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U.S. media plays catch up on Egypt

Joyce Karam

Published: Updated:

For reasons related to the security crackdown inside Cairo and the nature of the debate in Washington, the media coverage of the Egyptian crisis in major American news outlets has been lagging behind other parts of the world.

The focus has been more on the policy of the Obama administration and less on the Egyptian dynamics and events outside Cairo.

The overriding theme in the U.S. media since the crisis broke out last July has been centered around the question: “What should the U.S. do in Egypt?” rather than “what is going on in Egypt?”

‘Islamists’ vs. ‘Liberals’

The debate on major channels, such as Fox News, has to a great extent portrayed the events as a clash between the Islamists and the liberals. Former President Mohammed Mursi is stereotyped as a “radical Islamist flying F16s” on the Sean Hannity show. And the Islamists in their turn are all lumped as one on the Drudge Report, a popular news website. Its editors recently took their stereotypes on Islamists beyond Egypt, and used a photo of the LebaneseShiite group Hezbollah in reference to a story on Egypt’s Sunni Muslim Brotherhood.

A more in-depth coverage of the situation, addressing the hostility of Egypt’s security, would help in better informing the American public

Joyce Karam

The “liberals” got their own share of generalizations. Nervana Mahmoud, an Egyptian blogger based in London, offers a critique on the “myth of Egypt’s liberals” as depicted by the New York Times. She tells me that a major problem in the coverage has been the “misleading pieces that portray opinions of experts as solid evidence.”

While both the New York Times and the Washington Post have gone the extra mile in offering in-depth stories from Cairo and some of the provinces, a big segment of their daily coverage and commentary have centered around the issue of the $1.3 billion in military aid, and whether the Obama administration should cut or freeze or keep it flowing. While this debate is crucial, it is coming at the expense of the bigger story called Egypt, the growing polarization in the country and its uncertain future.

Playing catch up

The pace of the coverage in the U.S. media has also been relatively slow and playing catch-up with Arab news outlets and certainly the local media. Part of this is attributed to the alarming hostility towards foreign journalists in Egypt, the harassment and intimidation of some, and the arrest of others. Nancy Yousef of McClatchy, and Sara Hussein of Agence France-Presse, are some of few names who have been intimidated by the Egyptian security.

But the larger focus on Cairo and ignoring the internal dynamics of Egyptian politics are among the other reasons that have undercut the U.S.’s coverage.

Amira Mikhail, an Egyptian blogger who documented the attacks on Churches during the clashes last week, tells Al Arabiya that her team “does not use U.S. media sources often, mainly because they are slow at reporting on the situation in areas outside of Cairo and it is often not the type of coverage we are looking for.”

She describes the content in U.S. media as mostly “Cairo-based and it took days for most reporters to go to the provinces that we are trying to focus on and cover.”

Mikhail documented 114 attacks on churches days before the news made it to the mainstream American media. She says that this story “has been seriously underreported in the media in Washington, as a result of slow reporting and little attention to areas outside of Cairo” adding that “this is especially problematic in light of the dangerous consequences that such violence promises if not swiftly and adeptly contended with.”

The complexity of the political situation, and the different alliances within the so-called “Islamists” and “liberals” is somewhat absent from the coverage as well. The Guardian might be alone in running a story on “military-backed government in Cairo appears to be enjoying widespread domestic support for its bloody crackdown.”

As it is becoming more likely that the crisis in Egypt will continue for the next few months, a more in-depth coverage of the situation, addressing the hostility of Egypt’s security, would help in better informing the American public andproviding content that transcends Washington’s headlines.

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Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam

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