Media in Egypt: the slanderer and slandered

Abdel Monem Said

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Destiny has it that my practical life stay within an academic framework, media (television and journalism) and politics. Destiny also has it that this fell in two eras: the July regime which lasted for six decades from 1952 until the beginning of 2011, and the regime that came after it which was once said to be a “spring” regime. After that, descriptions of the current regime varied from “revolutionary” to “brotherhoodization” and so on. The change that has occurred is still ongoing, and no one knows whether there is progress or retreat in this path or whether there is a stalemate. There are different faces, slogans and parties praising the revolution instead of praising moderation. But the essence remained the same regarding differences here or there. The percentage of laborers and peasants is still the same, the “nationalist” media is still present, economic support has not changed and wondering about Egypt’s regional role has never changed.

Contempt of religion

It is possible that the issue which lasted through both eras is the stance from the media in which the “authority” has always been indignant against the printed press and television which broadcasts 24 hours nonstop. There is also indignation against the digital press on computers, smart phones and tablet computers which look like old slate boards we used to learn on. Tablet computers however are certainly more dynamic and faster when communicating with others. Indignation reached its peak during the last few days when host of el-Barnamej Bassem Youssef was summoned for an investigation after being accused of insulting the president and contempt of Islam. Anyway, the man was released on a 15,000 Egyptian pounds bail. But the case has not ended, and it is ongoing between the prosecution and courts. People inside and outside Egypt were angered and stood up to defend freedom of speech including the mixture of satire with the truth. When this happened, I remembered that something similar has happened to journalist Ibrahim Issa (back then the term ‘contempt of religion’ had not yet made it into the glossary of Egyptian politics.) Issa was sentenced to a year in jail that immediately ended following a presidential pardon. But the difference in the result is not important now because the subject is not different. The general accusations were the same regarding lack of objectivity and spreading negative opinions and a spirit of despair.

I hope my previous and current stance is known by everyone. I am with the freedom of press and expression even if they include violations of professionalism or of the common global rules

Abdel Monem Said

What is weird about the Egyptian situation, during both eras, is that the political authority had a powerful arsenal of media tanks and artillery and a fine number of bombers too. The authority has about 28 television channels and tens of radio stations. In addition to the government and the presidency along with its commissions, there is no ministry, commission or public company that does not have a website that provides information and lists the achievements fulfilled. What is new in the new era is that the ruling party has the “freedom and justice” daily which cannot be compared with the former era’s daily “May.” There are other dailies that sympathize with the new regime as well, in addition to a fine number of television stations that are either directly linked to the Muslim Brotherhood or that represent a wide Islamic movement the Brotherhood belongs to. With these tremendous capacities, it seems that the Egyptian authority’s indignation against the media and incapability to catch up with other media is not only surprising but it also indicates that the problem may not be in the tools used to convey the message but rather in the message itself.

Freedom of the press

I hope my previous and current stance is known by everyone. I am with the freedom of press and expression even if they include violations of professionalism or of the common global rules. The journalist, in the end, does not have more than his word. But the political authority has a lot more tools including the media, as I mentioned. The maximum that the media can achieve if it trespasses the limits is causing confusion that ends when new news emerges. But when the authority trespasses all limits, the result is similar to a tyranny that can destroy the future of states and countries. There is no neutrality here between the authority and the media because just like we co-existed with the authority and its trespassing of limits, co-existing with the media has become a necessity of modern life in all civilized and democratic countries. As long as the balance among parties is present on the level of tools and means then the essence of the issue is the capability to convince, along with the tangible presence of what can be convinced of.

Frankly my dear…

But the dilemma may be more complicated than this for the authority and the media. Both are called on to be frank, to show the truth and to believe that each story has more than one side. As long as we are humans, mistakes and violations are possible. In progressive countries “clashes” are necessary. But of course not in the sense of tearing someone’s clothes apart or going to jail but in the sense of possessing the ability to debate and get to the roots of the issues at hand and then envision a way to deal with these issues upon the basis of interests, popular support, international reactions and all other important factors. I fear that what we have in Egypt is not media division as much as it is deep political division. There is also evasion of confronting the society’s facts regarding the relation between religion and the state, the centralization of the authority in the capital and decentralization in provinces. All of this is based on data that becomes information, information that becomes knowledge and knowledge that one day becomes a path towards wisdom as it is said.

This is the difficult task being ignored by the media and the authority. What applies to them may apply to other Arab countries whether they witnessed revolutions or not and whether they remained stable through moderation. I was very surprised that during a dialogue broadcast by CBC between Mohamed Hassenian Haykal, a respectful man, and Lamis al-Hadidi, a bright woman, both of them failed to be familiar with the data regarding the gross domestic product for Egypt and Israel before starting their analyses. The most famous British premier in history, Winston Churchill, once said: “let us state the facts first and distort them later,” he means distort them through analysis. Unfortunately, we distort in all cases.


Abdel Monem Said is the director of al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. He was previously a board member at Egypt’s Parliament Research Center at the People's Assembly, and a senator in Egypt's Shura Council.

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