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Egypt’s media: Fact, fiction, and farce

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Mohamed Selim

Mohamed Selim

By Mohamed Selim Khalil

The world celebrated “Press Freedom Day” 3 May. Yet, are the Egyptian journalists, reporters and media personnel joining their peers worldwide in celebrating the day? I highly doubt it.

Many Egyptians, including journalists, who have endured perpetual hardship for the past three years ranging from lack of security to daily power cuts, never envisioned that their country would be heading down the path of competitive authoritarianism and ongoing clampdown on dissidents once again. The Egyptian state has turned a deaf ear to all calls for reform and good governance for in the name of fighting terrorism, which it has nurtured with its maladroit policies. On 3 July, when the military establishment toppled the incompetent Muslim Brotherhood affiliated president Mohamed Morsi, Egyptians, including myself, hoped that the army wouldn’t repeat the amateurish mistakes it made during its reign following former president Hosni Mubarak’s abdication. Yet, and to the chagrin of millions, the army returned to the fore with a vendetta to take back the country to the age of autocratic policies that serve their miligarchy disguised in democratic charades. And the second-in-line victims to the army’s heavy-handed repression, after members of the Brotherhood and their allies, are the journalists.

Fact is: Egypt in the past 10 months witnessed an unprecedented deterioration in the conditions commensurate to the maintenance of basic freedoms and democratic practises, including on-the-ground reporting. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Egypt the third deadliest country for the press in 2013, after Syria and Iraq, respectively. Over the course of last year, CPJ reported, six journalists died in Egypt. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has deplored the apprehension of five Al-Jazeera reporters on bogus criminal charges, including broadcasting false information. Any impartial observer will deduce that it is a sham trial that dishonours Egypt’s pledges to the international standards and Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. The daily violations of the reporters’ right to receive unfettered answers to their questions and being respected for their professions is disgraceful and tarnishes the reputation of a country that three-years ago had a short streak of inspiration for its youth perseverance and legitimate hopes of liberty and social justice.

Fiction is: the military establishment’s framing of foreign journalists as spies spewing internecine strife between Egyptians for external agendas that serve their countries and Egypt’s eternal foes. The daily rhetoric in Egypt’s official media, which is administered by the Ministry of Information and overseen by the army’s Department of Morale Affairs, is that of fear-mongering, mobilisation, and hatred. Egypt is portrayed by daily programmes as tangled in a web of conspiracies and plots that attempt to disintegrate the state. Lies and hyperbole are aired round the clock to dishonour free and fair journalism at an age where information can’t be sieved and facts on the ground will be retweeted without the approval of a military cadet. Yet, the Egyptian junta is returning the country to an age of a single and one-dimensional narrative through its control of the media coupled with tailored laws and pliable judiciary.

Farce is: the silence that the democratic nations, multinational institutions and various global players are skillfully amassing in order to appease the military establishment which, consequently, encourages it to further its crackdown to unparalleled levels. With the exception of a few nongovernmental organisations, the world and the foreign media aren’t exerting much pressure on Cairo to change its repressive course and respect its national and international obligations. The United States isn’t rising up to the challenge and is shy to chide the oppressive measures of the de facto rulers in Cairo, so as not to discompose the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Kuwaitis, and the Israelis who are content with the status quo in Egypt. The European Union is subtly accepting the worsening situation in Egypt, and furthering its backing to the junta’s bogus roadmap drawn by its presidential candidate last July. All the chatter about democracy, good governance, and human rights has been tested in Egypt’s case, and the west, led by the United States and the EU, has miserably failed to protect anything except their selfish momentary interests.

Unless profound internal pressure from Egypt’s people, civil society, and journalists, is skillfully exerted on the army, the hope of democracy in the Arab world won’t be attained for years to come. Egypt is a litmus test, and failing the test will carry dire consequences for western nations before the Egyptians and their democracy-yearning neighbours. The battle is not between populism and western interventions as the incumbent de facto rulers daily portray, nor it between Islam and western values, as the Muslim Brotherhood claim. The battle is between democracy, good governance, and their impeding prosperity on the one side, and crony authoritarianism on the other.

Mohamed Selim Khalil is a media scholar with a research emphasis on Political Communication in the Arab World, University of Osnabrück, Germany. Twitter @moselim