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…and in this Corner: Media Narratives and Sisi’s Candidacy

Egypt has yet to experience an issue-based electoral contest. Of course other nations, even with deep political history, are known also to sensationalize campaigns and demonize opponents. But as Egypt learns the best and the worst from these international examples, with which of these two commentators do you side?

Hamzawy (L), Sisi (C), Abou Taleb (R)
Hamzawy (L), Sisi (C), Abou Taleb (R)

In recent op-ed articles, both Hamzawy and Abou Taleb see media manipulation as the central feature of Sisi’s candidacy. But they aim in different directions.

Hamzawi, writing in Egypt Source, ‘Dismantling the Myth of the Candidate of Necessity’:

There is a myth now being promoted by intellectual, political and media groups who favor the regime that followed the July 3 2013 overthrow of Mohamed Morsi, and support former Defense Minister Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s run for president. While this myth deals with Egypt’s current situation, its structure is far from new. In fact, consecutive ruling elites have relied on this myth since the 1950s to justify oppression, human rights violations, restriction of freedoms, autocracy, and lack of democracy and sustainable development.

The “candidate of necessity” myth reduces Egypt and its issues to one person, the hero-savior, being introduced to the public before the presidential elections as “the only candidate” capable of “rescuing the nation from the current danger” and “the last hope” for “saving the nation from the evils and harms of the enemies, inside and out” and achieving its greater goals and objectives.

Abou Taleb, writing in Ahram Online, ‘Speaking about Rights, but Aiming for Chaos’:

We all know Egypt is being targetted and it is no longer a mere suspicion or hypothetical conspiracy theory but a reality we live day and night. This includes statements and threats by the terrorist alliance, sabotage and murder, and the ultimate goal — that will never materialise, God willing — of pushing Egypt into chaos and ruin.

Media personalities, politicians and alleged clergy who want Egyptians to believe this targeting is temporary and contingent on the removal of one very popular presidential candidate are a key and fundamental part of the plot to disrupt Egypt, and raise the price of transitioning into political and institutional stability. They also send a misleading message to Egyptians that their salvation is contingent on abandoning this candidate. But these people do not realise the majority of Egyptians have matured politically and now have an innate ability to sift through the political din.

One of the commentators speaks the language of the international community, the other the domestic. That alone does not lend credence in either direction. But it is noteworthy that their central argument is essentially the same: There is deep manipulation in framing the candidacy of Sisi.

One frames in favor, the other against. Both commentators indirectly expose the other. The reader is invited to provide the round-by-round scorecard for these two heavyweights, as both sides have come out swinging…

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Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Fox News: Were Christians Tortured in a Cairo Mosque?

Fox News

From my recent report on Arab West Report:

On March 28, 2013 Fox News broadcast an incendiary video report entitled, ‘US Silent as Christians are Persecuted in Egypt?’ It is understood that media relies on a level of sensationalism in order to attract the viewer or reader to a story. Yet this report moves beyond sensationalism to distortion, in which elements of truth are stretched to create an impression far removed from reality.

I watched this report after friends and family brought it to my attention. I’m sorry to say it made my blood boil. Several months ago I published a report on AWR examining if the Muslim Brotherhood was crucifying its opponents, but this alleged incident was reported only by fringe and internet-based sources. Here, we’re talking Fox News! Certainly it is known that the station has a conservative bent, but this video makes it seem as if they are pushing an agenda.

Egyptian news coverage is generally of poor quality, un-sourced, and designed to shape opinion rather than inform. Here, Fox News does its best impression. I have heard similar descriptions of US stations MSNBC, and to a lesser degree, CNN, only from the liberal side. I am fearful the American public has entered an era in which news is meant to entertain and confirm opinions, rather than to educate and challenge them.

I am also dreading this aspect of being back in America for an upcoming visit.

Of course, something very terrible appears to have taken place in this mosque in Cairo, and to a Christian in particular. From al-Monitor:

During the clashes that erupted last Friday [March 22] between the Muslim Brotherhood and protesters in Mokattam, the Brotherhood arrested left-wing activist Kamal Khalil and detained him inside a mosque. He saw a number of demonstrators stripped of their clothes and brutally flogged in the mosque, to the point that most of them lost consciousness. Brotherhood members were using a big whip to strike their victims. Khalil asked the flogger [about it], who replied: “It’s a Sudanese whip. I soaked it in oil a while ago. … A single strike can cut through skin.”

Luckily, Khalil recognized his neighbor from among the Brotherhood members, who intervened and prevented him from being tortured. Yet, Khalil posted his testimony about the Brotherhood’s slaughterhouse on the website of Al-Bedaiah newspaper. Soon after, the testimonies from victims published in newspapers confirmed that they had been brutally tortured. Amir Ayad, a demonstrator, revealed that when the Brotherhood found out that he was a Copt, they increased the severity of his torture, pushing him to the brink of death as they called him a “Christian dog.”

But excerpting from my report:

0:50

Broadcaster leads with words, ‘We were not able to independently confirm this reporting by Mideast Christian News’ which claims ‘Islamic hardliners stormed a mosque in suburban Cairo and turned it into a torture chamber for Christians’

If news is not able to be confirmed by a reputable news agency, it should not be repeated, and certainly not the lead story. At least they mention this detail up front.

Mideast Christian News did not report about a torture chamber for Christians, however, as best I could research following their newsfeed. On March 23 they ran an article featuring testimony from Amir Ayad, a Coptic activist. He related how he was ambushed by the Muslim Brotherhood during the clashes and tortured in a mosque in Muqattam.

Muqattam is the suburban Cairo neighborhood mentioned by Fox News. It hosts the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood and as such was the site of an anti-Brotherhood protest. The administration of the mosque in question publically confirmed that Islamist activists took over the facilities and turned it into a detention center.

A similar incident took place during the clashes at the presidential palace in protest of President Mursī’s declaration immunizing his decisions from judicial review during the controversy over the drafting of Egypt’s constitution. Muslim Brotherhood members attacked a small but peaceful sit-in at the palace, which led into large-scale confrontations between the two sides. During the clashes the Muslim Brotherhood also created detention centers in adjacent facilities, though not in a mosque.

Details and testimony about what happened at both events is contradictory, but it appears likely the Brotherhood or supporting Islamists assumed police-like prerogative to apprehend protestors – perhaps rioters – on the opposing side. Furthermore, there is no reason to dismiss the testimony of Ayad that he was tortured; the article includes a picture of him in the hospital suffering from multiple wounds.

The protest at the Brotherhood headquarters, however, was not a Christian protest, it was political. Ayad, as a Christian, was detained, perhaps along with other Christian protesters. The great majority of protestors, and therefore detainees, however, were Muslim, consistent with the makeup of Egyptian society.

For Fox News to report this incident as a mosque transformed into a torture center for Christians – with none of the context of these recent clashes – is an egregious distortion of a story terrible in its own right.

And finally, showing an element of the Fox News report which is absolutely contrary to reality, and would be known by anyone who spent any time in Egypt at all apart from the pyramids:

3:15

Peters continues, saying Miller went to the Coptic quarter where the Christians live. It’s a shabby slum where they are third-class – not second-class – citizens

It is fair to ask what Miller believes is the difference between a second- and third-class citizen. Clearly this is only a rhetorical device. But it is in service either of wanton ignorance or clear distortion. There is no ‘Christian quarter’ in Egypt or any of its cities. Christians are spread everywhere throughout the country.

Perhaps he was referring to the district of Shubra in Cairo, which has a large percentage of Coptic residents. Shubra is a lower- to lower-middle-class neighborhood, but it is hardly a slum. If it is, it is equally populated by Christians and Muslims together.

Or perhaps he had in mind Heliopolis, which also has a large percentage of Coptic residents, but is one of the wealthier districts of the city. In either case, these areas are characterized by the best relations between Muslims and Christians, as they grew up together in an integrated community. They are far from second-class citizens. They are neighbors.

Please click here to watch the original video, and here to read the rest of my point-by-enraged-point rebuttal (and occasional agreement).