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Pragmatic leader and miserable media

Yasser Abdel Aziz

Published: Updated:

Over the past weeks, Turkey has been reportedly signaling warming ties with Egypt and other countries in the region, in what analysts see as an attempt to reposition itself in the region since Ankara has been facing aggravated problems due to its strict and confrontational policies.

This move is neither a dramatic change nor a strategic shift. We are used to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s tactics and fluctuations to achieve what he believes is in the best interest of his power and country. We also know that inter-country relations do not remain the same and that many countries can be friendly one day, and at loggerheads with each other the next day. In his endeavor to reset ties with Egypt, after around seven years of estrangement, bitter bickering, political pressure, and traps, Erdogan realized that for Cairo, some of the most disturbing elements of the Turkey-Egypt dispute are the three Istanbul-based TV channels al-Sharq, Mekameleen, and Watan, which are affiliated with the Brotherhood and other opposition entities.

These channels are accused of supporting terrorism, and many researchers and analysts do not consider them proper media channels due to their inciteful, fabricated, and hateful content.

I watched some of these channels and I concluded that they indeed do not provide media content as much as they provide continuous and hurtful criticism, and call for uprisings, disobedience, the murder of Egyptian army and policemen, and even terrorist attacks.

These channels also clearly play intelligence roles, as their content often serves opposition field movements.

An objective analysis of the role of these channels can only lead to the conclusion that they seek to undermine the government, incite violence and hatred, and cause chaos in Egypt. They also make sure to fit attacking Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain into their schedules.

Six years ago, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked its Turkish counterpart to stop these channels from broadcasting their content, but Ankara rejected the Egyptian request, citing media freedom and the fact that these channels obtained broadcast licenses from other European countries.

This excuse contradicts the principles of national sovereignty in the field of media governance, as such sovereignty certainly includes broadcasts within the area of a country’s jurisdiction. Additionally, Turkey would never allow channels that attack it or fail to serve its interests.

We realize now that the Turkish response at the time was mere procrastination and deceit, as Turkish authorities met with the officials of those channels last week and asked them to stop their abusive and inciting rhetoric against the Egyptian government. The managers of some of these TV channels confirmed receiving and respecting these instructions

These developments show how President Erdogan's administration deals with the media. For instance, Ankara previously launched a war on Turkish opposition channels broadcasted from abroad and pressured their host countries until they were shut down, even though those channels voiced the concerns of the Turkish Kurds who accuse their government of persecuting them and depriving them of their rights.

Erdogan managed to shut down a channel affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party in Belgium, and three other channels in Denmark. He also forced Denmark to arrest 12 leaders of the opposition party and refer them to trial.

Other than pressuring both Belgium and Denmark to shut down those channels, Erdogan also shut down channels that were broadcast from Turkey, his supporters took over influential newspapers and media institutions, and he stopped TV programs in the country because he felt that they opposed him or served the point of view of his nemesis Fethullah Gulen.

That is not all. Erdogan also banned Twitter and YouTube seven years ago and turned Turkey into “the world's biggest jailer of professional journalists” according to Reporters Without Borders.

We now understand how President Erdogan deals with the media. He shuts down platforms that oppose him, while using other media outlets as tools to attack his enemies, but without considering those tools for any tactical swap for his benefit or interest.

Calling Erdogan's way of managing his miserable media pragmatic is a mere attempt to avoid describing it accurately.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.