Ominous Signs in Egypt Suggest 'Brotherhoodization' of the Media

Article Summary
Since the Muslim Brotherhood took power in Egypt, the freedom of the Egyptian press has been shaky. Amina Kheiry writes that certain Brotherhood opponents in the media have been harassed and assaulted, which has led some media outlets to practice self-censorship.

The Egyptians are being faced with an out-of-control media, a regime whose leading figures are not used to following the law, and societal chaos fueled by fuzzy, conflicting bits of information and a deluge of opinions under a false veneer of professionalism.

Since the Muslim Brotherhood reached “half” power in Egypt (the other half is with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, SCAF) Egyptian society has been split between supporters and opponents.

TV is an integral part of society. It reflects society’s features. The Egyptian TV viewer is now in the midst of the chaos and rancor, within society and as he or she watches TV. For months, rival political figures have filled TV screens, and they came to be seen more as media figures than politicians. But when it came to dividing the government pie — or rather grabbing it whole — the situation was turned upside down. Many prominent Brotherhood TV figures took ministerial seats. Other Brotherhood figures appointed themselves presidential spokespersons. Many others are trying to keep their names connected to the Brotherhood hoping for some gains on the side, a prominent position, or even a small piece of the larger pie during the emerging “Brotherhood era.”

But the “Brotherhood era” has produced a new media, part of which took the job of attacking the Brotherhood’s rule. Not through the use of argument and facts, but through incitement. Case in point is journalist Tawfik Okasha, who has a lively personality. He started out with the title of “channel owner/broadcaster/guest.” He is popular with comedy fans and ordinary people living in villages, hamlets and slums. But there are rumors that he is being indirectly controlled by SCAF.

A media attack

Okasha appeared for months on Al-Faraeen TV asserting that he has video and audio evidence of a scandal perpetrated against many people. But his assertions never materialized. He then intensified his attacks and went as far as to claim that the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas were behind the killing of the Egyptian soldiers and officers at the Rafah border town! Okasha claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood is allied with Islamic Jihad in Sinai and that the Brotherhood is “fully implicated” in the soldiers’ killing. And as usual, he claimed to have solid evidence. He added, “I have supporters who can bring down the pyramid and burn down the world if you do not back down, Mr. Morsi. I have justified your killing just like you justified mine. You who are sitting in the presidential palace, your presence there is illegitimate. I don’t know on what basis you are sitting there!”

What is happening these days has no logical basis whatsoever but Okasha has been saying what many Egyptians think. This has caused a moral, media and political crisis. After the considerable rapprochement between President Morsi and the dismissed Hamas government, the opening of the border crossings, and the announcement of supplying Gaza with electricity and water (which have been particularly scarce this summer), it was still not possible to blame the Rafah crossing massacre on anyone other than elements from Gaza. Even those who have ridiculed Okasha’s insistence on making charges without producing evidence for official court proceedings have found themselves agreeing with him on the Rafah massacre.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s initial response to Okasha’s charges — which correspond to the logical thinking of many Egyptians — was to say that these charges “do not merit a reply.” However, the reply came quickly. The General Authority for Investment issued a decision to shut down Al-Faraeen TV for at least three weeks and not before the channel changes its policy of consistently making unsubstantiated charges.

[Okasha will face trial on Sept. 1 on charges of calling for the murder of President Mohamed Morsi, the official MENA news agency reported Thursday.]

At first glance, the decision seems appropriate. But it is the timing of the move that raises question marks. How many times has Okasha accused people and claimed to have evidence without ever producing said evidence in front of official bodies? He has accused Brotherhood snipers of killing demonstrators at Tahrir Square during the Jan. 15 Revolution. He claimed that Ahmad Shafiq was the true victor in the presidential elections. And he accused the Brotherhood of masterminding the Rafah massacre. All these accusations were made on the air and the channel was never shut down or even warned. This raises the question: has the Brotherhood decided to retaliate against perceived media adversaries — as a first step toward more complete control — and silence all voices that do not agree with their plan and approach?

The answer to that question is not yet clear, but the signs are ominous. Journalist Khaled Salah, who was assaulted while entering Media Production City [Aug. 8], said that his attackers were wearing T-shirts showing the symbol of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing. This means that the party is mobilizing its supporters to violently deal with opponents and critics without the party officially involving itself.

The picture becomes clearer when considering what the chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party’s legal committee Mukhtar al-‘Ahshri said of Khaled Salah’s “claims.” He said, "[His claims] indicate that he is in the same trench as Okasha and his partisans. He issues fabrications and false allegations to discredit the party and to look like a hero at the expense of others." Al-‘Ahshri threatened Salah with a slander lawsuit if he continues to make such charges.

While Salah was being assaulted, demonstrators raised the slogan "the people want to cleanse the media, you sons of ----,” directing insults toward journalists Yusuf al-Husseini and Amr Adib (who are known Brotherhood opponents). Other demonstrators gathered in front of Al-Ittihadiyya Palace in Heliopolis to perform another type of cleansing: to remove those protesting against President Mohammad Morsi there.

A number of human rights organizations issued statements saying that attacking journalists for their opinions is a type of "bullying" and must not go unpunished. They demanded that the Muslim Brotherhood and their political wing take action on the matter, and likened the Brotherhood’s silence to that of the Mubarak regime who tortured opponents and dissidents for their opinions.

“Brotherhoodizing” the media

The ongoing process of “Brotherhoodizing” the media is being officially denied but confirmed in the facts on the ground. Opposition journalists are being beaten and assaulted by people who came to cleanse the media. New Information Minister Salah Abdul-Maqsood says that he supports a media that reflects the country and the people of all sects in order to move from having a government media to a people's media. But what the Egyptians may consider representative of the country and people, the Brotherhood may consider unacceptable opposition. However, the new minister asserts that there is no intention to “Brotherhoodize” the media.

It should be recalled that a recent issue of Al-Akhbar newspaper did not have Abla al-Ruwaini’s editorial because she objected to the phrase "Brotherhoodizing the press” being deleted from her piece, which she refused to publish without the phrase. It should also be noted that the new information minister was one of Morsi’s campaign advisers and claims to be proud to belong to the Brotherhood. He says that will make him be fair with everyone and that he will seek to make state television express the views of all different political and intellectual movements.

However, it seems that the current problem will linger because those who are “cleansing” the media of Brotherhood opponents are not state actors, but merely President Morsi’s "fans” and “supporters.”

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Found in: shafiq, scaf, news and media, muslim brotherhood, muslim, morsi, freedom of the press, censorship
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