In the Egyptian media, professionalism is dead

Bassem Youssef
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What I read was not the usual piece of nonsense posted on Facebook or some other online forum, it was a respectable article by a prominent writer. It’s sometimes enough to check who the author is to figure out whether you should believe the article or not. This is because prominent authors and journalists would not sacrifice their reputation by publishing “any statements whatsoever.”

However, this time, upon reading an article I was confused as to whom to believe - my common sense or the “prominent” writer. The author of this particular piece narrated accurate details of a meeting held between the U.S. secretary of state and the ruler of a Gulf country.


Oh, and they were quite some details!

In the article, the U.S. secretary of state tells the king sensitive information about Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood and their relationship with Israel. The article continues on to describe how the minister fidgeted and how the ruler reacted. The article also accurately narrates how the U.S. secretary of state began talking to the ruler by saying: “Allow me your highness to tell you a dangerous secret.” The article narrates the secret talks between Obama, Qatar’s emir and Erdogan, how a Syrian minister sneaked into Jordan dressed as a woman as well as the events of Spongebob Squarepant’s most recent episode.

Give him some more space and the author would have narrated the details of the U.S. secretary of state’s visit to the bathroom!

The article was not a general narration of what happened between the two parties. It was a detailed scenario, the details of which were carefully selected from a scenario thought up by Egyptian screenwriter and journalist Osama Anwar Okasha.

I am not doubting the credibility of the prominent author who wrote the article, and I am not accusing him of lying. But the problem is that this prominent writer was among the first of those to teach us that journalists must provide sources for what they write. I read the entire article and couldn’t find a single source! All that is written is that “someone trust-worthy” relayed the statements to him.

So many questions

So, who is this source who has so much time to document such a vast amount of nonsense?

Considering the above, why were we upset with the Islamists when they based their information on gossip? Why are we upset now? It’s enough that thousands have read this article and actually believed this intimate conversation between the U.S. secretary of state and the ruler of the Gulf country.

The problem is that such a writing style, which a “prominent writer” also adopted in the 1960s, has unfortunately become acceptable in the Arab press. “Issuing fatwas” has become a lifestyle for so many who dominated the pages of Egyptian dailies.

There’s an entire generation which grew up listening to stories on how Anwar al-Sadat put poison in Gamal Abdel Nasser’s coffee. Since you narrate this story, this must mean that Sadat himself told you, or Abdel Nasser came back from the dead and told you, or you were hiding in the coffee pot!

Then, there is another writer who dazzles us every two months with a new book about the secrets of the intelligence community, the presidency and the army. It’s amazing how he is always in the right place at the right time to hear what Mubarak, Tantawi, Anan and Mursi say. He will also “force the minister of defense to run [for the presidency].” Congratulations!

Then you have another writer who now and then tells us about the schemes of the American intelligence agency and reveals to us what intelligence agencies across the world are planning with regards to our country. When a number of American NGO workers fled Egypt in 2012, over accusations of receiving illegal funds, this prominent writer appeared in a television interview and said he had confirmed information that the American army forces were going to land via helicopters on roof of the American embassy to evacuate these NGO employees. He added that those in power in Egypt had to agree to smuggling these American employees to avoid a scandal. Of course, the prominent author thought he was serving the military council by narrating this stupid scenario.

Have you noticed how the scenario went? Helicopters were to violate Egypt’s airspace, pass over the delta and the air defense systems, then land on the American embassy’s roof to evacuate the Americans and just take them back home. So, all of this was to happen while we sat and watched?

The scenario has more to it. The writer continued on to say that back then, the military council - oh poor it - was forced to agree to the insulting solution of allowing the Americans escape in order for Egypt not to be insulted by the aforementioned plan of landing on the embassy’s rooftop. Well, this scenario itself is actually more insulting to the country and its rulers. But it seems the prominent author had not calculated it right. But that’s okay. Who’s concentrating anyway? Who remembers these stories anyway?

The sticking point

I don’t have a problem if all these writers know a lot of details about certain issues and events. But I have one question regarding these nice stories which experts circulate about America, Obama and the intelligence community. Have the American media outlets and supervisory parties missed all these stories? How come these stories reached only us, out of all the people in the entire world?

Do you remember the story of Khairat al-Shater in which he sold the Sinai for $8 billion? Do you remember the documented information that Obama’s brother is a Muslim Brotherhood supporter? Do you remember the documented information related to a German base where a meeting was held between superpower countries? Do you remember how dailies published the details of the conspiracy which these superpowers were planning for Egypt? Do you remember how “respectable” dailies and talk shows dedicated time to discuss this low conspiracy. Then, a few days later, we forgot this conspiracy and, as if nothing had happened, Egypt’s leaders sat with representatives of these countries.

What provokes you or makes you feel proud, if you believe these stories, is that the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and other American media outlets failed to attain this information but the heroes of the Egyptian dailies managed to attain it. Then the super professional TV anchors in Egypt also circulated this information.

Muddying the waters of the Nile

Do you remember the Egyptian talk show stars who used fake Twitter accounts to attribute statements to Mursi, the Brotherhood, Mursi’ wife and Azza el-Garf?

Have you followed up on the reports that detail conversations between Mursi and Brotherhood leaders? These details were based on audio recordings. Have any of us heard these recordings? If these recordings accurately describe these people’s treason, then why don’t the Egyptian people have access to them? If dailies were allowed to publish a written form of these recordings, then there’s nothing wrong with airing the recording itself.

I remember this incident from a famous show that was covering the June 30 events. One of the anchors insisted on reading funny tweets from a Twitter account attributed to Mohammad Mursi. The journalist, who was the show’s guest, kept trying to explain that the Twitter account is a satirical one but the veteran anchor insisted on reading that nonsense and presenting it as real.

The circumstances are now proper for that species dubbed as strategic experts to rise. The journalists who learnt from the same school as the great author who came up with the poisoned coffee cup are being very creative. No one thinks about double checking the sources and no one asks for proof for the nonsense they utter.

Dear reader, I call on you to double check all the information you read on Facebook or on websites which you think are news websites. How many pieces of news turned out to be right? How many pieces of news were confirmed by sources from global news outlets?

Frankly, answering this question doesn’t matter because you like such news as it’s targeted against those you hate. Therefore, there’s no need to confirm it or to confirm its sources.

This is the same sin committed by the Islamists before, as they didn’t hesitate to resort to rumors and lies as long as this served their interests.

The Islamists are now gone. The rumors remained but they have now been reversed.

This article is not to defend the Brotherhood, al-Jazeera or Qatar. Instead, it is a call to respect our intellect. The Brotherhood, thanks to their stupidity and without any help whatsoever, managed to lose the support of those who elected them and lost their popularity among the naive. You don’t need to lie to prove your point because your lies will sooner or later be exposed and you will lose your cause. In this case, people will no longer believe you at all, even when you speak the truth. You will lose your credibility and people will never believe you anymore.

Perhaps you want to ask me: “Who are you to lecture your masters as you’ve only recently become engaged in the field of journalism?”

You know what? You’re actually right.

I am not a journalist and I haven’t been to a college to learn how to become an anchor. And until now, I don’t know a single reason as to why Shorouk daily holds on to publishing my articles when I don’t know the simplest rules of journalism.

I am talking as a viewer, as a reader and as an ordinary person. Perhaps I am not an expert in the professionalism which died and on the journalistic rules that currently mean nothing.

Some people even criticize me saying I’m a Karagoz, a satirical puppet. I agree, I am! But the real shame is when a prominent writer, who is not a Karagoz, writes such nonsense and when a veteran anchor, who’s also not a clown, utters such rubbish.
I am not a journalist or a media figure or whatever. But quite honestly, I don’t like anyone fooling me.

This article was first published in Egypt-based al-Shorouk on Dec. 24, 2013.

Bassem Youssef is is an Egyptian doctor, satirist, and the host of El Bernameg ("The Program"), a satirical news program broadcast by a private Egyptian television station. The press has compared Youssef with American comedian Jon Stewart, whose satire program The Daily Show inspired Youssef to begin his career. Despite all controversy and legal debates it has sparked, El Bernameg has been a major success. It is constantly topping the regional YouTube charts, making Youssef's YouTube channel one of the most subscribed to in Egypt.

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