monumental must-sees of ancient Egypt, one of our more notable discoveries was a good ol' newspaper, Al-Ahram Weekly. Okay, finally seeing the pyramids and their sheer immensity was impressive; the sophistication of Pharaonic culture as shown through their temples and tombs built thousands of years ago was also not bad. But to be honest, our collective ignorance on Pharaonic history left us with little lasting to grasp ontoour experience seemed hardly different from the throngs of tourists around us.
Al-Ahram Weekly is, curiously enough, a weekly English-language newspaper based in Cairo, covering news and events in the Middle East. For the three weeks we were in Egypt, we looked forward to each Wednesday for the latest issue and spent the rest of the week consuming the two dozen or so pages of newsprint. We were impressed by the depth of analysis, consistency of quality writing, and range of Arab perspectives offered that are virtually unrepresented in our own reputable paperslike New York Timesback home.
Of growing interest to us being in this part of the world, particularly around this time, is the so-called "peace process"incidentally a main subject of focus in Al-Ahram. We had just left the U.S. when Israeli elections were getting underway. While we were in Morocco, Barak was declared the victor and sworn into office by the time we reached West Africa. As we headed to Egypta stabilizing force in Mid-East affairsbehind the general euphoria were the hopes and doubts of various governments and of the Palestinian people. The Palestinians and the Arab world at large lay waiting for Barak to make good on the promises outlined in the Wye River Memorandum, made by the administration before him and sponsored by the US.
With the sudden death of Morocco's King Hassan II, Barak and Arafat had to reschedule their meeting. The two leaders and their top negotiators eventually met, leading only to increased frustration and skepticism on the part of the Palestinians. Arafat reluctantly agreed to a second meeting whereby he intended on working out the details to Wye implementation. Barak, it would be seen, looked for another opportunity to delay implementation and raise the issue of changes to the agreement. He proposed to link the third (and final) phase of redeployment under Wye to final status negotiations, stating that handover to the Palestinians created a security issue for the 15 isolated Jewish settlements in the designated areas. Behind this, the Palestinians suspected Barak of buying time in the negotiation process and attempting to redefine terms.
I thought it would be interesting to compare coverage of the talks between Al-Ahram and US papers, since Arab perspectives are seldom represented in mainstream American media. A glance online through various headlines from CNN, Reuters, New York Times, and AP: 'Clinton and Barak Drawn Together by the Politics of Peace', 'No breakthroughs after Sunday meeting', 'Israel Says No Crisis Over Wye Peace Deal', 'Violence Among Israelis Sets Off National Wave of Soul-Searching', 'Barak and Palestinians in First Dispute Over Peace Pact ', 'Palestinians Rebuff Barak On Revising Pullout Plan'... I found only one opinion piece on Salon Magazine's website representing a Palestinian point of view: 'Will Barak stop "ethnic cleansing" of East Jerusalem?'.
Meanwhile, Al-Ahram's cover story was headlined in big bold letters "In crisis again". A scan through the articles by staff reporters and contributing writers commenting on the outcome of the Barak-Arafat talks echoed of dashed hopes. The lead story saw Barak's desire to link parts of Wye with final status negotiations as an attempt to leave the Palestinians '...with as little territorial and political assets as possible in readiness for the day when 'breakthrough to peace fails'". In the opinion section, views were expressed that if Barak wants to regain legitimacy and restore confidence in his leadership, he must discontinue all forms of settement construction in the Occupied Territories, and honor the Wye agreement his nation has signed. Al-Ahram's own short opinion piece also suggested at imminent crisis: "the honeymoon is over"..."things look bleak"..."the Palestinians are beginning to realize that they may not even get the scraps that Wye promised them". Another regular columnist critized Barak's "procrastinate and incorporate" policy as being really no different from Netanyahu before him.