Criticism and denial follow Salafist’s comments to The Times of Israel

Criticism and denial follow Salafist’s comments to The Times of Israel

Morsi adviser Emad Abdel-Ghafour, speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, had said Egypt has ‘no problem’ with Israel peace

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Emad Abdel-Ghafour speaks at a rally, 2011. (photo credit: screen capture/YouTube)
Emad Abdel-Ghafour speaks at a rally, 2011. (photo credit: screen capture/YouTube)

Comments made to The Times of Israel by a Salafist adviser to Egypt’s president have sparked a series of denials by him and his associates, as a Lebanese daily lambasted the Islamist hardliner on Thursday for “normalization” with Israel.

Emad Abdel-Ghafour, head of the Salafist al-Watan party and an adviser to President Mohammed Morsi on social outreach, told The Times of Israel on Sunday that he had “no problem” with the peace accords between Egypt and Israel, but demanded that the agreement be amended to allow more Egyptian soldiers to enter the Sinai Peninsula. (Abdel-Ghafour was speaking to this correspondent, who introduced himself as a Times of Israel reporter and wore a press-accreditation badge to this effect, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on the Middle East, The WEF was held last weekend, on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea.)

In comments reported by Egyptian daily Al-Youm As-Sabi’ on Monday, however, Abdel-Ghafour denied endorsing the peace agreement and claimed he never spoke to the Israeli media.

“I have not spoken to anyone but the Washington Post,” Abdel-Ghafour was quoted by the daily as saying.

A statement issued by his party al-Watan, published on Tuesday by the independent Egyptian daily Al-Shorouk, claimed that The Times of Israel report on Abdel-Ghafour was “fabricated and completely false.” His deputy, Yusri Hammad, told the Egyptian news website Sawt El-Balad that he was unaware of any such interview, adding that the opinions voiced in the article “do not represent Dr. Emad Abdel-Ghafour’s views.”

In comments to Al-Wafd, an Egyptian daily published by the liberal party of the same name, Abdel-Ghafour admitted to voicing comments on Israel, though he said he never claimed not to have a problem with the Camp David Accords.

“I never made statements to Israeli newspapers. What happened was a discussion which took place on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on Sunday. I answered a question regarding the Camp David Accords and my answer was: ‘The agreement needs urgent amendment, especially since we need to reexamine the military presence in Sinai… Our position on the Zionist entity is well known for a while.”

Abdel-Ghafour ended with advice to Al-Wafd’s readers not to believe everything reported by the Israeli media.

The Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese daily As-Safir, evidently unpersuaded by Abdel-Ghafour’s various denials, used the interview to slam its Salafist adversaries. In an article titled “Egyptian Salafists court Israel,” the newspaper claimed on Thursday that Abdel-Ghafour’s interview was part of a larger Salafist bid to woo the West at the expense of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Abdel-Ghafour’s comments exposed him to attack,” claimed the daily. “What he said, does not merely imply normalization between Salafists and Israelis, but sends the message that the Salafists — who spoke so much about Jihad against Israelis during the Mubarak era — are just like the Brotherhood; they have come to ‘guarantee’ peace for the occupying state.”

As-Safir quoted “a source close to Abdel-Ghafour” as saying that the Salafist leader made the statements despite not believing in them “given the current circumstances,” and since “it was inappropriate to speak about hostility toward regional countries” in such a respectable international setting.

Abdel-Ghafour resigned as founder and head of the Nour party — which won a quarter of the seats in the Egyptian parliament in the 2011 elections — and founded al-Watan in January 2013.

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