How the Egyptian Media is Failing Egypt By Trashing Mohamed Morsi

Kul Mayadin Misr did al-Irhab.”

This was the slogan yesterday of ON TV, the popular Egyptian TV station, in response to the much anticipated “Day to Confront Terrorism and Violence” that Minister of Defense Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, the acting miliatry leader of Egypt, had called for last week. The television network, which claims to be the “voice of democracy, liberalism and freedom of expression” in Egypt, apparently has “no affiliation to any political party and exercises complete editorial independence” and similarly claims be to committed to “presenting new horizons to the Egyptian public” while “stressing the essence of the words freedom and tolerance.” 

But yesterday’s coverage of the unfolding protests of support for the Egyptian military regime was outrageous if not criminal.

ON TV’s self-righteous posture is matched in absurdity only by the promo-collage of sound-bites and excerpts that segued yesterday morning’s three and a half-hour long escapade between the anti-Morsi anchor and the even more anti-Morsi guest commentator: shirtless bearded men waving scary black flags attacking the army; video footage of Amin al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al-Qaeda, ranting and raving about jihad; and scenes of a handful of masked men robbing a convenience store and seemingly beating to death its owner — this is the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) that ON TV wants us to imagine: Al-Qaeda, terrorists and brutality beyond comprehension.

Then the anchor introduces the broadcast with all the same knee-jerk slurs and incitements to hatred: Today we will put an end to the unnamed and faceless terrorists of the “Jamaa‘at al-takfiir” (the associations that declare others apostates) and “Jamaa‘at al-Irhab” (associations of terrorism).

Now the program has switched to discuss a certain petition being circulated by Egyptian Americans in Washington that went something like this: “Muhammad Morsi is the democratically-elected president of Egypt and should be reinstated to the presidency.”  Certainly seems within the realm of reasonable debate, at least to me. But no: Anyone who signs that petition should be stripped of his or her Egyptian citizenship, the guest expert commentator screams! For a station that putatively stresses tolerance as its founding principle, one wonders how the anchor nods in agreement to such absurd intolerance.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a play thing of America, ON TV tells us. Just as Egyptians ended British and French imperialism in 1956 during the Suez War, the respected guest rants and raves, so too we ended American imperialism in 2013 by ridding Egypt of its imperial agents: the Muslim Brotherhood. The anchor nods in agreement. Alas, the dream of every American politician was realized in 2012: Islamists in control of Egypt and shari‘a the guiding principle of Egyptian law and society! 

Of course, once Morsi refused to negotiate with the army — the U.S. folded on their (purported) erstwhile "ally," the Muslime Brotherhood, basically taking the side of the army. For the ON TV commentators, one has to also wonder how the pro-Islamist American government has refrained from declaring the military’s move a coup, so as to allow the 1.5 billion in annual military and economic aid to continue to flow to Egypt. The actions of the Egyptian military so self-evidently democratic, and the wisdom of ON’s commentary and analysis so compelling – that even the Americans, subverting their own legal restrictions and acting against their ideological and strategic allies — moved heaven and earth to keep the Egyptian army happy. 

My criticism of ON TV does not stem from some sheltered sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslime Brotherhood constitution was a spit in the face to minorities, women, non-Muslims and many others. Morsi was a spit in the face to democracy, consensus-building and good governance. The frequent incidents of gang rape in Tahrir Square, almost certainly coordinated and funded by the Muslim Brotherhood, has forever smeared whatever inkling of legitimacy the Muslim Brotherhood had, for me and many others.

But the smear campaign, slurs and incitement to hatred and violence against the Muslim Brotherhood brings to mind the Hutu “cockroach” hate speech in Rwanda or the Bashar al-Assad claims at the outset of the Syrian revolution about all the "gangs" of terrorists and extremists.

The Egyptian reaction to the July 3 coup has been startlingly uniform, and incredibly dangerous: The so-called "will" of the people was apparently unanimous, and anyone opposed to the ouster of Mohammad Morsi is an enemy of the Egyptian people, and a terrorist. For ON TV and a great many more, anyone who utters the word "coup" is a traitor and a terrorist, should be stripped of their citizenship. This is what we are suppose to believe?

This is scary rhetoric for anyone who believes in the tolerance and freedom of expression. I just hope Egypt doesn’t descend into the same madness that befell Rwanda or Syria. If they do, ON TV – and the great many other media outlets and pundits that spew this kind of blanket-labeling and hate speech – will be partly to blame. The task of the media is to monitor the centers of power – not to the repeat their empty slogans of fear and hate.   

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Zachary Foster

I am a product manager at academia.edu while completing my ph.d in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. I write about Palestine, the Middle East and scholarly publishing, and speak Hebrew, Arabic Turkish and Italian.

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