A week in Egyptian media: Petrol, presidency and personal rights in Saudi Arabia

Saturday 28 Apr 2012

Ahram Online's weekly media review: What angles did local media take on Egypt's cancellation of the gas deal with Israel, Egypt's presidential elections and the Egyptian languishing in a Saudi prison

Newspaper seller
A newspaper seller waits for customers in Tahrir Square. (Photo: Bernat Armangue/AP)

This week three main issues burned through all Egyptian media outlets. The most significant was the unilateral cancellation of Egypt’s gas deal with Israel: a decision that was taken on Sunday and reflected in headlines on Monday.

Gas as a symbol of Egyptian sovereignty

"Our gas is ours again. Today, Egypt is celebrating," read the main headline in the Tahrir newspaper. Significantly, the headline is borrowed from a patriotic song celebrating the regaining of Sinai from Israel.

Al-Masry Al-Youm and Al-Shorouk headlines reported the news in a more neutral tone. Al-Wafd newspaper ran a headline that read: "Cancelling the gas deal: a political bubble," with a story suggesting that the decision is a mere media show to increase the popularity of Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

This view was shared by many writers all through the week’s columns. Among these is Wael Qandil, the managing editor of Al-Shorouk, who called the decision "dramatic," hinting at the SCAF's desire to silence those who demand that the military should "go back to their barracks." This is a slogan meaning that the SCAF should drop their political role and return to their military role as protector of the people, and at least show force along the border with Israel.

Prominent journalist  Ibrahim Eissa and editor of  the Tahrir daily, believes Israel truly is a threat. In his Tuesday 24 April column, entitled The dangers of a great decision he questions the significance of the timing: Why now, on the anniversary of the liberation of Sinai in 1982? Eissa wonders: "as if it is a message that this is a new liberation, a new celebration. Also, why didn't Egypt take pride in the decision and announce it? Why do we insist it is an economic, not a political decision? Why, at a time when foreign investment and tourism are already shying away from Egypt against a backdrop of deteriorating security, are Egyptians and their government deemed ready for war with Israel?" Eissa concludes that this is a great decision in the same lacklustre manner that SCAF makes decisions and runs the country.

In his column in Al-Shorouk newspaper, prominent writer Salama Ahmed Salama wonders if the visit of the Grand Mufti to Jerusalem has anything to do with the cancellation of the gas deal. He also wonders in his Wednesday 25 April column how "the one million man protests and the tens of coalitions are yet to address issues of great importance, like the Israeli threat to the whole region and removing the remains of Mubarak’s regime; its flaws and misadventures in dealing with Israel. The programmes of presidential candidates, whether they have an Egyptian mother or a mother that turned out to be American [referring to a presidential candidate, Abu-Ismail, who was ruled out of the race], have yet to address the relationship with Israel, the issue of exporting gas, how to invest in it as a source of energy for Egypt and how to fix the situation in Sinai and protect it from the Israeli threat…"

TV programmes were also busy discussing the gas deal and detailing the economic and political aspects of what some hosts and analysts called a biased and shameful arrangement. Most programmes discussed the Israeli reaction, especially Netenyahu's statements and Israeli newspaper headlines.

TV host Ahmed El-Mislimany voiced out loud his striking conclusion in Al-Tabaa Al-Ula on Dream TV on Tuesday. Mentioning the "W" word, he listed four factors that may lead to war: 1) the repeated bombing of the gas pipes on the Egyptian side leading to Israel by unidentified groups; 2) Israel’s repeated warnings to its citizens not to go to Sinai; 3) Refusing back-payment: Israel hasn't paid Egypt for the gas it exports to them since 2008; and 4) Israel cleared its embassy in Cairo of all it's archives and are only working at bare minimum from the ambassador's home instead of from their office. At that pace, diplomatic relations cannot possibly be at "normal." In light of all of these facts, Mislimany concluded, Egypt might realise that war is knocking on its doors. 

The media has delighted in speaking on extremes: either spreading the fear of a possible war, or conversely, calling the Israeli reaction insignificant. Media also either praised SCAF’s decision or complained it was long overdue. Regardless of the media's popularity game, the official statements remained the same: The decision is business-related – not political. 

Although a "business decision" implies well-researched figures on which to base the decision, numbers varied from one channel to the other: the average international price was cited at USD4, 8 or 12. Egypt's loses were cited at LE100 million or USD one billion a year. 

To ex-regime members: Step out of the political participation line

Although the gas deal was top news, other issues were equally pervasive.

Namely, the case of Ahmed El-Gizawi, the Egyptian lawyer arrested in Saudi Arabia for insulting the king, or allegedly smuggling drugs (more on him later) and the disenfranchisement law proposed by parliament and approved by SCAF to prevent former regime figures from entering the presidential race.

When SCAF approved the disenfranchisement law, many news headlines focused on the fact that it excluded Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, from running. However, a day later Shafiq was accepted back into the race after winning his appeal.

On Al-Hayat channel, presidential candidates have continued to give exclusive interviews. Most notably, last Sunday, presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh  was interviewed on Al-Youm programme.

He was again asked about his Islamic background and his relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, of which he was a key leader – a question he is asked and answers in each and every interview. "I am a candidate for all Egyptians, I am proud to belong to the current of moderate Islamic thought represented by Al-Azhar, I am an independent candidate… I am not and will not be representing the Muslim Brotherhood," he regurgitated.

In answer to the question of how he is financing his campaign, Abul-Fotouh said his campaign only accepts donations, and even surprised his TV hosts by announcing the bank account number, which is open to donations, on air.

On Wednesday, presidential candidate Amr Moussa was interviewed on Rotana Masrya with TV host Hala Sarhan. The setting was lavish, with chic furniture, high ceilings, crystal lamps, gilded walls. It appeared to be a palace. He complained about the LE10 million limit placed on campaign spending.  Like Abul-Fotouh, he said, "I am a candidate for all Egyptians," portraying himself as the representative of civil, aka, secular thought and confirming earlier statements. He has said in the past that Egypt needs a man of state, an experienced president, not a student. Moussa added that Egypt is going through an existential crisis and needs someone capable of saving the situation. His facial expressions, pose and overconfident answers were unmistakably arrogant.

In reply to the host's comment that some people say he is part of the Mubarak regime, because he served as his foreign minister for ten years, Moussa said: "Those are a minority, and I won’t bother to respond to them." 

Egyptian trapped in Saudi Arabian prison

Regarding the case of El-Gizawi, most TV hosts did not accept the drug smuggling story proposed by Saudi and Egyptian officials. 

OnTV’s Reem Magued read various different statements. One was from the Amr Moussa presidential campaign, where the Saudi foreign minister denies El-Gizawi was arrested for his opinions and claims he was arrested in the airport carrying 180,000 thousand Tramadol pills. The other statement read was from the Saudi embassy, saying he was arrested with 21,000 Xanax pills. She also read a statement from Cairo International Airport saying that El-Gizawi could not have left the airport with these drugs in light of the security, and monitoring facilities in the airport. Magued noted that the images circulated of El-Gizawi arrested with Juhayna milk containers (which he supposedly used for storing the drugs) looked suspicious.

On the same channel, Yousri Fouda interviewed the Egyptian ambassador in Saudi Arabia, who said he saw the documents in which El-Gizawi confessed that he smuggled drugs. Fouda interrupted to say that, in issues like this, "allegedly confessed" would be the proper response. MP Mustafa El-Guindy, who was also on the panel, asked the ambassador if he saw the Egyptian citizen to make sure he was well and not confessing under torture threats.

Also on OnTV, Gaber El-Armouty joked on his programme that the Saudi authorities can't fool Egyptians with a cover story, since cover stories are an Egyptian invention: "Remember Khalid Said? You can't compete with Egyptians in security fabrications…"

Khaled Said was a young man beaten to death by police in Alexandria, reportedly after he resisted the police's intimidating ID checks. The police left his body on the street and tried to wash their hands of it, but Egyptians had long been wary of violent tactics employed by the Mubarak regime's police and intelligence. Khaled Said is one of the straws on the camel's back that helped spur Egypt's January 25 Revolution.

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