Egyptian media bites back at shark

Hazem Zohny , Sunday 12 Dec 2010

From conspiracy theories to simply bad theories, Ahram Online overviews the media’s coverage of the recent shark attacks.


Last Sunday, as the second round of Egyptian parliamentary elections played out, news unfolded of a fourth and this time fatal shark attack in Sharm El Sheikh. Immediately the media was torn -- which story was to be today’s big story? More “updates” on thugs and rigging around Egypt, or more speculations on a story with uncanny similarities to Jaws I?

Five days later and Egypt’s parliamentary elections are little more than a bad dream for most. Shark mania, on the other hand, is still brewing: Was Israel’s Mossad responsible for this? Could nuclear radiation have caused the sharks to go Jaws-y? Did the “predator” have a thing for Russians? Or is this just some feeding frenzy sparked by dumping dead sheep in the sea last month?

As these questions were raised, giggled at, then raised again, Egypt’s papers did not fail to almost consistently accompany its shark-coverage with a picture of a great white – a considerably larger and scarier looking relative of the oceanic whitetip that is being held “responsible” for these attacks.

This peculiar bestowment of responsibility onto the unthinking, instinct-driven creature reaches comic heights in the daily Rose El-Youssef, which began an article on the 3rd of December stating: “After he injured four tourists near the shores of Sharm El Sheikh, the shark fell to the nets of the Environment Ministry.”

Granted, there’s no gender-neutral “it” pronoun in Arabic, yet even if this sentence could have used “it” instead, the writing still seems to indicate a presumption of intentionality on the shark’s part – as though it had the option of munching on some yellowfin tuna somewhere in the deep but opted for helpless homo sapiens instead.

A popular daily talk show host appears to relay the same sentiment when she reported that the “responsible shark” was caught and killed. Of course it wasn’t, as an elderly German tourist regrettably soon found out before dying – something that put a hole in the same presenter's off-hand theory that the shark appeared to “develop an appetite for Russians.”

Meanwhile, the story of the “ruthless jaw” gathered further momentum across Egypt’s news dispensers, with the privately-owned weekly Youm7 publishing no less than 14 separate articles on its online portal regarding shark-related developments on December 7 alone.

A statement by the South Sinai Governor did not help in quieting things down, particularly as he was reported to be unwilling to rule out the possibility of Israel playing a hand in all this -- though, thankfully, nothing of remote-controlled sharks was mentioned. Israeli officials, on the other hand, noted that the claims were “too ludicrous” to comment on.

Finally, just to exhaust all other sci-fi possibilities, the head of the Atomic Energy Authority, Mohamed El-Qalli, felt compelled yesterday to assure Egyptian news consumers that “nuclear radiation leaks kill creatures rather than excite them.”

The statement was in reference to an apparently growing concern that secret nuclear testing in the area may have mutated some sharks into their more ravenous Hollywood cousins.

On the other hand, the possibility that over-fishing and resource depletion are more likely explanations remains a far less lucrative story. For now, TV talk shows continue to point the finger, berating authorities’ for risking the tourism industry by not making this problem go away more swiftly.

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