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Book review: Ex-minister of information talks post-revolution cabinets

In his latest book, Egypt's post-revolution media minister Osama Heikal recounts his days in office and the fateful October 2011 'Maspero Incident'

MENA, Thursday 21 Feb 2013
Osama Heikal
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150 Yawman fi tareekh misr (150 Days in the History of Egypt) by Osama Heikal, Cairo: Al-Dar Al-Masreya Al-Lubnanya, 2012. 250pp.

In a newly published book, Osama Heikal, the former editor of the liberal Wafd daily and a one-time Minister of Mass Media during the second cabinet headed by former Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, following the Egyptian revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, shares inside stories of his term in office.

Heikal recounts how Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who served as head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), totally rejected the idea proposed by Lieutenant General Sami Anan for Mohamed ElBaradei to replace Sharaf during the Mohamed Mahmoud crisis in November 2011.

"Two other names were proposed for the role: Amr Moussa and Hazem El-Beblawy, but they were both dismissed for various reasons. Eventually, they chose Kamal El-Ganzouri who was prime minister during the Mubarak-era," Heikal continues.

The book includes six chapters: From Opposition to Minister, From Regime Media to State Media, Challenge in Decision Making, Maspero Massacre, Disturbance in the Cabinet, and In the Military Council.

The last chapter records the backstage events surrounding the resignation of Essam Sharaf's cabinet, which was under pressure from the Muslim Brotherhood on one side and the revolutionary youth from the other.

As for the conditions around his own dismissal from the ministry, Heikal explains "The new Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri liked to appear in the media all alone. He complained that his image wasn't properly presented during the period of the cabinet formation."

"[in addition to Ganzouri] received threats from the Safwat Hegazy, the Islamic preacher, of burning the Maspero (Radio and TV) building if Osama Heikal stayed in his position."

The introduction to the book is a lengthy account of the transformation of media and politicians from the era of Mubarak and his son's hypocrisy to the era of the revolution's "hypocrisy." Yet, there is a difference between the two situations, according to Heikal, "because the security condition worsened and the economic condition deteriorated. In this environment the Muslim Brotherhood was able to benefit from these conditions, to mobilise, shape political decisions in their favour and execute their plan to reach power."

Despite stressing that many events that took place in Egypt were presented in a "distorted and misleading" way, Heikal does not highlight any such events. He only depicts some very vaguely, not allowing the reader to see the 'truth' as he describes it.

The author testifies to some incidences of financial corruption that he witnessed during his term as minister. He claims the Egyptian official TV suffers from extravagant gaps between incomes of employees with some workers earning as little as LE300 or LE400 (nearly $50) per month, while "one program anchor earned LE750,000 (almost $100,000) per month for a Ramadan show assigned to her by the ex-Minister of Mass Media, Anas El-Fiki."

The fourth chapter in Heikal's book is dedicated to the violent incidences that took place in front of the Egyptian TV headquarters, where 30 Egyptian protesters, mostly Copts, lost their lives on 9 October 2011. The official TV, under his leadership at the time, was directly accused of inciting against the protesters. Heikal did not try to vindicate himself or the mass media organisation. Heikal only describes the cabinet meeting which took place following the incident and the details of the security report that held the protesters fully responsible for the events that led to clashes with the military forces in charge of protecting the building.

The book includes three annexes in the end. One is titled Beforehand, where he shares his view for change in Egypt before the revolution through a number of articles published in the Wafd.

One of Heikal's own articles, which was published on 24 January 2011, the eve of the revolution, will continue to taint his pro-revolution credentials. Titled "Last Time for Revision" he wrote, "I don't think an Egyptian who's patriotic to this nation would wish for a repetition of the Tunisian scenario in Egypt, and nobody wishes for a clash between the people and the regime...I don't hide my deep sadness for the calls for protest marches in front of the Ministry of Interior."

Many participants in the revolution say this article suffices to classify Heikal among writers loyal to the old regime.

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