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Middle East

Egypt's military regime tolerates xenophobia

Egypt has been flooded by a wave of xenophobia. Not only Americans, but above all Palestinians and Syrians are suffering from regime-tolerated media agitation against foreigners.

Foreigners don't have it easy right now in Egypt. Fuelled by state-tolerated media agitation, many Egyptians have begun to eye foreigners with suspicion or even treat them with outright hostility.

The United States has become a target of bi-partisan scorn. At both Islamist and secular demonstrations, one can see countless crossed-out portraits of US President Barack Obama. Many demonstrators also carry photos of the US ambassador with hateful insults written on them. Hardly a single demonstrator has anything good to say about Americans these days.

Anti-Morsi demonstrators accuse the US of having looked the other way, while the Muslim Brotherhood became increasingly authoritarian. The Islamists, on the other hand, hate the US because Washington supposedly allowed Mohammed Morsi to be ousted from power. Many Egyptians have become increasingly obsessed with conspiracy theories.

"We had democracy, but the military didn't want that," Mohammed Hassen, an Islamist, told DW. "Europe and the US put a lot of pressure on the military to overthrow Morsi, because they wanted to have their own interests in Egypt."

Syrians live in fear

But the agitation against Syrian refugees and Palestinians has taken on much more serious dimensions. Since the first violent clashes between followers of the Muslim Brotherhood and anti-Morsi demonstrators, Syrians and Palestinians have been turned into scapegoats.

The military and security agencies claim that the Muslim Brotherhood paid Syrian refugees to shoot at soldiers and anti-Morsi demonstrators. Public as well as private television broadcasters have spread this rumor, launching a veritable hate campaign against Palestinians and Syrians.

June 28, 2013 - Cairo, Egypt - A photograph of U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson is burned outside the Ministry of Defense in Cairo on Friday. Supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi have staged rival rallies across the country ahead of a Sunday protest planned by the opposition with thousands of Morsi supporters rallied outside the main mosque in Cairo's Nasr district. At least one person, said by state TV to be a US journalist, was killed in Alexandria as protesters stormed a local Muslim Brotherhood office

US Ambassador Anne Patterson has become a target of scorn in Egypt

Mostafa El-Gindi, a former parliamentarian, suggested on the private broadcaster ONTV that the streets should be sealed off near flashpoints and checkpoints erected there. That way "the non-Egyptians" could be identified. The Syrians and Palestinians caught at the checkpoints should be executed, El-Gindi said.

This kind of agitation finds fertile ground among some segments of the population. Most Egyptians are very nationalistic and worship the military. Some have come to view all Syrians as enemies of state, due to the rumors that they were paid to attack the military. For Syrians who've fled the violence in their homeland, this is a troubling development.

"It affects me, because now I can't move freely as before, especially going to the hotspots like downtown," Ahmed, a 27-year-old Syrian, told DW. "It makes me sad whenever I'm sitting in a café and listening to people talking badly about Syrians."

Visa requirements changed

During President Morsi's year in office, Syrians were allowed to enter Egypt without a visa. But the situation has changed dramatically since the military coup d'état. Due to the growing xenophobia, many Syrians leave their homes only when it's absolutely necessary. They are afraid of getting caught up in a police checkpoint and being deported back to their war-torn homeland.

The military-installed government now requires Syrians to apply for a visa before entering Egypt. For Syrians who want to flee the civil war at home, entry into Egypt has become extremely difficult.

"The Egyptian authorities at the airport two weeks ago…sent [back] two planes," said Ahmed. "One of them came from Beirut and the other from Damascus. They sent them back with all passengers."

epa03779961 Opponents of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi hold posters against US President Barack Obama during a protest as they demonstrate in front of the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, 07 July 2013. Reports state the opposing collection of liberal and youth groups in Egypt called for a mass rally in Tahrir square to support Egypt_s new government, few days after the Egyptian army ousted President Mohamed Morsi. EPA/KHALED ELFIQI

Anti-Morsi demonstrators accuse the US of turning the other cheek

The passengers on board didn't know about the new visa rules, which had been implemented overnight.

Palestinians under suspicion

Palestinians are anything but welcome in Egypt these days. Because of the bad media reporting, they are suspected of having connections with Hamas, which has its roots in the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hamas is being blamed for the much of the violence in Egypt. The detained ex-president, Mohammed Morsi, has been accused of escaping from jail with the help of Hamas during the 2011 revolution against Hosni Mubarak.

The current military-backed regime has capitalized on xenophobia in Egypt to kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, the military can represent itself as the country's savior against foreign conspirators. On the other hand, it can play down its own violent crackdown, which most recently killed 50 Islamist protesters, and push the blame onto Palestinians and Syrians. And in the process, the Islamists are further discredited. 

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