U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his entourage were forced to undergo a metal detector security screening as they arrived for a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo Tuesday, a message Middle East watchers say is rife with significance, but which the State Department brushed aside.
Reuters reported that an Egyptian official briefly raised a handheld metal-detecting wand to Kerry’s jacket and then waved him into the meeting with el-Sissi at the presidential palace.
It is highly uncommon for a senior diplomat to be examined in such a way.
“This was a not-so-subtle message delivered by the el-Sissi regime that the ties between the United States and Egypt have cooled considerably,” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told TheBlaze on Wednesday.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki brushed off any concerns about the security screening, tweeting that Kerry was focused on the objective of his mission – securing a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
.@JohnKerry and team are focused on working with Egyptians on a ceasefire, not on whether we went through security this afternoon.
— Jen Psaki (@statedeptspox) July 22, 2014
The Jewish-American news site the Algemeiner termed the incident “symbolic,” describing it in part as “humiliation in Egypt.”
The International Business Times observed that foreign governments “normally trust U.S. officials enough not to check them with such stringent security measures” and that when the courtesy is not extended, it could be “viewed a sign of distrust.”
Iran’s Press TV also noted: “Many foreign officials grab every chance they get to extend courtesy to Washington’s top diplomats but it wasn’t the case this time.”
Politico chalked it up to “a sign of the heightened security concerns.” Egypt has experienced years of bloodshed, political upheaval and terrorist attacks beginning with the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, the takeover of the Muslim Brotherhood, a coup against the Brotherhood and the election of el-Sissi.
U.S.-Egyptian relations have been strained, following a perception in Egypt that the Obama administration offered excessive support to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership under former President Mohammed Morsi and was too slow to recognize Morsi’s ouster.
Now, Cairo is upset with the Obama administration’s call for an immediate Israeli-Hamas ceasefire, which is more in line with a proposal tabled by its arch-rival Qatar, which funds Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt has offered its own cease-fire plan, which Israel agreed to last week.
According to Reuters, the footage also showed Kerry’s senior aides walking through a metal detector and being checked with a wand. Those State Department officials included deputy chief of staff Jonathan Finer, senior adviser David Thorne and Psaki.