Thursday’s papers: Fantastical tales of an Israeli spy

Employing a bizarre mixture of reality and myth, Thursday’s papers continue heavy coverage of Ilan Grapel, the alleged Israeli spy who was arrested last Sunday and remanded into custody for 15 days pending investigations.

Thursday’s coverage reveals a few of the major shortcomings of Egypt’s papers, in which reporters sometimes seem to stretch the truth, adopt conspiracy theories and spread rumors rather than stick to facts.

Egypt’s flagship newspaper, Al-Ahram, alleges in a front-page headline that “the Mossad officer” wrote he was Muslim in a visa application to Egypt that he filed in Tel Aviv.

The paper also said that Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Araby refused to meet with the Israeli consul to discuss Grapel’s case, instead ordering the head of the ministry’s Israel Department to meet the diplomat.

The paper alleged that all of the photos showing the 27-year-old in various locations in Cairo during the revolution were taken by Egyptian intelligence officers and not lifted from his Facebook account.

Al-Ahram reporter Ahmed Moussa, a journalist well-connected to security officials, alleges that the investigations prove that Grapel frequented Cairo internet cafes to send email reports to the Mossad. The reporter concluded that the alleged spy used the internet cafes to avoid sending emails from his hotel.

The paper also said that Grapel admitted he collected information by spending time among Egyptians during the revolution.

Al-Ahram, which publishes the text of the investigation report on an inside page, ends up showing the reader that most of its front page is, in fact, fiction.

On page 4, the paper lists the questions the prosecutor put to the suspect and his answers.

When asked about his work, Grapel responded that he is a reporter. When asked why he visited Egypt, the alleged spy answered, “I’m a sympathizer with the Egyptian people. This is a revolution that never happened in any place in the world. My presence in Cairo is normal because I’m a journalist like any other foreign journalist.”

Moreover, when asked about sending reports to the Mossad, Grapel answered, “I’m not a spy.”

Another state-run paper, Al-Gomhurriya, however, didn’t publish any new information about the investigations. The paper did report that it visited the hotel where Grapel stayed and a bar he patroned. The result of the investigative reporting is a front-page story whose headline reads “Ilan stayed with his girlfriend.”

Hotel employees told the paper that Grapel and his girlfriend didn’t talk with other residents. Moreover, the employees said they observed that Grapel was always whispering to his girlfriend, and they never raised their voices.

The paper quoted the workers as saying that Grapel and his girlfriend told them that after Egypt “they’ll return to the Greek city of Cyprus.” A little fact checking on the paper’s part would have revealed that the Republic of Cyprus is an independent island nation.

Al-Gomhurriya also reported in another smaller story that staff at a famous downtown bar named Horreya said Grapel left generous tips and didn’t cause any problems.

Despite the fact that the bar is often overflowing with patrons, a waiter managed to give, according to the paper, a detailed account of Grapel’s visits.

In a seeming contradiction, the paper wrote that the waiter "hardly remembered'"Grapel, but then quoted him as saying: “He was drinking quietly. Sometimes he was chatting with other foreigners in the bar. Sometimes he was accompanied by two of his foreign friends. There was also a foreign woman who accompanied him twice or three times. He was tipping generously.”

The privately owned Al-Shorouk runs the headline: “The revolution’s youth are witnesses to Grapel’s spying.”

The paper reports that a “sovereign state body” will ask young protesters to share information about the alleged spy. The prosecutor asked them to bring pamphlets that Grapel allegedly distributed during popular protests.  

The liberal Al-Wafd paper allocates six pages to a special section prior espionage attempts against Egypt.

The first feature in the section is about French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy, whom the paper describes as the “next Israeli spy.”

It argues that “Grapel wasn’t the only one in Tahrir Square. There were scores like him. Here we reveal one of them who is more ambiguous than Grapel… This person is the political Israeli thinker Henri Lévy, who is among the candidates for Israel’s next president.”

The paper continues its fictional report by saying that “experts in security and Israel affairs expect that the man [Lévy] played a leading role in coordinating espionage activities, which were revealed after the outbreak of the January revolution, or at least in supporting acts of thuggery and sectarian violence in Egypt.”

Egypt's papers:

Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt

Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size

Al-Gomhurriya: Daily, state-run

Rose al-Youssef: Daily, state-run

Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned

Al-Shorouk: Daily, privately owned

Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party

Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Arab Nasserist party

Youm7: Weekly, privately owned

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