The unprofessional coverage of the ‘coup’

Sara Abou Bakr
12 Min Read
Sara Abou Bakr
Sara Abou Bakr
Sara Abou Bakr

A coup d’etat is, according to Oxford English Dictionary, “a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government”.

According to western media, this is what happened in Egypt on 3 July.

It’s all cut and dry for the all-knowing western media who decided to label what happened a “coup”, not caring for what many Egyptians themselves think happened.

In journalism school, we are taught that as reporters it is our job to report on what is happening, not to inflect our opinion, but it seems the western media, in particular the American media, decided that it knows better than the millions of angry anti-Morsi protesters who took to the streets since 28 June peacefully demanding the removal of Mohamed Morsi.

I personally, as a journalist, abhor parachute journalism where a news outlet sends a reporter to a “hotbed” of events and he/she is supposed to offer the audience in-depth coverage. This usually happens in developing countries and the mainstream international media does not give people their true voice, bombarding the audience with “expert” and “analyst” views on what happens with short sound-bites from “the street.” Parachute journalism at its worst!

CNN decided to lead the pack, first by choosing to cover what happened in Egypt on 3 July in the “little box” on the screen (since the Zimmerman trial is much more important!) then by dubbing what happened a “military coup” which shows extreme lack of good researchers on their team, to be explained later in this article.

Reports continued to air on CNN angering many Egyptians, who believed that biased reporting represented the stance of the Obama administration which backs the Muslim Brotherhood. Ms Christian Amanpour decided to put her two cents in: “If it’s proven and true that they’re running around issuing arrest warrants for all these people, attacking and closing down various media outlets, there’s very little you can call it other than a coup. As one analyst said to me… no matter what it’s called… it’s umpired by the army… it’s the army in charge no matter who they put there (in charge).”

Ms Amanpour, my teenage journalism-loving heart that fell for your coverage of the Bosnian war was shattered to pieces. This is not reporting; this is opinionated coverage. How did you feel when you saw the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood give his speech from Nasr City on Friday, calling for bloodshed? He was not arrested it seems.

Did any of your team tell you that the arrest warrants are the result of formal complaints filed months ago against all Brotherhood leaders from people who lost relatives in Moqattam and the presidential palace clashes for killing unarmed civilians, but were put on hold because of the pro-Brotherhood Prosecutor General Talaat Abdullah? I guess not.

Young Egyptians are currently forming a petition called “CNN, shame on you!” that has over 32,000 signatures at time of writing. Democracy at its best!

CNN slightly changed it coverage two days ago with an interview with Mohamed ElBaradei, but the damage was done.

The Economist came up with an even more colourful headline, proudly posted on their Twitter account, “Egypt’s Tragedy”. It seems none of their team members informed them that millions of Egyptians were celebrating all night on the streets in different governorates. Or maybe they were told, but decided that instead of reporting, it is in the best interest of many of the Egyptian people to be told how to feel. Journalism with a twist!

TIME favoured the much debated word “coup” and it seems that Egypt is also “unravelling”. Egyptians, mark this very important term, for it seems we are “unravelling.”

NPR already began reporting on “post-coup” Egypt on 4 July. Egyptians are currently living in a post-coup phase, they just don’t know it yet.

The Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins slammed New York Times’ David Brooks, “…[He]arrives at a rather startling, derogatory conclusion: Egyptians just lack the fundamental brainpower to have a democracy, saying, ‘It’s not that Egypt doesn’t have a recipe for a democratic transition. It seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients.’”

So apparently we are also mentally challenged according to the all-knowing Brooks.

Linkins continues: “An observation worth noting, from Max Read: ‘Shall we note here, the day after Independence Day, that it took the United States of America 13 years after rejecting monarchy to settle on a stable constitutional form of government?’”

While the many American media outlets were floundering, Reuters and the BBC successfully walked the tight-rope of correct reporting; using words like “ouster” to describe what happened. They covered the different viewpoints of those who supported the ouster and those who were angry because of it. They called what is happened “a crisis” at times and described the jubilation and anger. Reuters even tickled our funny bone with the title Ousted from office, Morsi finds he and Egypt ‘don’t mix’ in reference to a much publicised remark by Morsi “gas and alcohol don’t mix”.

The issue is not whether you are for and against the ouster of Morsi. What matters is the that as journalists, it is our job to report and dig deep to find all relevant information. Otherwise what is the difference between newspapers and yellow papers?

What happened on 3 July, when Defence Minister Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi read the statement ousting Morsi, has a very complex background of events that many western media outlets chose to ignore, so allow me to explain the point of view of anti-Morsi protesters.

Two months ago, a movement named Tamarod or Rebellion began working on a signature campaign asking Egyptians to sign their names and ID numbers on a petition under the same name asking for the removal of Morsi. Their aim was to collect 20 million signatures, more than those who elected Morsi, by 30 June. Over the course of the two months, many Tamarod members were beaten, harassed and attacked by Morsi supporters as the movement gained momentum, especially at the grass-roots level. The economic conditions, coupled with the fuel crisis and Morsi’s floundering government have caused resentment and anger among Egyptians who had much hope of a better life after ousting of Hosni Mubarak.

On 29 June Tamarod announced that they have collected over 22 million signatures and together with different political groups called nation-wide demonstrations asking for the removal of Morsi. The Egyptian people complied and millions were on the streets for over three days in what was a predominantly festive atmosphere except for some unfortunate clashes in areas outside Cairo, leaving several dead.

One of the demands raised by the people on the street was for the armed forces to side with the people and remove Morsi. That sounded quite strange to many westerners, who wondered, why bring the army back to political life after the adamant anger following the transitional period in 2011?

But you see, Egyptians have a very complex relationship with the army that I sometimes wonder about.  My generation has a black history with the army during the transitional period in 2011; the Cabinet clashes, the killing of Maspero youth and the stripping of the blue-bra girl among other incidents etched in our minds with the culprits still to be tried. However, many people believe-sentimentally-that the army belongs to the people and it is their right to call upon it for help. Yes, it does not make sense, but it is a fact of life in this country. I do not know whether it is because of the remnants of the army propaganda used in Nasser’s regime or Al-Sadat’s devious plan that got us back the Israeli-occupied Sinai in 1973, but many Egyptians have some sort of kinship with the army.

The millions called upon the army to “correct their revolution”. The people admitted to their mistake in choosing the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi. They have suffered economically and politically; their sons and daughters thrown in jail for opposing him. Over 3,000 were detained in four months while Mubarak who was a certified dictator dared not to arrest over 600 yearly!

The army responded, met with opposition groups as well as the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Al-Tayeb and Pope Tawadros II and came up with a roadmap for a transitional period after Morsi refused to negotiate; the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) to become interim president, a committee to “correct” the constitution and a new technocratic government.

People rejoiced and western media called it a “military coup” leading to a wave of anger among Egyptians.

The reason as a reporter I cannot call it a military coup is simple; according to the constitution the head of the SCC is currently the president. A government is being formed as I am writing this. I have witnessed first-hand the millions asking the army to take down Morsi so until Al-Sisi appoints himself president and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces becomes the new ruler, I cannot in all faith call this a military coup.

In a couple of months if the military takes over, which is a possibility if the coming government fails, we shall name it thus.

But until this happens, and just because Egyptians are not acting according to western agendas, we call upon western media to stick to reporting and leave the “analysis” and “feelings” to the people of Egypt.

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Politics editor at Daily News Egypt Twitter: @sara_ab5