Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s warm letter to President Shimon Peres, delivered Wednesday by Cairo’s new envoy here, is evoking angry reactions in Egypt, with one Muslim Brotherhood official dubbing the letter, published exclusively by The Times of Israel, a “Zionist fabrication.”
The letter, dated July 19, was handed to Peres at an official ceremony in the presidential residence by Egypt’s incoming ambassador to Israel, Atef Salem, on Wednesday. Israeli officials said the letter’s July date was presumably when it was drafted by Egyptian foreign ministry officials. Salem was appointed on September 2 but presented his credentials to Peres at Wednesday’s ceremony, formally beginning his term, along with the new ambassador from Jordan and several other new envoys.
“Great and good friend,” Morsi wrote in the letter to his Israeli counterpart, “being desirous of maintaining and strengthening the cordial relations which so happily exist between our two countries, I have selected Mr. Atef Mohamed Salem Sayed El Ahl to be our ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary.” Morsi closed his letter, which largely followed standard diplomatic language for the exchange of ambassadors, by expressing “highest esteem and consideration.”
But although the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm displayed a photo of the letter published by The Times of Israel, asserting its authenticity, Muslim Brotherhood leader Gamal Muhammad Heshmat told establishment daily Al-Ahram late Wednesday that the letter was “fabricated,” noting that “Zionist media have leaked baseless statements by Morsi in the past.”
Heshmat wondered why Morsi’s official spokesman had not publicly acknowledged the letter’s authenticity, asserting that if the letter were real the spokesman would not hesitate to do so.
Israel was only interested in tarnishing the image of Morsi before his people, Heshmat concluded.
During the ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem Wednesday, Ambassador Salem wrote an entry in Peres’s official guestbook, reading: “I have been honored today to meet his Excellency the President of the State of Israel Mr. Shimon Peres. With all our best regards to him, Atef Salem.”
Video of the Egyptian anthem being played at the President’s Residence
Video of Egypt’s incoming ambassador to Israel Atef Salem handing his letter of credence to President Peres
Regular Egyptians were also incredulous regarding the reports of friendly words between Morsi and Peres. Times of Israel correspondent Raphael Ahren, who originally reported the story, was flooded with tweets questioning the authenticity of the letter.
A number of Egyptians expressed dismay at the prospect of Morsi warming up to Peres.
Some, though, saw the letter as reassuring proof that Morsi was “a real politician.”
The current controversy marks the second Morsi-Peres letter row. In July, Peres’s office reported that it had received a friendly letter from Morsi in which the Egyptian leader expressed hopes for regional stability and “deep thanks” for Peres’s Ramadan good wishes. In that note, Morsi also said his country was committed to regional security and stability, including for the Israeli people. After The Times of Israel and other Israeli media reported on the missive, and published the letter, a spokesman for Morsi denied any correspondence had been sent to Peres.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.