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Excerpts

Egyptian Journalists on Censorship and Support

Egypt newspapers

This Guardian article contains explosively frank quotes from leading Egyptian media personalities, about how they openly support the regime and seek to sway public opinion. Here is a sample:

“I would say anything the military tells me to say out of duty and respect for the institution,” says Ahmed Moussa, one of the most popular TV presenters in Egypt.

Sharing Moussa’s sense of duty towards the military is the veteran talk show host Mahmoud Saad, from Al-Nahar TV. “The military should never, ever, ever be covered,” he says, shaking his head. “You have to let them decide what to say and when to say it. You don’t know what will hurt national security.”

But it’s also the power to influence people that appeals to him, he says. “It’s a beautiful feeling knowing that when you swing right,” he says as he swivels his upper body right, “the people will swing right. “And when you swing left,” he goes on, swivelling in the opposite direction “the people will swing left.”

El-Watan reporter Ahmed Ghoniem says owning media outlets “comes in handy if you get into any kind of trouble and have to pressure the government”. But no owner completely “unleashes his journalists” on the government, he says.

“No one has ever made me say something I didn’t want to say, but they have made me not say what I wanted to say,” says the TV presenter Mahmoud Saad.

But not all agree:

“Claims of oppression are just a trend,” CBC’s Khairy Ramadan says. “Anyone who says they are under pressure is a liar.”

ONtv’s Youssef el-Husseiny goes further, claiming that the authorities would like the press to be balanced, but it’s journalists themselves who are the ones resisting. Sisi, el-Husseiny claims, personally asked him where his government’s opposition is: “Where are the other voices? Is everyone a supporter [of mine]?”

Other media figures — outside Egypt — take an opposite track, criticizing the regime and accusing it of monolithic control of the state.

The question is fair for both: Are they serving an active agenda, or do they reflect personal motivation either for or against the regime? Or, are they simply correct in their assessment?

Most recently within Egypt, the Journalist Syndicate has publicly criticized a draft law that threatens journalists with two years in prison for reporting terrorism news in contradiction with official statements. The immediate occasion was the terrorist assault in Sinai. Western press outlets reported 60-70 soldiers dead; the military stated 17.

Here is how SalamaMoussa interpreted the coverage:

When hundreds of fighters allied with the so-called Islamic State streamed into the Sinai border village of Sheikh Zwayd, there were few reporters to document the situation. The notorious murderousness of these men, as well as restrictions from the Egyptian government, had understandably depleted the pool of reporters there.  This did not stop the filing of many reports in the Western press, nor of many journalists taking to the social media to comment on the unobserved scene.

He described how beyond the numbers, reporting missed the actual story. In the face of an Islamic State attack, the army did not turn tails and flee — as happened so frequently in Iraq.

There was some reason for the Egyptian government to be miffed at this, but in typical fashion, it compounded the problem by attempting to shape the narrative and intimidate the reporters. It thus shifted the attention from the shortcomings of the reporting to that of its own.

Here is his frustrated conclusion:

An unsolicited advice to the Egyptian government is to “chill out.” To the Western press, I offer no advice. These are the things we hold sacred; that no government should muzzle the press, that no reader should believe newsprint blindly; that news is a product where the tires must be kicked, the fabric handled and the package sniffed; and that men, both wise and foolish, should await facts before filing reports.

It is difficult to interpret Egypt and how it operates. Analysis is plentiful, and bias is natural. Unfortunately facts are often lost in the political struggle.

But at least on the pro-regime side, the Guardian article gives raw material for evaluation — let the reader judge.

And if the reader wishes to pray for Egyptian journalism, here is my best offering.

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Current Events

Egyptian Writer May Face Jail for Defaming Religion

From Ahram Online, telling a story that is not unusual:

Saber says those who filed the lawsuit took his words out of context, adding that he did not defame religion in his short stories.

“In my stories, the characters are wondering where God is in the face of all the grievances and evils that they face. It’s like they’re asking him to interfere; this is not in contempt of religion, it is merely posing a question,” Saber explained.

Here is an angle, though, what while also not unusual, is less known by many:

According to a statement made by a coalition of Egyptian right human rights organisations, the prosecutors undertaking the investigation consulted the church in Beni Suef as well as Al-Azhar to seek out their opinion as to whether the accusations were correct.

The church told the prosecution that the content of Saber’s literary work contradicted divine religions, ridiculed the divine, and invented stories that stray from noble and sophisticated literature.

Al-Azhar affirmed the church’s stance, stating that the work destroys intellectual values and tears apart the fabric of Egyptian society.

The church in Egypt is a very conservative institution that is not shy to seek the power of the state as a defense against encroachment on religious values. I do not know anything about the content of the book, if it targets Islam, Christianity, or religion in general. The author’s name also does not infer his religious background.

But the church would do well to review its own literature. Habbakuk the prophet does little but rail against God’s apparent inaction in the face of injustice:

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.

And his answer is simply to trust God, even when he does not ‘deliver’:

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

It is unfortunate when religious leaders ‘protect’ their flock from the very same doubts and questions that fill their scriptures. But this, also, is not an unusual story.