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Egypt’s media line up behind state against Islamists

Published: Updated:

Egypt’s media, both public and private, have lined up behind the government in portraying its fight against the Muslim Brotherhood as a “war on terror” and vilifying foreign journalists.

As police and troops chase down members of the Islamist group, from which ousted president Mohamed Mursi hails, the media have taken part in a “campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist currents,” political commentator Hisham Kassem told AFP.

“In one year of Mursi’s presidency, more journalists were prosecuted than in the 185 years of the Egyptian press before,” he said.

“Now, the media are exploiting the situation the Brotherhood is in to pay them back.”

For days, Egypt’s three state television channels have broadcast under a banner in English reading “Egypt fighting terrorism.”

They report around the clock on the latest clashes between Mursi supporters and security forces that have claimed nearly 900 lives since Wednesday.

Between broadcasts, patriotic songs play over footage of the armed forces carrying out military exercises and showing kindness to civilians.

A piece entitled “The Black History of the Brotherhood Organization” purports to show the group’s violent history.

It includes archive footage of Brotherhood members, as well as the attempted murder of President Gamal Abdul Nasser and the assassination of President Anwar Sadat by Islamists.

It ends with clips from recent clashes, showing gunmen purportedly belonging to the group, and buildings set ablaze.

The country’s newspapers have been equally uniform in their criticism of the group and in rallying behind the government and the army chief who installed it, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Government daily Al-Ahram on Monday devoted its entire front page -- and nine separate headlines -- to a speech by Sisi a day earlier.

Abdel Halim Qandil, editor-in-chief of the independent Sawt al-Ummah daily, sees the media’s united front as a normal response to the country’s “national battle.”

A fierce critic of Islamists, he accuses the Western media of swinging between two extremes: hatred for Islam and love of the Brotherhood.

“This is what has created serious anger and suspicion on the part of Egyptians” towards foreign media, he said.

Since Mursi’s July 3 ouster by the military after mass demonstrations, the foreign media have come under attack from the government and the population, particularly in Cairo.

Authorities accuse Western journalists of ignoring the victims of violence committed by Mursi’s supporters, such as police and soldiers.

Simply walking in the street with a camera has become increasingly dangerous, said one Western photographer on condition of anonymity.

"I’m afraid to go into the street with my cameras since the government authorized security forces to open fire” on demonstrators targeting government buildings, he said.

“Today, I managed to take a few pictures from the car. I got out for 45 seconds to take some others,” added the photographer, who has been in Egypt for 18 months.

“By publishing statements accusing the Western media of being biased, the government is inciting public hatred against us,” he said.

“Two photographer friends of mine were beaten up a few days ago by a group of young guys when they were taking photos inside a government building.

“They dragged them out of the building shouting ‘They are spies!’ before beating them up.”

In front of a morgue in Cairo on Monday, a group surrounded two journalists from an international news agency as they tried to interview relatives of the dead.

“A group surrounded me, trying to rip the camera out of my hands,” one of them told AFP, saying he escaped with the help of some relatives, sprinting through side streets until he outran the mob.

Three journalists have been killed in Cairo since Wednesday, when security forces cleared two pro-Mursi protest camps, including a cameraman for Britain’s Sky News.