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Ahram vs. NYT: Dailies in row over Sisi article

NYT accused Ahram to have mistranslated portions of a Times article about Sisi's U.N. speech

Published: Updated:

A spat between Egypt’s Al Ahram daily and the New York Times appears to have developed after the Egyptian media outlet published mistranslated portions of an earlier Times article about President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s recent speech at the United Nations.

On Oct. 7, the U.S. daily’s Cairo bureau chief David Kirkpatrick quoted Egyptian commentators as saying that Sisi had “finally been recognized by the international community as a respected statesman and regional leader” following his September speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

The writer noted that “what viewers back in Egypt could not see was that during the General Assembly, almost all of the diplomats present watched in amused silence as Mr. Sisi’s small entourage did the clapping in response to his chant.”

However, two days later Al Ahram published a story titled “American writer: Statesman Sisi earns respect and admiration” that mistranslated Kirkpatrick’s original article, placing Sisi in a far more positive light.

According to Al Ahram, Kirkpatrick had “affirmed his [Sisi’s] image in international public opinion as a well-respected and admired statesman in the region.”

“The writer described the unique scene at the headquarters of the United Nations, when al-Sisi received warm applause from the assembled world leaders after he shouted ‘Long Live Egypt,’” the Arabic version of the Al Ahram article read.

The New York Times slammed the article on Oct. 15, saying the flagship newspaper had misstated portions of it in “an apparent effort to burnish Mr. Sisi’s image in Egypt.”

The U.S. newspaper’s response presented the segments of its initial story as well as the mistranslated version beside it.

Al Ahram promptly issued a statement on its English and Arabic websites in response, media outlets were quick to point out differences between the English and Arabic versions of it, with the former containing an apology but the latter sounding “unapologetic.”

In the English statement on its website, Al Ahram said it “regretted that such a grave error would occur at a time when the current editorial management of the newspaper and the organization as a whole is bent on restoring its credibility and asserting the traditions of proper and ethical journalism based on the highest standards of the profession.”

But the Egyptians daily said it took the blame for not checking the original Times article, attributing the mistranslation instead to the Middle East News Agency (MENA).
“In explanation, Al-Ahram pointed out that the published review of Mr. Kirkpatrick’s story was taken from Egypt’s foremost news agency, MENA. Other Egyptian dailies published the same review, distortions included,” it said in the apology.

“This is no excuse, Al-Ahram said in the apology, adding that it should have checked MENA’s review against the original text of the NYT story,” it said, adding that an editorial decision was issued “banning the use of any MENA story without rigorous fact-checking.”

However, the Huffington Post noted that the original Arabic statement, paraphrased in its English report, does not actually offer an apology and in fact criticizes Kirkpatrick, describing him as a terrorist sympathizer at one point.

The Arabic version blames MENA for the mistranslation, noting other news outlets had published the same report.

It later described Kirkpatrick as a reporter who “refuses the political course in Egypt since June 30," referring to the June 30 coup that deposed Mohammad Mursi, Egypt’s first Islamist president who was a prominent member of the now banned Muslim Brotherhood.

"And [Kirkpatrick] fervently defends the terrorist organization and always promotes the idea that there is oppression of freedoms in the country, and questions the public will that removed the [Muslim] Brotherhood from power,” the statement said, according to a Huffington Post translation.