Reporter: Where is the press freedom when journalists are dying and getting beaten everywhere?
Minister of information: Come to me and I will tell you where it is.
This is Egypt’s current minister of information, Salah Abdel Maqsoud, who is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Can his reply to the reporter be considered sexual harassment? A non-Egyptian could argue to the contrary, but in Egyptian culture, this reply has a history of sexual connotation. It bears no double meaning for us. If the prosecutor general belonged to the people, he would probably imprison the Muslim Brotherhood minister for it, but Tala’at Abdallah, the current Brotherhood prosecutor general, would not.
It is not the first time this minister displayed signs of questionable behaviour (to say the least); a few months ago, he told a Syrian TV host that he hoped her questions “are not as hot as she is”. On air.
The rest of his reply to the Egyptian journalist’s question was, “Whoever knows where the freedom of the press is can reply to the respectable generous colleague,” a condescending response, to say the least. Humiliating a young, driven female reporter, is how our minister teaches and trains his team. He is the Egyptian media and journalism boss. He gave this reply while handing out journalism awards in the Ali and Mustafa Amin Competition. The founders of journalism in Egypt probably rolled in their graves at that moment. Is this man worthy of handing out such an award? Abdel Maqsoud’s response to a legitimate question on press freedom, which has become an international joke after the Bassem Youssef fiasco, is a degradation of journalism professionals. Especially that it comes at a time when our media colleagues have been killed or jailed one after the other.
But was the minister really sexually harassing the young reporter? I am positive that he was not; he was making fun of her, humiliating her, embarrassing her and he thought that the attendees would laugh. A few, of course, did. It was the minister making a joke; how could they not laugh?
The way the Muslim Brotherhood view women and treat them has always been demeaning. The latest evidence of undermining women by the government came when Shura Council members condemned the United Nation’s declaration against violence towards women a few days ago and called Egypt’s signing of it “apostasy from Islam”. The council members said the declaration was “an affront to human rights in conservative Middle Eastern countries”.
They went as far as calling for a distinction between “fairness” and “equality” and blatantly said that there should be fairness between men and women but not equality. This is how they view us, and this is why their minister of information found it appropriate to humiliate a young female reporter, and say things that borderline sexual harassment.
We are not exactly sure how to deal with this man. Will our mighty president notice that Abdel Maqsoud is not fit for the position of running Egypt’s media? Maybe some training programmes would help, maybe a course on the fundamentals of journalism, of public speaking, of coaching? But for the time being, this minister cannot be the role model for media professionals; we cannot all become as disgraceful as he is.
A few days ago, during another event, Abdel Maqsoud called on media outlets to “upgrade their speech”. The “your questions are as hot as you” minister wants us to upgrade our speech, and I wonder whether he wants us to be more like him but I am afraid if we do “upgrade” to his standards, we would face numerous lawsuits.
During that same event, Abdel Maqsoud said: “Stability in Egypt would only reign when media outlets start acting rationally and credibly.” The question is if our own minister of information tells the reporter to “come to me” and he will tell her “where the freedom of the press is”, then I am not sure what professionalism he expects from the media. In fact, I am not sure if any female reporter wants to be alone in a room with him. It is like deciding to walk in a street notorious for sexual harassment; you don’t know what you are going to get.
Last December, this same minister “regretted” that the Ministry of Information doesn’t have enough Brotherhood members in its staff, after describing how “chaste” brotherhood members are. It is quite tricky to agree on a meaning to this description, given his own behaviour, at least with the Syrian TV show host. Hot? Seriously? Are your Muslim Brotherhood friends as “chaste” as you?
It is frightening to imagine that the likes of him would eventually manage all media outlets in Egypt. To think that we might one day have this type of conversation in the Press Syndicate, for example, or with our bosses at work is indeed worrying. To have one of my young female reporters coming back from a meeting in the syndicate with a reply that has sexual connotations, what would I do then?
The ironic part is that he closed down the Tett TV belly dancing channel and his ilk are going crazy over trying to ban pornographic websites from Egypt, while at the same time there is absolutely no move to combat sexual harassment on the streets of the country.
Then again, his behaviour is also very telling if taken in the context of his friends’ statements in the Human Rights Committee of the Shura Council, when they shamelessly declared that sexual harassment is the victim’s fault. Maybe sexual harassment will be legal under Islamist rule?