Egypt media struck by spy frenzy

Hazem Zohny , Thursday 23 Dec 2010

Ahram Online looks at how Egypt’s media covered news of an Egyptian spying for Israel

media spy

Would you sell your country for $37,000? It’s a question that’s been handled with a mix of bafflement and disgust as talk show hosts and verbose columnists considered the story of the “Egyptian Kung Fu instructor” who turned into an Israeli spy.

The tale of Tarek Abdel Razek Eissa, the man who authorities announced on Monday was being formally accused of espionage, had all the ingredients of a Hollywood spy thriller: Exotic travel destinations, national betrayal, espionage, martial arts, escape from poverty, and of course, the good old secret service (though a clichéd love story has yet to emerge from all this).

The media-driven delirium that was to pour out from such a juicy disclosure spanned the entire spectrum of the news world’s temperament, from the thoroughly somber to the undeniably silly. Testifying to the latter of these qualities was a night time talk show that hosted, among others, an Egyptian espionage-based soap opera producer who helped in analyzing the possible motives behind such Israeli-led spy-rings.

“They want to know everything about Egypt. Finding out the price of sugar here,” was one of the (apparently serious) explanations offered. A speaker on another talk show asserted that Eissa became a spy after visiting the Mossad’s website and seeing an ad calling for Arabic or Farsi-speaking agents -- “Something that they commonly advertise on their site,” he said. You could almost envision it: ARABIC-SPEAKING SPY NEEDED. MUST BE WILLING TO BETRAY OWN COUNTRY. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO APPLY.

On the other end of the news spectrum were the lengthy, solemn speeches delivered by TV show presenters on the virtues of patriotism and the importance of national loyalty.

In the realm of the press, the nature of the subject matter seemed to justify abandoning even the appearance of neutral reportage, with presumably non-opinion articles starting with, in one example: “Eissa suddenly transformed from a youth confined to living in a basement … to a rich man with lots of money, when he decided to sell his country for Zionist money.”

Professional standards aside, the question arises whether you are technically a “rich man with lots of money” if you receive $37,000 over three years, much of it to cover spying-related expenses.

As countless articles were churned out to cover all the buzz, a dubbing of Eissa appeared to take hold (“the spy of the Indian trap”), much to the confusion of readers.

“Is India spying on us too?” Or so one reader had innocently asked. Apparently, as Eissa first made contact with Mossad agents in New Delhi to set up websites to “snare” prospective agents, this seemed a fitting nickname.

Meanwhile, as the media frenzy reached a climax on Tuesday night, the mother of the accused reportedly suffered a heart attack. Weekly newspaper Youm7 claimed that preliminary information suggests it was caused by psychological distress and a deep sense of shame.

However, from the footage seen of the myriad journalists and cameramen trying to forcefully barge into her tiny apartment for comments and clips, despite repeated calls to go away, the mother’s heart attack might just have been caused by all the media attention.

Short link: