Egyptian government attempts to suppress the media

Egyptian government attempts to suppress the media

From the Committee to Protect Journalists:

New York, August 16, 2012--President Mohamed Morsi's government and allies are pushing back against critical news coverage, suppressing critical journalists and state-run newspapers, putting a journalist on trial, and attacking three journalists on the street, according to news reports.

"This is a troubling backward step that Egypt's newly elected President Mohamed Morsi should not be taking," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "We urge President Morsi to reverse this course immediately and demonstrate his commitment to press freedom."

Several journalists have reported suppression at the state-run newspaper Al-Akhbar. The newspaper was among a number of prominent state-run dailies at which new editors-in-chief had been appointed by the Egyptian upper house of parliament, also known as the Shura Council, on August 7, according to news reports. The Shura Council's move was seen as a way for Morsi's government, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, to place regime sympathizers in powerful positions to control media coverage. Several private newspapers ran blank columns on August 9 in protest of the appointments, news reports said.

Still getting used to seeing the word "regime" be used about the Morsi administration… Has a good overview of the recent media clampdowns. It's too soon to tell whether this is the beginning of a new pattern of repression or isolated events related to the current atmosphere in Egypt (rumors of coup plots, bad old habits of editors trying to ingratiate themselves to the new regime, etc.) or a more consistent and deliberate policy. I doubt that Egypt's fairly vibrant media and its very active Journalists' Syndicate is going to take this lying down, however — indeed it may spur sharper action to change regulations on the media.

One particularly worrying thing ahead: there have been reports that the Constituent Assembly, which is still going ahead with the process of drafting a new constitution despite much uncertainty about its status, is said to have drafted a new version of Article 178 of the previous constitution, which it is using as a base model. A friend emailed the text, which could include prison penalties for publishing "information that damages Egypt's reputation": 

"either by faslifying the truth or providing an innacurate/untruthful description or by highlighting inapropriate sights (?) or by any other means"

سواء اكان ذلك بمخالفة الحقيقة او اعطاء وصف غير صحيح او بابراز مظاهر غير لائقة او باية طريقة اخرى

This is very much Mubarak-era mentality. 

Ramadan TV show stirs argument across Arab world

Ramadan TV show stirs argument across Arab world

More on Omar, this Ramadan season's hit soap opera about the second caliph, from Reuters' Mahmoud Habboush:

Conservative clerics denounce the series, which is running during the region's busiest drama season, the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Scholars see an undesirable trend in television programming; the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates has publicly refused to watch it.

But at dinner tables and on social media around the region, "Omar" is winning praise among many Muslim viewers, who admire it for tackling an important period in Islam's history. Some think it carries lessons for the Arab world, which is grappling with political change unleashed by last year's uprisings.

Salam Sarhan, a columnist at the Lebanese newspaper Diyar, said the show was part of a gradual trend for the Islamic world to re-examine its heritage more critically, and would open the door for more television and cinema productions depicting central figures in Islam.

"If anyone dared to depict these figures 20 years ago, he would have been accused of blasphemy," he wrote. "Simply put, depicting these revered figures with their mistakes, limitations, rivalries, anger, hunger and thirst will thrust Islamic societies into a new phase."

I'd previously noted the show here.

The Muslim Brothers' state media powergrab

Bad News for the Brotherhood

Meritte Mabrouk on how Egypt's state newspaper editors were appointed, and how the process was taken ove Islamist lawmakers, in Foreign Policy:

None of the signs boded well.  The 14-member selection committee was headed by FJP member Fathy Shehab and included three other FJP members. Two of its four journalists dropped out protesting what they saw as a naked attempt by the Islamist members to force their own candidates and another seven syndicate board members dropped out of discussions with the council altogether. Magdy el-Maasarawy, a Shura Council member who resigned from the committee last month, told Egypt Independent that the original criteria, which drew heavily on what he referred to as professional skills as agreed upon by the journalists, were scrapped by the rest of the committee. Additionally, he said that the 234 candidates didn't all fulfill the criteria, most notably Abd el-Nasser Salama, appointed head of Middle East's most prominent newspaper, Al Ahram. Salama, said Maasarawy, was never at Al Ahram for the required 10 years. He'd been the Muscat bureau chief for three years before returning to Cairo in 2009 as columnist.

Gamal Fahmy, secretary general of the Journalists' Syndicate, also told Egypt Independent that he thought the majority of the new editors were weak, professionally speaking, and certainly not qualified to lead the kind of large staffs involved in these papers. Professional competence is an especially sore point; Yasser Rizk, the former editor of Al-Akhbar is generally acknowledged to have worked wonders with the ailing publication. However, he has not been supportive of the Islamists and was replaced during the shuffle.

The new editors appear to fall into three categories: the cooperative, the Islamist, and the difficult-to-categorize.

It'd be politically difficult, but most of these publications should be shut down, or at least made to adhere to a budget plan aiming at self-suffiency. They're a drain on state coffers and in many cases not very good. And if they continue to exist, there is no reason to have parliament appoint the editors — hopefully something that can be addressed in the next constitution.

This year's Ramadan serial commentary

It's an annual MENA tradition I look forward to — analysis of the major Ramadan soap operas, TV serial, and overall programming choices on Arab national and satellite television. Here's a few links:

  • Al-Ahram Weekly | Front Page | Something wrong with the wires
  • L’écho des feuilletons arabes sur CPA | Culture et politique arabes
  • Al-Ahram Weekly | Culture | The Fourth Serial
  • The to Yves Gonzalez-Quinjano's wonderful site, Cultures et Politiques Arabes, is a full archive of his pieces on Ramadan serials over the last six or seven years — great stuff. I really like his recent piece on the serial about Omar Ibn Khattab's life in the context of the regional Sunni-Shia pseudo-confrontation. In English on the site, stats about this megaproduction:

    The Largest Arabic Drama Production in History : 1970 swords, 650 spears, 1500 horses, 3800 camels, 4000 arrows, 400 bows, 170 sheilds, 15 drums, 14200 meters of fabric, 137 statues, 39 costume designers & tailors, 1600 pieces of potery, 10000 silver coins, 7550 slippers, 322 actors and actresses, 10,000 extras in the ba.lefield, 299 technicians from 10 countries
    The Old City of Makkah and its areas were reconstructed across 12,000 sq meters, 29 in-studio sets, 89 outdoor shooting locations
    322 days of filming & post-production
    = 463.680 minutes
    = 72.820.800 seconds (source :

    As Yves notes, it's a fascinating evolution of the Wahhabi-led fight for the domination of mass cultural production that their propaganda (as this clearly is) now eschews the traditional fundamentalist distaste for physical representations of companions of the Prophet and of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs.

    And like a lot of major political developments in the region lately (support for the Libyan and Syrian uprisings, the covert war against Iran, the tacit alliance with Israel, support for Salafists across the region, etc.) this too is a Qatari-Saudi production.

    Arab Spring Overdose?

    ✚ Arab Spring Overdose?

    Countering Sultan al-Qassemi's argument I posted this morning, the new blog Moniraism agrees about the bias of al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya but says it's nothing new, and the same bias was evident during the Egyptian uprisings — so why the fuss?

    "Another interesting point was how Sultan claims that Al Jazeera was a more reliable source of news before it began reporting on Syria. Though I’d like to believe it, this idea itself is far removed from reality. Since its inception, one can safely say that Al Jazeera was the most controversial, provocative news channel on the Arabian satellite airwaves. In its regular broadcast it referred to Jerusalem as ‘occupied Jerusalem’, had analysts and politicians screaming at each other with occasional fist fights on its ‘opposite direction’ talk show, and it was the first station to exclusively air Osama Bin Laden’s videos post-911. In Kuwait in the late 90s, we also had a conspiracy theory circulating that it was being funded by Saddam Hussein, so many Kuwaitis boycotted the channel altogether.

    During the Arab spring, Al Jazeera’s popularity exploded because it was the only channel that continuously broadcast the entirety of the revolution from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen to Libya. Its dramatically edited inserts between news segments about events that were taking place was something new to see in a news channel broadcast. It was sensational, moving, and shaped the imagination of its viewers about current events (Al Arabiya was also quick to copy these inserts to catch up on the ‘drama’ that it was missing out on).

    In other words, the agenda was already there for everyone to see."

    Loose lips sink counter-revolutions

    This insane public service announcement is airing on Egyptian state TV — it warns people not to discuss sensitive subjects with strangers (here the stranger is played by an Egyptian but it's inferred he's a foreigner). Note the sinister use of mobile phones to spread information, the taboo on discussing the army, etc.

    If someone wants to translate it in the comments it'd be great for non-Arabic speaking readers (I don't have time unfortunately). (Update: I was sent a version with subtitles, now above.)

    Update 2: the as has been pulled.

    Morocco, the Gulf and the media

    An interesting item at Angry Arab — Aljazeera and Morocco:

    "Yassine sent met this:  "So al-Jazeera decided not to air the documentary on Morocco and the 20th of February Movement (nuqta sakhina), which they had been promoting for more than a week. Why not? Again? (In November the same thing happened (back then the al-Jazeera crew was forbidden to go to Tanger and the al-Hoceima area: two centers of the Moroccan uprising).  The Moroccan king recently 'gave' the Qatari emir some 4 5.000 hectares (=450 km²) in the Guelmim area so that the Qatari emir could go hunt there. And also, these two weeks al-Jazeera has been negotiating a possible return to Morocco with the new minister of information. So I guess the negotiations are concluded. Perhaps the documentary was just a card in the negotiation-process. This is Gulf-media"""

    The Emir of Qatar has a huge property in Tangier where he spends part of the summer, close to the king's own palace (and the king spends most of his summer in the north, either in Tangier or nearby Tetouan). Jazeera like other media has had trouble with the Moroccan government, but there is little explanation for the cancellation of the broadcast of this documentary (presumably as part the channel's very good series of documentaries on the Arab uprisings).

    Incidentally, two members of the February 20 movement who worked for a UAE-based TV channel (Dubai TV) were fired at the request of the minister of information last year. Solidarity among absolute monarchs trumps all.

    Will Fox News fire Tucker Carlson for calling for genocide?

    No, I doubt it will. But this video is a good occasion to revisit the whole Ahmedenijad "wipe Israel off the map" debacle (i.e. that he did not say that, although he may have meant it), reflect on the fact that thus far it is Israel and the United States where talk of a strike on Iran is routine, as well as the sorry state of television discourse in the United States. In France, for instance, Carlson would be almost certainly sued and perhaps could even face prison. In the US this will probably be defended under the First Amendment (which I actually prefer), but many respectable news organizations have fired contributors for much less. Too bad Fox News probably doesn't fit that description.

    Update: HM sends me via Twitter a link to an exchange of emails between Carlson and Gleen Greenwald of Salon on this. Carlson says he was actually talking about the dangers of a strike on Iran to the US economy. Watch for yourselves, seems pretty unambiguous.

    What Anthony Shadid gave American journalism on the Arab world

    As'ad AbuKhalil put up a note that Nir Rosen sent him about Anthony Shadid — it's very true about, great journalism aside, the function that Shadid played in the US media over the last decade:

    "his death is not only a catastrophic personal tragedy for his family or friends (of which i was one and i'm still in shock from it), its a huge setback in a struggle we are all part of. nobody else in the mainstream, let alone the new york times, had the clout to humanize arabs or let them speak directly to white people in the US, and to even challenge, if subtly, the dominant narrative, not only by what he wrote, but by what he didnt write, because he did not have to always refer to zionists or white "experts" for quotes and analysis. and his existence also allowed other journalists in the mainstream a bit more space, it showed the value of having somebody like him and made it easier for great journalists like leila fadel, or hannah allam, to do their job. and he had the imprimatur of the pulitzer and other prizes that protected him from criticism. i dont think we can fully appreciate what his loss will do to the way the arab world is reported and understood and as a result dealt with as well, but he is irreplaceable for us and it marks the end of an era".
    A few years ago, before Shadid joined the NYT, a friend who is of Arab origin was interviewed by them for a Middle East correspondent position. The friend was told, "we want our own Anthony Shadid". The NYT saw the quality of his coverage and understood that affinity with the people of the region (and language skills) were assets, alongside his talent.
    But when they did finally manage to get him, Shadid was not domesticated by the NYT. He domesticated them, expanding the subtleness and scope of his coverage in an area where the NYT has an uneven record (to say the least) and is under extreme scrutiny. And as Nir says, he paved the way for others to follow.

    Finally, PA kicks back against Israel's Hasbara

    A Jerusalem-based correspondent forwarded me the email below — it's a new initiative by the PLO Delegation to the United States to track anti-Palestinian incitement in Israeli media and society and publicize it to American journalists, officials and politicians. Let's hope this works and gets some attention on the issue — or will the politicians decide to ignore this?
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    The BBC censors the word "Palestine"

    This press release from the Palestine Campaign beggars belief...

    for immediate release: 31st January 2012 *
    *BBC Trust rules in favour of censoring ‘Palestine’

    The BBC has admitted it was ‘overcautious’ in editing the word ‘Palestine’ from an artist’s performance on Radio 1Xtra and has said it is ‘looking to learn’ from the way it handled the situation.

    However, in a ruling released today (31/01/12), the BBC Trust said the final content that was broadcast on the Charlie Sloth Hip Hop M1X – a music programme – was not biased and therefore did not breach its editorial guidelines.

    The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has spent eight months trying to find out why the decision was made to censor the lyrics of a freestyle performance by the rapper, Mic Righteous. Appearing on the Charlie Sloth show in February 2011, he sang: ‘I can scream Free Palestine for my beliefs’.

    BBC producers replaced the word ‘Palestine’ with the sound of breaking glass, and the censored performance was repeated in April on the same show.

    Amena Saleem, of PSC, said: ‘In its correspondence with us, the BBC said the word Palestine isn’t offensive, but ‘implying that it is not free is the contentious issue’, and this is why the edit was made.

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    More denial

    This video is a prime example of the excruciating debates we're seeing on Egyptian TV recently. The guest on this show is insisting to the presenter that the army would never shoot at crowds, despite video evidence, claims Sheikh Emad Effat was shot at close range and then is challenged by a coroner's report saying he was shot at a distance and from a height (possibly indicating a sniper). Despite being contradicted with evidence at every turn, he keeps on rambling about the army as protector of the nation, etc., and that the allegations against it are therefore impossible.

    It's rather typical, unfortunately, of the SCAF's worldview and that of some establishment figures: the army can do no wrong, therefore the army has not done anything wrong. What we're witnessing is an entire mental edifice of denial and excuses crumbling down. Great that this presenter gave him a tough time — on state TV, they often just nod along in agreement.

    Previously:  Egypt, still the land of denial

    Video: "People have this thing called a remote control"

    A wonderful appearance on Egyptian TV by my friend Ezzedine Shukri-Fishere, in which he pulls out a remote control out of his pocket and proceeds to explain that every one has one of these in their house and can switch the channel from State TV. He then says enough with accusations of foreign hands, spies and agitation, there are tactics from the 20th century and we are in the 21st. The presenter is quite defensive. He goes in to say State TV must be the television of the Egyptian people, not that of the Interior Ministry or SCAF.

    Although State TV continues to be fairly bad, especially with the call-ins, I have to say it has improved tremendously even since Maspero last month. It may be partly because of rumored rebellions by its employees. And there’s still much, much room for improvement.

    L'Affaire Jennifer Rubin

    Why the Washington Post won't fire Jennifer Rubin -

    What’s particularly remarkable is that Pexton is admitting (albeit wanting it kept secret) what any honest observer knows to be true: that there is a very high likelihood — I’d say absolute certainty — that Rubin would have been fired had she promoted a post like this about Jews and Israelis rather than Arabs and Palestinians.

    But this is the insidious, pervasive bias that has long been obvious in a profession that relentlessly touts its own “objectivity.” Even the mildest criticism of Israelis and anything even hinting at criticisms of Jews is strictly prohibited — a prohibition enforced by summary, immediate dismissal and enduring stigma. As Nicholas Kristof wrote during a visit to Jerusalem last year: Israel “tolerates a far greater range of opinions [about Israel] than America.

    The takeaway: endorse racism against Arabs all you want, but not the other way around.

    On The New Yorker's approach to Islamic art

    Peter Schjeldahl wanders blind through the Met's new Islamic wing | Sean Rocha

    Sean Rocha makes a good point about this amateurish review of the Metropolitan Museum's new Islamic wing in the New Yorker:

    Would Schjeldahl ever approach a contemporary art exhibit this way?

    I mean, would the New Yorker send someone who knows nothing about, say, modern art to review a Picasso or Schiele collection? finishes his piece by saying Islamic art made him acutely aware of his own European heritage. Wouldn't insights on the new wing based on its own merits make for a more interesting review?

    The new Egyptian censorship

    Looks a lot like the old. From CPJ:

    Egypt must stop censoring newspapers

    New York, September 27, 2011- The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the censorship of two newspapers in the past four days, the first instances of their kind since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak in February. Production of the Saturday edition of the independent weekly Sawt al-Umma was halted, while the daily Rose al-Youssef was prevented from printing a page in today's paper that was to feature a controversial story.

    "The military government has revived Mubarak-era repression," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "These two instances of censorship have been preceded by the closing of a news bureau, the interrogation of journalists, and other instances of press restrictions and intimidation."

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