Egypt's press barons

I promised a while back that I would discuss the ongoing rumors that Egypt's press barons--the chairmen-cum-editors-in-chief of the state-owned press groups--would soon be replaced. Although that rumor began shortly before the referendum (with some people thinking it was a way to pressure the barons to avoid all negative coverage of that day), it has since then retreated after the expected change did not take place, with most people saying it had been delayed for after the elections. Until, that is, last Saturday, when the head of the Akhbar Al Youm press group resigned in an editorial in his newspaper. You can read the details in my story for Cairo magazine, with sample reactions in the press.

This was the biggest story in the Egyptian press alongside Condoleeza Rice's visit this week, and it's not about to go away. What almost all commentators hit upon is right: the state-owned press, including prestigious newspapers like Al Ahram, is sick. Decades of self-censorship, corruption, nepotism and sheer incompetence have taken their toll. The other interesting thing that has come out of this is that it is pitting the old press barons against the leadership of the NDP and more specifically the powerful former minister of information, Safwat Al Sherif. A lot of this hints at growing internal rifts within the regime among its various power centers, with key actors such as Sherif (who epitomizes the old style Egyptian apparatchik) battling for survival. It also sheds light for the first time on how these things work in practice, with journalists revealing for instance that these editors were summoned by the presidential chief of staff and told they would be going. Kremlinologists of the Egyptian regime would do well to follow this story.