Since Samuel Tadros first reported for THE WEEKLY STANDARD on prospective International Woman of Courage Award winner Samira Ibrahim’s anti-Semitic, pro-9/11 tweets Wednesday afternoon, some observers have argued that the State Department, as Jeffrey Goldberg writes, “narrowly averted a moral and public relations disaster.” That’s true insofar as you agree that her public statements are odious.
However, it’s instructive to see this from another perspective as well—a perspective that has no problems with anti-Semitism, that celebrates suicide bombings against Israeli civilians as well as 9/11, and sees Hitler not as an embodiment of evil but as a bold visionary, a truth-teller. Unfortunately, this is a perspective all too common in the Arabic-speaking Middle East, and it is from this perspective that Ibrahim will be seen as a hero. In other words, the State Department has not averted anything; rather, it has created a monster and given her a stage the size of the Middle East.
Instead of going home as one of ten winners of a small prize signaling American approbation, Ibrahim will be returning to Cairo for a hero’s welcome as the Egyptian who defied the United States and its Zionist allies/puppets. That’s more than the Egyptian president can say because Mohamed Morsi is depending on American goodwill to keep his country afloat—and he’s a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Who knows what kind of accolades are in store for Ibrahim, what sort of public tributes and honors will be bestowed on her now? But the giant poster of her hanging today in Cairo’s Talaat Harb square in honor of International Women’s Day is only a taste of things to come.
Ibrahim was a minor star before, celebrated, deservedly, in Egyptian revolutionary circles for having taken on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces after it subjected female demonstrators to virginity tests. Now her fame is destined to extend far beyond the NGO set, for there is nothing in the populist politics of the country that produced Gamal abd el-Nasser that says power like standing up to the Americans. The Americans wanted to humiliate a good Egyptian girl, public opinion will say. They invited her for some stupid prize but when she spoke her mind they told her if she wanted it she’d have to shut up. What hypocrites the Americans are! They talk about their wonderful freedom of speech, but if you criticize the Zionists you’ll see what they think of their so-called constitutional rights. God bless Samira, she stood her ground against the superpower!
It is unfair that the American embassy in Cairo is taking most of the blame for the Ibrahim affair. Yes, they should’ve done a better job of vetting her before sending her name on to Washington. To get a read on Ibrahim’s political positions, all embassy staff had to do was check with some of Egypt’s genuine liberal activists, like those who since the story broke have criticized her vicious opinions, or like Samuel Tadros, or Mina Rezkalla and Amr Bargisi, or anyone from the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth.
But that hardly excuses management at Foggy Bottom, who should have smelled something fishy at the outset. Did no one question whether or not Ibrahim was really—as her biography stated before it was scrubbed from the State Department’s website—“arrested” in high school for writing a paper criticizing Arab leaders’ insincere support of the Palestinian cause? Maybe a Mubarak loyalist at the school gave her a stern talking to, maybe her parents were called in, maybe she was interrogated by a security official, but actually put in jail? For a high school paper? I am trying to imagine how State Department officials, including those in the Bureau of Near East Affairs with many years of experience in a region full of hard-security regimes, rationalized this: “Sure, at the infamous Tora prison there was one bloc set aside for hardcore Islamists—and another for militant high school essayists.” “But if the Mubarak regime’s control of Egypt was so comprehensive, why couldn’t state security or the military stop Iranian missiles from getting into Hamas’ hands via the Sinai?” “That’s because they chose instead to stop teenage schoolgirls from writing that Mubarak didn’t support Hamas.” This absurdity is not on the embassy alone but the entire State Department.
Ibrahim herself seems to have sensed the State Department’s incompetence and zeroed in on weakness. State Department officials said Ibrahim “has categorically denied” writing the offending tweets and claimed “she was hacked.” But what she said last night was at odds with State’s account. The tweets were hers, she said, she owned them, and she wasn’t going to apologize. And now, a star is born.