Reports on Egypt: global and local media in turmoil

Abdallah Schleifer

Posted Aug 5, 2013      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Reports on Egypt: global and local media in turmoil

by Abdallah Schleifer

It was former President Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Shura Council which delegated press regulation to a Media Council. This sounds like an autonomous body but in fact, was made up of members of the Shura Council, chaired by a Muslim Brotherhood (MB) deputy from the Shura Council.

The media council was responsible for overseeing state-owned media (Egypt TV). This remains a powerful media for those unable to afford a decoder to download privately owned satellite channels, as well as the many state owned newspapers and magazines.

Believing that because of the new regime, all contracts of senior media executives would be up for renewal or dismissal, the Shura Council replaced the heads of all state-owned media with journalists affiliated with the MB or those considered sympathetic.

Abdul Moneim al-Said, now chairman of al-Masry al-Youm, the most popular daily newspaper in Egypt, was too prestigious to just “toss in the dustbin.” Consequently, the Shura council suspended rather than fired him. They then proceeded to significantly cut his salary, and implemented other severe measures. In effect, they did everything short of firing him until Abdul Moneim walked away and accepted a long standing offer from al-Masry al-Youm.

Now, not wishing to be told to get off my high horse, I would like to say that while the appointment of an MB sympathizer as the Minister of Culture who proceeded to fire the heads of all the critical Ministry of Culture activities including the Cairo Opera House received a lot of attention, not least because he was alleged to have said that he considered ballet to be “haram.” This was deeply offensive to modern cultural icons, upper and middle classes. However, what was done to state media was far more dangerous, if less dramatic. One of the key differences between authoritarian regimes and democracies or monarchies, is the existence of state media.

Following in Mubarak’s footsteps
Changes of leadership indicated that the MB was following in the footsteps of the Mubarak regime and all other authoritarian regimes. This is evidence of a move towards an authoritarian state. It could be argued that this has characterised MB rule in Egypt since Mursi was elected President, promptly going back on his promise of a national coalition with the opposition, upon being sworn into office.

Equally disturbing was the number of Egyptian journalists detained for questioning. In some cases, journalists were on trial and sentenced for “insulting the President” and “insulting Islam.”

For the past two and a half years, the political arena has been strange only taking on a clear shape since the military intervention. Everyone knows which side they are on though there are different political leanings within the anti-Mursi side and all have a voice either in local media and/or global media. However, this does not include those who are inarticulate and often illiterate.

I am repeatedly chastised by my anti-MB friends in the Egyptian media for describing army intervention as a coup. I explain to them that my beliefs are more pro-military than theirs and that I am akin to the typical non-activist man who got fed up with rising prices, shortages in fuel and the power cuts that characterize the last months of Mursi’s rule. They highlight his inability to initiate a single program to alleviate poverty in one year. Only Hamdan Sabahi, known as an Arab Socialist, among the leaders of the disunited opposition National Salvation Front, denounced Mursi’s lack of action.

A large proportion of political players seem to make false promises, for example, Mursi famously insisted that it was Egypt’s people who were the real source of legitimate rule and that if he ever failed to live up to their expectations he would resign. However, one year later, before he was deposed, Mursi stated that election was the source of his legitimacy. This would have been justified if he had not made a distinctly and highly emotional pledge in his inaugural speech.

One thing that remains consistent is violence towards journalists. Not only are the opposition attacked, but so too are those who support the Mursi-government. This is an example of equality in the face of adversity, something that did not exist during Mubarak’s presidency.

Local media shows predominantly anti-Mursi sentiment and is therefore, not representative of the Egyptian population. However, social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter are open to commentary from

As for the local press – conventional media both state and private is now in anti Mursi hands and thus at least far more representative, but social media and in particular Facebook and twitter as well as email is open to everyone and some of the material going out is scandalous.To underline the conspiracy theories circulated by the pro-Mursi forces in which the Coptic Church figures high on the list of conspirators, one pro-Mursi site ran footage of a standard Christian procession led by a figure holding up a large cross and passed the footage off as an anti-Mursi demonstration.

Global press too busy
Meanwhile out in the countryside over the past few weeks priests have been beaten up and even murdered and churches attacked by pro-Mursi elements denouncing the Copts as Unbelievers and conspirators. The global press has been too busy covering dramatic events in which pro-Mursi “ defenders of democracy” have been indulged by much of the global media, rather than taking note of this violent outburst of scapegoating the Coptic minority Are memories so short, are history books so unread, that many among the current crop of global journalists do not seem to remember who convenient it was for the Nazis to scapegoat a minority to their death, for the economic crises that racked pre-Nazi Germany. To a great degree those crises were set in motion by the excesses of German big business – which unlike the legal and medical professions and the owners of department stores, had no Jews within their ranks and all too happy to go along with the Nazi regime’s scapegoating. Indeed sectarian strife –blaming it all on the Copts and the Shia may be the last desperate card to be played by the MB and perhaps is already into play given the upsurge in the past few weeks of these incidents.

First a disclosure – I bear no grudges against Al Jazeera even though I write for Al Arabiya and once served as Al Arabiya’s Washington DC bureau chief where I got along famously with my Al Jazeera competitors, and during the height of the February 2011 clashes when Al Jazeera’s bureaus closed down and its staff went into hiding, I did Q & A via Skype video from my home with Al Jazeera’s anchor for about two days until the local staff come out of hiding, and I have always been pleased to periodically on the Al Jazeera talk show “Inside Story.” So it is with sorrow not vindictive competitive joy that I note that Al Jazeera staff and in particular Ahmed Mansour, known a decade ago as a dedicated supporter of the MB anda leading Al Jazeera documentary film director for al Jazeera now has two talk shows, and was seen by reliable sources at the big MB sit-in at Rabiya al-Adawiyya mosque interaction participating as an activist. Mansour was seen and overheard instructing the MB sit-in cadre how to switch from talk about welcoming martyrdom or struggling against a kafr (Unbeliever) conspiracy of Muslim who hate Islam (meaning Muslims opposed to the MB, which now accounts for about two thirds of the Egyptian public) and instead to talk about upholding democracy. And so if sit-in activists wearing a sort of “I am-ready- to- be- a- martyr” green headband they are instructed to take those headlands off when global media is around. And the global media bought into it.

The problem is not that global media are fellow travellers of the Muslim Brothers. It is rather that we journalists have a vested interest- getting good play in our newspapers or TV networks – to seek out and find and thereby encourage confrontation that can easily turn violent. It is easy to provoke edgy security forces into opening fire, leading to martyrs that encourage the cause. I remember from my young New Left days as one of the leaders of the first anti-Vietnam War movement, which was dominated by a Maoist splinter group from the Communist Party U.S., how I realized that whenever we staged an anti-war demonstration, the Maoist cadre within our movement, would provoke the mounted police into charging our ranks and clubbing some of our comrades down. It was a way of generating sympathy in the media, and considered by the Maoists as an effective recruitment and radicalization tool.

So it has been for the past few weeks. For all the bitter talk about massacres while journalists say they see no signs of weaponry, we know from the shooting down of seven residents of Manial who tried to stop an armed group of MB gunmen from shortcutting through their neighbourhood late last month, that armed elements are to be found among the MB and their Salafist allies but kept out of sight of global media.

Nor did most reporters for global media properly digest and then report the significant remarks by a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, as attacks against military and security forces in the Sinai escalated, that “events in the Sinai are in retaliation for the military coup, and will stop immediately once the coup is withdrawn and Mursi is back.” Pretty far out. How can one ridicule the Army’s referring to the MB as “terrorist” after a remark like that?

Need for confrontation
But it is that need for confrontation to keep a story alive and not any intrinsic sympathy among a very secular foreign press corps that prompted foreign correspondents to talk of polarization as if Egypt were split down the middle. This may have been true a year ago and not even then, because much of Mursi’s votes came from people who disliked the Mubarakist candidate in the run-off election even more than they disliked the MB. So perhaps one could look at the parliamentary elections held months before the Presidential election for a polarized, split of Egypt right down the middle.

But perhaps the biggest scandal is more properly Pan-Arab when Al Jazeera switched the caption of some footage in which the vastly larger anti-Mursi rally at the Presidential Palace compared to the MB sit-in in Nasser City, identifying the larger rally as being the pro-Mursi demonstration.

The footage was fed to about five other channels but France 24 which broadcast the footage and went with the false captioning is the only channel that later apologized according to Nader Gohar, CEO of Cairo News.

Cairo New is an independent production services provider, with a contract to provide Al Jazeera with equipment and back up crews and feeding points. But about the time of the fraudulent captioning, Nader resigned the account. Which is sort of ironic because it was Nader who acquired fame when the equipment and crew he leased to Al Jazeera was used to take the first shots of a demonstrator pulling down a big poster of former President Mubarak that was picked up and broadcast everywhere but on Egyptian state TV – it was, an “iconic moment” some might say. So the Mubarak regime’s security force seized all of Nader’s equipment putting him out of business for some time. Then Al Jazeera was the hero of Tahrir. But that was then, and now is now.


Originally published on Al Arabiya and reprinted on TAM with permission of the author.  Prof. Schleifer’s Alarabiya column will now be posted regularly on The American Muslim (TAM), and on Arab Media and Society, an electronic journal as well as the links twitted on a weekly basis to Arab Media and Society subscribers.

Abdallah Schleifer is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the American University in Cairo, where he founded and served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for Television Journalism. He also founded and served as Senior Editor of the journal Transnational Broadcasting Studies, now known as Arab Media & Society. Before joining the AUC faculty Schleifer served for nine years as NBC News Cairo bureau chief and Middle East producer- reporter; as Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique based in Beirut and as a special correspondent for the New York Times based in Amman. After retiring from teaching at AUC, Schleifer served for just over a year as Al Arabiya’s Washington D.C. bureau chief. He is associated with the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. as an Adjunct Scholar. He was executive producer of the award winning documentary “Control Room” and the 100 episode Reality- TV documentary “Sleepless in Gaza…and Jerusalem.”