The show must go on: Egyptian Media culprit or victim?Part A
“The King is Dead, Long Live the King” has been the motto of Egyptian state media for the past century. The ability to shift from one ideology and rhetoric to another by Egyptian media is uncanny. For over a century, Egyptian media played a huge role in defining the nation’s public opinion, trends and ideology. The media managed to be a good tool of awareness for long decades yet that role changed by the change of the ruler of the country from positive to negative and certainly changed dramatically after the 1952 coup d’etat.
Egyptian Media Pre January 25th revolution Overview:
Egypt enjoyed a great period of enlightenment and a good extent of freedom of press during the period from 1923-1952 when dozens of daily newspapers and periodicals shone in the Egyptian press spectrum. The constitutional monarchy of that period instilled by the 1923 constitution granted a great extend for the freedom of expression unmatched in most of the world back in this period. Magazines like El Mosawar, Rose Alyoussef as well as other dailies and periodicals helped to formulate the richest liberal period witnessed in Egyptian Modern history.
Unfortunately this period was short-lived and the flourishing democratic and liberal period of Egypt witnessed its sunset with the last Egyptian King abdicating due to a coup d’etat in 1952. The period also was not 100% immaculate in terms of freedom of expressions. Certain restrictions were imposed on the direct criticism of the King. However, comparing this period to all later period certainly tilts in favour of the pre-1952 monarchy era without a shred of doubt.
The Radio played a huge role in the Egyptians lives in that period as well as it was far more reaching to the rural areas and particularly to those who are illiterate and managed to get all their information through the wooden box. The Radio was a devastating weapon during the Second World War and the Nazi Berlin Free Broadcast in Arabic managed to sway a lot of Egyptians in favour of the Germans against their the allies and particularly British.
The nationalization of all media post the 1952 coup d’etat was the last nail in the coffin of freedom of expression and marked an era of unilateralism and dictatorship worship by the media which can still be traced in the attitude in most media outlets nowadays even after the revolution. The Egyptian press has been the pioneer in the Middle East and for long decades Egypt was the beacon of free press in the Arab world with the one of the world top 10 best selling daily newspapers Al Ahram as its flagship.
Al Ahram even during the darker times of censorship and total government control was the daily newspaper that enlightened the Arab reader from the Persian Gulf all the way to the Atlantic ocean. Al Ahram was established in the 1875 by Lebanese brothers and Egyptian press pioneers Selim and Bishara Tekla who fought a hard battle for freedom that even led to the imprisonment of Bishara Tekla by order of Khedive Ismail but later released.
Al Ahram (The Pyramids) newspaper and Print house contributed a huge a portion to the modern Egyptian and Arabic press with thousands of books, periodicals as well as the famous daily newspaper. However, during Nasser’s era the newspaper was operated in the same manner as the defunct USSR national newspaper Pravda which was the voice of the communist party and the only party in USSR. In a similar manner, Al Ahram during the Nasser era Led by prominent writer Hassanein Haikal acted as the voice of the defunct the Socialist Association which was the equivalent of the single communist party. The same pattern continued during Sadat, Mubarak and Tantawi’s eras (SCAF)
As the doors of freedom opened during the Sadat’s era and post the 1973 war period, Al Ahram as well as other Egyptian dailies Al Akhbar (The News) and El Gomhouria (The Republic) followed the same pattern that they were used to in the Nasser’s era and that is the complete unequivocal support to the President and even the change of guard by removing Hassanein Haikal as the Editor in Chief of Al Ahram didn’t bring the hoped change as most of the journalists pledged allegiance to the president and the regime. However, the change that actually occurred was the more openness and tolerance in handling the domestic problem and escalation and the opposition voices became more heard only against the ministers all the way to the prime minister occasionally. However, as President Sadat allowed the opposition parties to be formed again after more than two decades of single party system. Some of these parties including the Muslim Brotherhood group had their own publications that voices opposition against the government.
During Mubarak’s era the opposition press received more freedoms and gained more ground. Yet criticizing the president was still a taboo subject all the way till the early millennium and the appearance and the wide spread of the private Satellite TV channels as well as the private newspapers and periodicals. These newly established media outlets created a sense of new found freedom among Egyptians that was missed for long decades. These media outlets helped pave the wave for about a decade for what happened in January 25th 2011 revolution.
However, during that period that preceded the revolution there were no code of ethics among all media players to follow and despite many of them playing a patriotic role in enlightening the populace, most of them failed miserably in exercising any amount of integrity, professionalism and objectivity. That was very evident in the performance of these Media outlets in the months that followed the revolution.
Post Revolution Media
The amount of subjectivity and lack of any responsibility of the Egyptian media post the revolution can only fit the Guinness world records of unprofessionalism, sensationalism and bias. The entire Media outlet changed their face the very next day of Mubarak’s abdication. The truth is that most if not all the Media gurus were so overwhelmed with the revolution that professional practices took a back seat. One would think that Oprah Winfrey had more self control over her emotions than most of the Egyptian TV anchors did post the revolution. The objective reporting and presentation was almost nowhere to be found on Egyptian media be that Television, Radio and Internet.. What seemed more disappointing to the Egyptian media outlets utilized the same tactics their predecessors of the previous regime as elaborated in the next paragraphs.
TV &Satellite Channels
Since the inception of Nile Sat in 1996 as the first and only Egyptian TV and Radio satellite, the way Egyptians perceived their Media changed forever with over 400 channels most of which are free to air. According to statistics, the Egyptian Nile Sat satellite holds the biggest number of Free channels broadcasted on any satellite in the world. The reach of the Satellite didn’t just cover Egypt and Middle East but extended to most of Europe thus giving Egyptian expatriates a chance to follow up the latest news and channels from their homeland. Qatari Al Jazeerah news channel broadcasted on the satellite represented a revolutionary step in the free media but with a political agenda of its own usually not visible by the regular viewer.
Al Jazeerah raised the bar for the freedom of expression beyond the normal levels set before most State TV in the region. The channel gained huge popularity and credibility initially for breaking the taboos instilled by State TV and media all over the Region. However, eventually Al Jazeerah abused that credibility and trust and turned from a pillar of free expression into a propaganda channel serving Qatari overzealous ambition for a bigger political role in the region. Accordingly the channel initiated a policy to demonize those opposing its agenda among rebels, politicians and writers in favour of exaggerated appraise of Muslim brother, Islamists and pan Arabists ones.
Glorifying acts of violence done by either rebels or saboteurs was a sin committed by most of the anchors of the post revolution satellite channels. Be that 14 times the Egyptian gas pipeline was bombed by saboteurs , the storming of the Israeli, Saudi or Syrian embassies, the blockading of major highways and railway tracks, all of which received applause from various TV anchors who portrayed these acts as acts of emotion and patriotism. They did that while not realizing that supporting and applauding these acts have had severe consequences on the status of security in Egypt.
The applauding of acts of vandalism and sabotage was the abyss that swallowed the professionalism out of the Egyptian anchors and on top of them some of the most prominent ones including Reem Maged , Mona El Shazly , Yousry Fouda , Amr El Leesy who were known to have some good standards of professionalism before the revolution. Unfortunately the same cannot be said after the
revolution, their revolutionary than thou attitude and overwhelming emotions led them to fall into the simplest mistakes that most amateur talk show hosts won’t commit. Among those mistakes endorsing one party over the others during conversations and news coverage as well siding with what they believe revolutionary rhetoric against any common sense.
The Curious Case of ONTV
How a liberal channel becomes a curse on Egyptian liberals and the liberal movement is a dilemma, but that is exactly the case with prominent Egyptian channel ONTV owned by renowned Egyptian billionaire and founder of Free Egyptians Party Naguib Sawiris. The Channel didn’t act as the voice of the party and on the contrary in many cases willingly and unwillingly it advocated even advertized rival parties like Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. More members of the FJP party appeared on the channel than any of the liberal parties and particularly Free Egyptians party. Thanks to the poor managed led by Albert Shafic who successfully made the channel more popular at the expense of the original liberal message and objectivity. The channel may have more viewers now but it certainly alienated the core viewers and painted a bad name for the liberal movement in Egypt. They have provided Islamists and Socialists with a 24/7 panel and the Islamist channel don’t greet liberals with the same courtesy.
Both channel anchors Reem Maged and Yousry Fouda made TV history in the famous episode post revolution when they hosted former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, Prominent Novelist Alaa El Aswany and Egyptian Businessman Naguib Sawiris (Network Owner) in a 4 hourepisode. The famous episode resulted in the resignation of Shafiq after a bashing from El Aswany who criticized him of orchestrating the infamous Battle of the camel massacre on February 3rd 2011 on ONTV. Shafiq defended himself but under the huge pressure from public he resigned. Despite it can be considered as an unprecedented victory for a growing democracy and freedom of expression witnessed for first time live on TV, the episode backfired and Shafiq gained a big popularity boost among the neutrals that led him to be a Presidential candidate. Reem Maged and Fouda became household names after that day but the success might have gotten the best of them.
Unfortunately, Yousry Fouda can never hide his Nasserite attitude intermixed with Islamist sympathy, a product that can only be obtained from an Anchor who worked at BBC Arabic and Al Jazeerah networks respectively. Fouda somehow loses himself when speaking about Late President Nasser and indulges in side conversations about him that mostly is unrelated to the topic discussed in the talk show.
Moreover, he spares no chance in bashing Late President Anwar El Sadat even when he’s not the subject of the topic discussed and chooses personally guests who are known to be extremists Nasserites who will do the job of bashing Sadat. Once that starts the viewer couldn’t help but to notice a sadistic or orgasmic smile on his face as if he achieved a personal glory for that. All of these episodes hardly contain any side defending Sadat or the other point of view as any objective TV anchor should have normally done especially when dealing with historical figures.
The prominent TV anchor who tries desperately to mimic the famous CNN show AC360 hosted by Anderson Cooper fails to deliver a message that is bias free and objective. Mr. Fouda has hosted more Islamists in his show than any other TV talk show in a TV network that is supposed to propagate liberal views. Fouda throughout an entire year acted to a certain degree as the devil’s advocate and have tried desperately to defend some of their very controversial positions repeatedly throughout the months following the revolution. The very opportunistic behavior of Muslim brotherhood group and their political arm freedom and justice party were deeply displayed to public night after night thus giving the group and party a ready excuse for whatever they do. All the Freedom and Justice party leaders as well as other Islamists found more air time on ONTV channel more than they could have ever dreamed of.
Thus, they were given legitimacy and a place to propagate their ultra conservative rhetoric without hosting any other guest to battle that divisive and destructive rhetoric efficiently.
Fouda’s classical socialist anti-American rhetoric isn’t befitting a channel that is supposed to spread the liberal views and not antiquated anti-American /Israeli rhetoric and blaming these two countries for every problem that Egypt faces. Unfortunately Mr. Fouda who possess a lot of tools of the trade will go to the extreme to boost the ratings of his show be that by hosting a terrorist or an ultra extremist. Despite, this he appears in many cases as incompetent in front of his guests or not well prepared to perform tricky interviews and relies mainly on his instinct than professional skills. There are no boundaries he is not willing to go through as he apparently believes in the old English proverb “All Publicity is good publicity”.
The message of enlightenment by ONTV is deeply distorted and alienates the neutrals who wanted to find out about liberalism only to be met with extreme socialists, communists and Islamists propagating mostly their own twisted views at a very critical time of the nation’s history. Having a few emotional moments work great in certain critical times especially in times of crisis and catastrophes but an entire channel fuelled by emotions cannot function as a professional news channel. Also, the over replays of national songs and others, might have been acceptable at certain times post revolution but 20 minutes or more of songs between programs or worse with lengthy commercials intermissions deviate the audience and viewers.
Moreover, the above described programs’ presentation strips away the professional edge of the channel that was more evident during the management of Dr. Emad Gad (currently a parliament member) to the channel than it is now under Albert Shafiq. ONTV was a breath of fresh air in the Egyptian media in its very beginning however that image is deeply shattered at the moment and no longer is the revolutionary rhetoric enough to attract the Egyptian viewer.
Possibly the only Anchor on ONTV who tries hard to be as objective as he can is Gaber El Karmooty who managed to show all possible views for any issue or topic discussed. Despite he occasionally gets carried away with emotions, he still shows deep respect to all views without prejudices and makes sure that all counter views are presented and everyone given the right time frame to present their views freely.
ONTV might wish to reconsider its message and those who deliver it should the channel wish to restore the faith of many Egyptians who found it deviating from its real message. ONTV in its current state is not very different from Egyptian state TV in 1960’s that propagates night and day for the 1952 coup d’etat “commonly known as the 1952 revolution” but the difference it’s a private channel. ONTV anchors and producers hearts maybe in the right place but certainly the euphoria of the revolution mostly blinds them from seeing the big picture in the country and working addressing issues.
Islamists TV Channels:
Islamists had their share of newly established and reopened channels formerly banned under the previous regime for a short period due to their divisive and sectarian rhetoric but under Supreme Council for Armed Forces (SCAF) they were allowed to broadcast their message once again and at even worse pace. The entire group channels of “Al Hikma” (Wisdom), “Al Rahma” (Mercy) and “El Nas” (The People) may have been established to propagate the Salafi (Wahhabi) doctrine in Egypt funded through overseas funds from mainly Gulf States. However, not only a spread of the Salafi message was initiated but a hate speech that is unprecedented in the Egyptian media, the channels are mainly focused to defame and smear liberals, socialists or whoever is not Salafist.
It’s not uncommon to listen to accusations of heresy to other political powers and surprisingly enough no authority did lift a finger or sent a warning to these channels to cease this divisive and sectarian message. Christians in Egypt received their own doses of defamation from these channels. While the liberal channels naively hosted hundreds of Islamists in talk show in their channels like ONTV, Dream, El Hayat , Mehwar they were not given the same courtesy by Islamists for reasons well known.
Most of these channels deviated from its main message as religious channels handling matters of religion and spreading the faith, to political extremists’ forums powered by Islamists to propagate their rhetoric. The latest chapter when a Salafi Sheikh Abou Al Ashbal who bluntly called for Jihad against the army officers of SCAF and called for their public execution after storming the ministry of defense. The next day on May 4th another clash took place in the Abbassiya region nearby the ministry of defense which was surrounded by Islamists protesting the banning of their Presidential candidate Hazem Abou Ismail from Candidacy. The result was the death of one Special Forces soldier and around 300 injured in clashes. It’s still not understandable how the channel still operates after publicly instigating and calling for the storming of the Ministry of Defense and executing the army generals in public squares.
The Islamists Satellite TV channels represent a clear and present danger to Egypt’s national and internal security as the integration of the society by its sectarian and divisive messages. This is an issue that has to be addressed by those in charge.
Egyptian State TV
Egyptian state TV resembles in quality and value, the VHS videos that people would own hundreds of them for many years and they are reluctant to throw them away despite the fact that they are not likely to watch them again. It’s like an outdated technology and not as nearly useful as it was 20 years ago. The same applies to the Egyptian TV established in 1960 which is second to Iraqi state TV established in 1956 but far more influential. Egyptian TV was the pioneer TV of the Middle East till it was eclipsed in the 1990s by the satellite channels particularly those owned by Saudi Arabia like, UAE and Qatar investors till Egyptian private investors jumped in to narrow the gap and effectively competing.
Despite some changes in the content and presentation, unfortunately the Egyptian state TV is severely lagging behind in technology, coverage, entertainment value and appeal to average Egyptian viewer than their private and even other Arabian counterparts. And it was not until in the first decade of the millennium that Egyptian TV restored some of its entertainment value which was equivalent to a night at the morgue for its audience back in the 1990s.
The Egyptian state TV news bulletin still retains an age old formula that hardly changes. Starting by the news of the President and in this case it’s the Supreme Armed Forces (SCAF) then moving to ministers’ news then to international news. A huge earthquake in a foreign country will find itself second in priority to the president shaking hands with a foreign diplomat.
Apparently, it’s very easy for state TV producers to switch and pledge allegiance to any new sheriff in town and as soon as a new leader immerges, the propaganda machine starts to work in full force and efficiency to create a national hero and a demi-God out of him. Be that a new president, Prime minister, minister or SCAF. After years of handicap and falling behind in ratings, the state TV had undergone a massive reconstruction process lately with the new studios in 6th of October as well as a new assortment of programs.
All these efforts resulted in a limited improvement and just a facelift for an old bureaucratic institution that failed fulfill its tasked mission and that is education, enlightenment, awareness and reliable news. Unfortunately none of the above was fulfilled and the Egyptian state TV can’t get out of the propaganda machine job that it willingly accepted decades ago. In the first days of the revolution Egyptian state TV started to spread innuendos and lies about those who were on the ground something that led to the total loss of credibility by the public in the days that followed the revolution and thereafter.
Their handling of many crises after the revolution especially what is known as the “Maspero Massacre” that took place just outside the State TV headquarters in downtown Cairo was abysmal. The TV anchors went frantic and called upon what they referred to as “honourable” citizens to quell the protestors surrounding the building. The Protest was comprised mainly of Copts and Muslims who were protesting the burning of a church in Giza by some extremists. However, the panicking behavior of the state TV anchors led to further troubles which ended up in a massacre and an army unit got involved which led to further casualties and loss of lives due to the incompetence of the army units stationed nearby the TV headquarters.
It’s worth mentioning that the Nile News Network owned by the Arab Television and Radio networks (Egyptian state TV) represents a step forward to the ancient formula instilled by the ground channels. Nile News may still hold maintain a more professional edge compared to other news networks in Egypt and particularly state owned ones. While their male anchors who try desperately to mimic the tone and style of Al Jazeerah network anchors, lag far behind in charisma and presentation skills, than their female counterparts who are among the best in the business in Egypt. Female Anchors on Nile News Network possess more charisma, wit, ability to conduct a proper interview and more professionalism than their male counterparts.
It may be a step forward to have such higher caliber of TV anchors in a state owned network, yet the TV media business is a collaborative effort that also includes anchors, producers, directors, etc.. Accordingly one element can’t function professionally if the other elements are not pulling their weight.
However, Egyptian state TV and particularly Nile News Network may have benefitted from the chaos in other Egyptian TV networks post the revolution and the innuendos occasionally spread by private satellite channels. As the final say on any issue or piece of news is determined once it’s broadcasted on Egyptian state TV thus, giving state TV a sort of life support as other private channels sometimes fail to provide a reliable source of news.
Other Private Satellite Channels
Most the new channels, Periodicals and newspapers were owned by businessmen and limited companies and usually they display the point of views of their owners. In very few cases like ONTV and Dream TV the administration and ownership of the channels are separated to the extent that some channels actually display programs presented by the owners of that channel like El Faraeen for the controversial and eccentric Tawfik Okasha who usually profess some of the weirdest views about all political issues.
Dream TV, Al Hayat TV , El Mehwar, among many TV networks that were founded before the revolution and played a huge part in the awareness process in the years the preceded it . During the revolution first 18 days , it was an amazing scene to witness El Hayat and El Mehwar shifting allegiance from being anti-revolution to pro-revolution as the days progressed in the first 18 days. The Same anchors who accused protestors of being traitors and saboteurs changed their tone as they witnessed the revolution’s momentum is sweeping most of Egyptians cities and they found themselves are the sole-defenders of an ailing regime that is on the verge of total collapse.
They managed to change sides to win the hearts and audience supporting the revolution ideals but most failed to do that and the credibility of many anchors were lost in the process to the audience regardless of their support to the revolution or not .
While Dream TV maintained a moderate stance and to a great extent was pro-revolution, prominent TV Anchor Mona El Shazly fell in the same old trap of sensationalism when bringing President Sadat assassin Aboud El Zomor to the TV screen in an exclusive interview upon his release from prison post the revolution. The man whose group terrorized the Egyptians and killed their late president almost received a hero’s welcome in a interview that was disrespectful to the minds of most Egyptians for hailing a terrorist and an assassin as a hero. Despite her attempts to try to be objective Mona El Shazly, lost a lot of her credit because of that interview and may have gained some 15 minutes of fame that she could have done without.
There are some other newer satellite channels finding their way to TV screens post the revolution like the Tahrir TV, 25th January TV (Muslim Brotherhood funded) , Rotana Masreya , El Nahar and CBC networks among many others. These networks are enjoying a new found sense of freedom post the revolution but still deviate to a great extent from any code of ethics, professionalism or objectivity in their message.
That sense of freedom is still under careful supervision and sometimes intervention from SCAF on occasional events but it’s still a step forward in a long road.
CBC are currently doing a great job on covering the presidential elections with quite a good panel interviewing all the presidential candidates who answers and analyzing their responses in a later show. One would hope that that quality of coverage would continue after the elections as it can pave the path for further development of the Egyptian media handling such political issues.
It will certainly take many years of trials and errors for Egyptian TV networks to meet the some of the standards set by their western counterparts but the 1000 miles road always start by one single step. However, that will not be ever achieved without a strict code of ethics that doesn’t deviate from international standards of media for freedom of expression while maintaining the fine line between objectivity and bias.
Part B : Egyptian Press and Online Media Quagmire
The Egyptian press till recently was the most influential in the Middle East and the Arab world. Now with over 500 publications it’s still facing a lot of challenges to meet the international standards for both professionalism and freedoms that were deeply affected by decades of censorship and government intervention. The Egyptian journalists and writers hardly ever felt complete freedom to speak their minds and express what they truly believe. They were always under the scourge from either the government or the reader who sometimes resist shocking facts and resort to comfort zone. Egyptian readers are partly to be blamed for this as they succumb to what they believe is the truth and should they be faced by a journalist or writer who expressed different views than the standard version acceptable in society, their defensive mechanisms initiate a ferocious attack against that writer and he is usually labeled as an outcast.
However, this trend is witnessing a shift towards more frankness and though the road for that is winding and bumpy, there are indications that certain cliché’s are less tolerated by the average user who is becoming more vigilant towards lies or twisting facts under any pretext.
State Owned Press: All the President’s men
State owned press post the 1952 coup’d’etat enjoyed a very strong influence within the Egyptian society at a time when it only contended with radio stations to shape the hearts and minds of the average Egyptian. The state owned press before its nationalization in 1960 played the same role as it did through that drastic measures taken by Nasser’s regime to control all aspects of life in the country under his powers.
Since the 1952 and onwards, Egyptian state press was the voice of the President or the ruling party. They acted as the devil advocate to all the president’s decisions be that Nasser, Sadat or Mubarak and currently SCAF. The state press was for a long time the only press available post the nationalization and no other private newspapers or periodicals were allowed to be published. That was the case all the way till the late 1970’s when president Sadat allowed the partisan press to be published and Muslim Brotherhood’s publications for the newly formed parties like New Wafd party, El Tagamoa (Coalition) , Al Amaal (Work) parties to have their own publications.
Despite the relative freedoms that these partisan newspapers enjoyed there were certain taboos that these publications cannot address like the president character and certain decisions. However these publications enjoyed the freedoms during Sadat and publicly criticized the peace treaty with Israel and the Camp David accord. During Mubarak first years in office the same was applied and gradually the partisan press criticized the president but usually in an indirect approach. However, Al Wafd managed to say no for Mubarak’s presidential candidacy for second term. The State owned press throughout this period of relative freedoms maintained the same technique of being the president’s men and voice to the public.
They would harshly criticize all opposition press for proposals they would demand to increase freedoms, claiming that they are irrational or the time is not suitable for them. Yet, they would applaud the president should he by any means confirm the righteousness of these demands and approves them just the next day. The state press, can shift momentum from right to left in a flash depending on the whims of the Presidential office, It was more scandalous to receive reports in the last few years of Mubarak’s reign that some columns written by editors-in-chief of state press newspapers were actually sent by the Presidential office to be printed and undersigned by some of the most prominent journalist as if they wrote it themselves. While the presidential office have neither confirmed nor denied such acts, it’s a blatant example of how state media was the incumbent own toy and mostly his weapon of choice.
Dr. Mohamed Hassanein Heikal : A man for all seasons
Hardly any Middle Eastern journalist or writer has enjoyed the fame and status that Heikal have achieved with almost 6 decades of work in the Egyptian press and Arabic Media. The man who headed Al Ahram newspaper was the closest journalist to the Powers that be in Egypt during the 1950s all the way to the mid 1970s. Dr. Heikal managed through his versatile, eloquent and extremely impeccable to affect tens of millions of not just Egyptians but Arabs who believed in him to be the foremost political analyst of all time. It has been said that without Heikal the legacy of Gamal Abdel Nasser couldn’t have existed. Heikal played the same role for Abdel Nasser that Joseph Göbbels did for Adolf Hitler. He created a legend out of the president and paved the way to a new school of idolizing dictators in the Arab world. Now with the success of Heikal as the de facto voice of the president and primary political adviser, every Middle Eastern state had a Heikal of his own from Iraq to Morocco. Unfortunately, Heikal set a trend in state owned Media that was followed by almost the majority of Egyptian and later Arab journalists and that is twisting the facts in favour of the president’s image.
Heikal managed to obtain an incredible number of Egyptian governments’ documents during his work as a journalist and close consultant to President Nasser which actually belonged to the Egyptian state, these documents helped him to become the most reliable source of information of this period. However, Heikal have abused the use of these documents for his personal gain. On one hand to provide material for his bestselling books and on the other hand, he released the documents that believed to serve his criteria in books and neglected to release the others that contradict his point of view.
Furthermore, his infamous Book “Autumn of Fury” dedicated mainly to bash Late President Anwar Al Sadat just months after Sadat’s assassination. Sadat who put Heikal in custody among other politicians for inciting waves of protests follows the peace treaty with Israel, represents a huge stain in the history of Egyptian press and literature. Heikal not just criticized Sadat but attributed Sadat’s behavior as compensation to his dark skin and mentioned allegations that his mother was a Sudanese slave women. These blatant racial slurs seemed more befitting of a Ku Klux Clan writer than an actual professional journalist. Aside from making a God out of Nasser and clearing up the entire late President’s faults and directly attributing them on others, Heikal have created some good analysis in certain political issues. But despite that he repeats that he is not an advocate of foreign conspiracy theories, almost his entire line of books attribute all the problems of Egypt in the past, present and future on conspiracy theories and those who follow his works will find themselves in state of confusion between what he is actually declaring and his method of analyzing events in favour of conspiracy theories.
Heikal as the Godfather of Nasserism and socialism in Egypt and a staunch fighter against capitalism have two sons. Ironically, his two sons Ahmed and Hassan are among the richest Egyptians with a combined wealth of 1.7 Billion dollars and ranked as 48 according to Arab Business Magazine in 2010. Hassan Heikal the Stanford University graduate is the CEO of EFG Hermes the Egyptian investment bank and the biggest in the Arab world. In many people’s eyes this is a contradiction to the rhetoric that Heikal propagated for years and defending the policies of nationalism and socialism in the Egyptian economy enforced during Nasser’s Era.
Even after the January 25th revolution he managed to find a place whereby he draws crowds to his political analysis and even published a book about President Mubarak. The man is regarded by many western observers as on the best sources to document the 20th century Middle East and his articles are published in the most prestigious newspapers in the western hemisphere. His articles and books are usually treated as valuable resources of information especially containing a large number of authentic and original documents from his collection. He brilliantly uses these documents to propagate his own point of view and fails to present other documents that negates them and has been skillful in this tactic for decades.
Heikal’s School of journalism and thought is exactly what Egyptian journalism and Arab one need to part away from for further progress and real enlightenment. Unfortunately, this school of thought has created generations of writers, journalists and media players who believe in cosmic conspiracies against Egypt and spreading xenophobia among Egyptians so they will willingly obey their president regardless of his deeds and decisions. Heikal is still regarded with great respect among many Egyptian journalists who consider him as their idol and role model to follow; they quote his words as the messiah of journalism and hardly contend any of its contents.
Heikal sponsored the waves of attacks against the peace treaty with Israel and other Egyptian leftists and Nasserites have followed suit. The dilemma was always that Heikal never proposed an alternative to this treaty and regaining the occupied Egyptian land of Sinai as well of that in Palestine, Syria and Jordan back then in the aftermath of the 1967 six days war. He bashed Sadat mercilessly and failed to present any alternative but theoretical rhetoric. However, he had no problems in endorsing peace initiatives with Israel decades later after the golden opportunity of Camp David accords of 1979 was gone. He even warned any future president for Egypt from trying to alter or change the peace treaty in a recent interview. Heikal never had the boldness to publicly apologize for willingly or unwillingly distorting the reality &misleading the Egyptian and Arab readers for many decades and still is ironically regarded by many in Egypt as the undisputedly reliable source of 20th century history.
The prominent journalist have managed to live through all eras and maintaining a degree of understanding with whomever in power. That was manifested in all his writings beginning with a famous article back in 1944 titled “Your birthday my king” that included some of the most flattering praise on the King Farouk in his birthday and describing the last king of Egypt with words hardly even prophets been described with. The same king he criticized and bashed during Nasser’s era and thereafter and criticized journalists of that time by being hypocrites to King Farouk. The impacts of Heikal school of journalism might take decades for Egyptian journalists to overcome the fallout of his 6 decades of journalistic work.
Heikal have always found away to be in the spotlights in all seasons and is truly adaptable to all changes in political seasons.
Partisan press dates back to the end of the 1970s and were the only source of opposition allowed by the regime to express their views, usually the they avoided criticizing the president directly and relied on criticizing policies of the government and regime without directly criticizing the president till they changed that stance after the Camp David accord signed by Sadat and they became more critical versus Sadat. The same pattern continued during Mubarak era with publications from the main opposition parties like El Wafd , El Ahrar (Freemen) and El Tagamoa (Coalition) parties were having their publications.
Like many other private sector publications they normally followed the policies set by the owners unlike the traditional claim of separating the editing process from the financiers’ affiliations. The same can be applied to partisan press, only in this case the financiers are the high committee of each party that dictates the policies and what should published in the party publications. Al Ahaly (the people) of Tagamoa party, Al Ahrar of Al Ahrar party and El Wafd are the biggest and most prominent of the opposition party press. These publications were later followed in the early millennium by Al Ghad (Tomorrow) party publications. Some of the parties like Al Ahrar had over 12 different publications ranging from books, periodicals and newspapers.
Unfortunately the amount of these publications failed to reflect positively on the actual popularity of the aforementioned parties as Al Ahrar and El Tagamoa hardly ever managed to get more than single digits percentages of seats in any parliament during Sadat or Mubarak. This can be certainly attributed to the great pressures exercised by the former regime on them but at the same time resembles a strong failure to connect with the populace efficiently.
Back in the 1980&1990s El Wafd newspaper was a breath of fresh air to Egyptians who sought the hidden truth from the twisted and half truth usually published daily in government run newspapers but now it’s breath of toxic air that is so foul to even to the most radical reader. The online news portal doesn’t contain as much news as much as it is a portal to sub-reality and an alternative world that hardly exist The professionalism in Egypt’s longest running opposition paper is severely lacking and it keeps deteriorating in quality and sales day by day.
The position of El Wafd newspaper post the revolution have been shifting according to the whims of the party chief Mr. Sayed El Badawy and reflecting on his constant status of forging and breaking alliances with other political powers including SCAF. One day a newspaper would print praise for the Islamist groups like Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis and a week later the same paper would publish a veracious bashing for the same group.
The same was applied on SCAF and particularly when they praised field Marshall Tantawy to an extreme extent then shifting their position radically to the extent of printing a head title “The people want the head of the Field Marshall” thus applying a new unprecedented trend of actually inciting political violence. The editors of the El Wafd newspapers have been impetuous through the months following the revolution towards bashing anyone on sight just as soon as they receive the signal from the party committee and to be more precise the party leader and main financier Sayed El Badawy. These actions exercised by the party publication are not befitting of a publication carries the name of an over 80 year old party that used to be one of the pillars of liberty , liberalism and Egyptian Identity since its first establishment in 1918 then reestablished in 1978 during Sadat’s era.
Post the revolution few published periodicals representing the new parties launched like that of the Freedom and Justice party “El Horeya wal Adala” but so far they have not reached further than the Muslim brotherhood supporters who might be the only client for that publication. The publication was not highly publicized with adverts as much of the other party activities and contains simply a pro-islamist rhetoric that is synonymous with the party affiliation.
Private and Independent Press
Private press was usually limited to mostly periodicals and magazines published in Egypt or in many cases Cyprus or Lebanon due to less stringent Press laws. The private press mostly handled social issues, fashion and other life interests. However by the early millennium a new wave of private newspapers surfaced as a step forward to the traditional state and partisan press that dominated the scene for long decades. The likes of journalist Ibrahim Essa who possess a liberal/leftists tendencies and the most ardent critiques of President Mubarak blazed the trail but with the price of having 10 of his publications shut down by security forces or court orders due to his straightforward criticism to the regime.
Essa’s school of aggressive criticism was rivaled by a more constructive, objective and more professional criticism from newly found Newspapers like “Al Masry Al Youm” (Egyptian Today) and “Al Shorouk” (The Dawn” who have seen the light in the later years of the past decade. Both newspapers have shown some moments of exemplary professional journalism at certain periods particularly the after their launch and certain moments during and after the revolution. But the same cannot be mentioned about certain lack of professionalism in certain coverage as well as head titles.
Furthermore, the close the Presidential elections approached the less impartial both newspapers reacted towards certain candidates. While both paper claim to uphold the values of liberalism, both failed to deliver a complete liberal messages and the same as the case of ONTV satellite channel they have been recently overran by extreme leftists and Islamists journalists and younger editors.
With the departure of Al Masry Al Youm’s former editor-in-chief Magdi El Galad , the newspaper took a nose dive towards more unprofessional editing techniques and news coverage. The revolutionary-than-thou attitude prevailed through the newspaper message and incitement against certain Presidential characters figures in the previous regimes like Ambassador. Amr Moussa and Dr. Ahmed Shafiq indicates that the newspapers is driven by a political agenda be that good or bad. Attacks on Moussa and Shafiq and blatant endorsement of their opponents seems ironical since they are the two candidates with the liberal stance in comparison to the newspaper implicitly endorsing candidates like Dr. Abou El Fottoh the conservative and co-founder of the Al Gamaa Al Islamiya “Islamic group” that terrorized Egypt since 1970 till end of the 1990s.
The same description can be applied on El Shorouk Newspaper which in the last days before the elections have blatantly attacked Moussa and Shafiq as well and claimed to have documents incriminating Shafiq for corruption while not publishing these documents or submitting them to the designated authorities as any professional newspaper should have done.
Other interesting new private press dailies include Al Watan (The Homeland) headed by Magdi El Galad which have been publishing recently some strange and seemingly fictional conversations that they claim took place during Mubarak’s trial. New publications include.El Tahir (independence but referring to Tahrir Square) Al Youm Al Sabaa (The 7th day) . Aside from that there the Islamist funded and run Al Masreyoun (The Egyptians) and the Al Fattah newpapers which adheres to the Salafi and ultra conservative groups’ rhetoric and spreading what is perceived by many as hate speeches against other political groups.
Among the many new newspapers have surfaced post the revolution, among the most famous of them is the “Tahrir” newspaper established by the prominent journalist Ibrahim Essa who had 10 of his previous publications shut down by order of the former regime. The newspaper utilizes a hardcore pro-revolution rhetoric but usually lacked a lot of objectivity and focused on a lot of innuendos and occasional exaggerated reports about events in post-revolution Egypt. The current stance of the newspaper has toned down a bit after Essa and his colleagues realized that they unintentionally helped Islamist to move closer to power than ever before. Now the Newspaper like many others are focused on unmasking the Islamists intentions and their attempts to take control over Egypt instead of the hardcore rhetoric against former regime figures after the previous tactic proved to be a great failure.
Unfortunately some Newspapers despite the current boom of sales post revolution are struggling financially and actually one prominent English newspaper Daily News Egypt have shut down their newspaper and website due to financial reasons after 7 years being the only independent English daily newspaper in Egypt. However, just a week ago they seem to have received enough funding for a prelaunch but that will not mean sustainability on the long run unless the economic and social circumstances change.
It was notable to observers during the first round of Presidential elections on the 23rd and 24th of May that the private press has relinquished their presumed role and often self-declared objectivity and impartiality. It was evident that the editorials as well the news editing serves in favour of some candidates over others. For instance, Al Masry al youm and Al Shrouk news coverage was clearly in favour of Dr. Abdel Moneim Abou El Fottoh while El Tahrir was supporting for Mr. Hamadeen Sabahy . Finally El Dostor (The Constitution) which was formally owned by Ibrahim Essa but had a new pro-government administration, clearly and blatantly favoured Ahmed Shafiq especially in the second round of the presidential elections.
Ironically all these private press outlets and others have criticized the state media for years of being biased towards the former presidents and governments while in the first real test of objectivity they have failed to deliver a different message than those whom they criticized and bashed for years. The overzealous younger editors working in these private newspapers couldn’t separate their own personal feelings towards a certain candidate and they have managed to withhold certain news that will be negative towards their candidates of choice, while propagating ones that will be against their rival candidates. That same tactic exactly is what state media has been criticized of utilizing for decades has been used to the letter by all the private press outlets.
While many of the Private press newspapers and periodicals claim time and again that they separate the financiers’ political affiliations from their editorial policies, the presidential elections litmus test proved without a shred of doubt that this claim is a myth created by the financiers and editors themselves to sell a few more publications. The credibility of the private and independent publications are at stake and despite their great role prior to the revolution in uncovering cases that the state media and press have managed to cover up , they haven’t lived yet to the expectations of most of the Egyptian public post the revolution .
Internet: The driving force behind the revolution
A century long of free satellite TV and freedom of expression wouldn’t been enough to get the people to the streets like the DSL internet did in less than a decade. It can be simply stated if it wasn’t for the internet and the social media the Egyptian revolution would have been a fairy tale in the imagination of most Egyptians. Yet the internet was the real force behind the change and the actual first wave of the revolution. Facebook, twitter and independent activists’ blogs played a part in the warming up towards what is known to be the most massive revolution in more than century.
The Facebook page of “We are all Khaled Said” which was a tribute to the 28th years old martyr Khaled Said who died due to police brutality months before the revolution sparked the idea of protesting on the 25th of January 2011 on the Tunisian model of revolution.
The first wave turned eventually into a massive revolution that toppled Mubarak’s regime. Knowing the strength of the internet and it’s capability to rally all activists, the former regime captured and imprisoned many of the freedom fighters and bloggers before the revolution. They went all the way of disconnecting the entire internet network on 28th of January 2011 only to be restored back on 2nd of February after that tactic led to further Egyptians joining the ranks of the rebels in the street. With over 23 million users in Egypt representing 25% of the population.
If internet is any indicator now, it certainly shows the deep rift within the Egyptian political spectrum and the sense of paranoia among Egyptians towards each other. The “C” word or the Civil war is taboo since the country haven’t known such event since the unification of the upper and lower kingdom by Pharaoh Menes over 5 thousand years ago and creating the first unified state in the world’s history. However, any analyst to the news forums, or the social media won’t fail to notice that civil war already started on the on the internet pages between Islamists factions and secular factions. A war that one would one would only pray that it is never taken to the streets or Egypt will slumber into an abyss of chaos.
Internet may have changed the way Egyptians live and think and certainly will continue to be a further drive for change. However, it’s a double edged sword at the moment with a lot of extremists’ ideologies poisoning the virtual world as they do with the real one. It’s noteworthy to observe how the internet will continue to effect life and politics in Egypt in the near Future.
During Mubarak’s era a witch-hunt on Political blogs on the internet took place and heavy hands of the National Security Bureau have hunted, prosecuted and jailed many bloggers among in order to curb the potential of the freedoms. However, that didn’t prevent from other new bloggers from surfacing and continue a struggle for freedom of speech and for Egypt in general.
Post the revolution almost all printed publications like Al Ahram, Al Masry Al Youm, Al Akhbar, Al Youm El Sabaa and others launched their news services online to meet the great demand for such services. Brand new news portals are surfacing everyday and also forums for debates like Beit El Hewar (House of discussions) keep launching every short period. The debates taking place as comments on news and articles published on these services can represent a poll on the public opinion though might not be a very accurate one since the entire number of Egyptians using the internet is around the 23 million figure is about 25% of total population . A big percentage of that number are not regular users or inexperienced ones, therefore, still the comments displayed online don’t represent a great sector of the populace.
Almost all political powers within the Egyptian spectrum have their own online portals including that of Muslim Brotherhood called Ikhwan online. Other liberal and socialist powers have the same and each side are trying to draw as much attention to their portals as they can by issuing declarations and communiqués online first before any other publications or media outlets.
The Supreme council for Armed forces recognizing the power of the internet has established their own page on Facebook and issuing their regular communiqués and declarations online first followed by an announcement in the traditional media outlets. This has been happening since they took power in February 2012 and continued to be the trend onwards. All communiqués were mainly addressed to the younger rebels who are known to utilize social media and the tactic worked successfully initially before the relationships became sour between rebels and SCAF.
The online media is very promising and have helped to formulate and affect the path for the revolution and still does, however it didn’t substitute the traditional media outlets like TV and press and not likely in the near future. It still represents a fast access towards fresh news but still lack reliability due to the enormous amounts of innuendos later ironically denied by the same sources that published these innuendos. A clear code of ethics for the online media is impossible with the exception of online portals of existing press publications who are unfortunately still deviate from that code of ethics by miles.
Yet it remains to be said that the freedom exercised by online publications and portals is unmatched on all other traditional media outlets and that led to Islamist majority parliament to try to control these hard gained freedoms by an infamous law on the pretext of banning pornography but it’s aimed to curbing the freedoms exercised by internet users because they know that was one of the effective weapons that was utilized to topple Mubarak’s regime and they don’t wish to allow these freedoms to topple themselves. They pretext of pornography banning was a blatant cover for curbing on internet freedoms by Islamists after it was discovered that the proposed law was copied verbatim from the infamous Saudi Arabian law for internet which allows almost complete control over the content of the internet. All free Egyptians and activists are urged to battle that law and prevent it from seeing the light of day since even Mubarak’s regime didn’t have the audacity to propose such law before the revolution.
Negative traits of Egyptian press and media
1- Blackmail tactics against politicians and businessmen:
It has been reported by several sources that some of the owners of the private newspapers have blackmailed politicians and businessmen to publish reports that defames the businessman or politician interests. The publication would vow silence in exchange for the business own to buy advertisement space in the publication. This tactic was mostly utilized by lesser known independent newspapers as a source of revenue and occasionally it works.
2- Acting as government front or agents of National Security Bureau :
Be that by direct orders from National security bureau or by volunteering, many Egyptian journalists, writers and TV anchors are more royal than the king in their approach. They serve as insiders to the national security bureau while actually some private newspapers were licensed to serve the interests of that bureau by sending regular insider reports and thus guaranteeing that they will receive rewards and possible promotions. The reason for this was the interference of the National security bureau in the hiring and firing of most journalists in state press newspapers and publications especially the top tier editors in chief.
3- Nasser’s Era influences:
While this is not attributed to the late president Nasser himself but more to the modus operandi of the journalism traits in his era when journalists became all the president’s men and would go as far as humanly possible to get on his good side. Thus, many journalists’ loyalties were to the president and not to the avid reader of their columns and news editorials. The same can be applied to Sadat’s, Mubarak’s eras and unfortunately the trend continues post the revolution with SCAF being the main client to serve by these journalists.This has led that Egyptians sometimes have to read many publications in order to double check a single fact.
4- Panic fever and Sensationalism :
One of the most prevailing traits of Egyptian Press and Media are Panic Fevers and sensationalism, all major press publications have utilized this tactic one way or another. The readers were always braced with a wave of attacks on a certain group or activity for a certain span of time. Usually it’s mindless and lacks any objectivity, one of the knights of these charges was the prominent journalist and TV anchor Wael El Ebrashy who created campaigns usually mixing reality with lies . One of his most infamous campaigns were back in 1997 against what he called “Satanic worshippers” and accusing all Egyptian Heavy metal bands and their fans of organizing sexual orgies and getting involved of Satanic worshipping rituals.
The police authorities cracked down on one of the metal gigs and ended up imprisoning dozens of younger music fans and band members and accused them of heresy and Satan worshiping. Also banning famous bands like Metallica from performing in Egypt was a result of this campaign. The case ended up as being a big fiasco since all allegations were later dropped by the general attorney but after the defamation that these poor young musicians and fans had to endure of months. Similar ridiculous campaigns were launched by the same journalist against other younger groups like the EMOs and others with lesser resounding success. El Ebarashi isn’t the only journalist who utilizes these Panic fever tactics and sensationalism but unfortunately many other prominent journalists have utilized the same tactics for decades. That is a trait that the Egyptian media and press have to cleanse themselves from in the upcoming years.
“Egypt is the mother and the big sister” Egyptian media propagated the idea for decades as a matter of extreme nationalism to cover on many domestic issues that were unresolved by consecutive regimes and method of superiority over others. Moreover,, it provides the average Egyptian a catharsis from the daily life burdens and a method for politicians and media workers to justify their actions in the name of acting as the big sister as the prefer to call the country. The over personalization of politics in Egypt is staggering with Egypt being the mother of all nations and the president is the father of all Egyptians.
Accordingly, it is propagated by a wide spectrum of media outlets that Egyptians have to pay the price for the Arab world’s problems and be that through wars 4 of which has been fought already for Palestine and one in Yemen. Not counting the countless involvements in other nations like in the Algerian war of independence and many others. While other nations particularly in the Gulf states evolves and showing signs of progress, the Egyptian nation is still on a stand still because of not organizing the priorities and the weaknesses of the Egyptian nation is reflecting a negative effect on the Palestinian-Israeli struggle as well and can represent a dead end for that cause.
Many of the Egyptian media journalists, writers and anchors in most of the past century resemble the classical Arab poets of the medieval eras. These poets used to recite great poems of praise to the sultan or the caliphate and they would gain a lot of influence and gold out of that. Should the caliphate reject them for any reason, they change their poems of praise into poems of defamation and harsh criticism. Many Journalist, Anchors and column writers applied the same tactic in modern day Egypt. They either get the high ranked positions with incredibly exaggerated salaries or they join the opposition forces seeking some fame and glory.
Unfortunately, Egyptian Media lacks a unified code of ethics enforced by a strict law that governs the work of press, radio, TV and news networks like all democratic countries.
Aside from a ridiculous and tyrant censorship laws that should be eradicated to enable more freedom of expression, the code of ethics in Egyptian Media outlets should be set to guarantee total freedom of expression while maintaining responsibility for the printed and broadcasted material.
“A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad”
Albert Camus (1913-1960) French novelist, essayist and dramatist.