The following is a sample of the headlines of articles written on Egypt in the Western press in a single month.
“Counting the Detained in Egypt” (New York Times); “When Biden met Sisi: The US Soft Spot for Egypt’s Dictator” (Middle East Eye); “Egypt is Going to Crash. We Must Act Now to Limit the Chaos” (Middle East Eye); “Egypt: Al-Sisi’s National Political Dialogue, a New Ploy?” (Euromedrights.org); “UN Urged to Move COP27 from Egypt over ‘LGBTQ+ Torture’” (Guardian); “Egypt Locks Up ‘Terrorists’ but won’t say which Terror Group they Belong To” (Economist); “Opponents are Sceptical of Egyptian President Al-Sisi’s ‘National Dialogue’” (Le Monde); “Egypt’s Authorities wish to crack down on Mahraganat” (Economist); “Most Egyptians say no Racial Discrimination ‘at all’ in their Country Despite Evidence” (BBC).
The search for this collection of cataclysmic articles was random. It was swift and uncomplicated. Imagine what the results could have been had the search been more thorough or made to cover a longer period.
To rebut the fabricated content of these articles would need several articles and not only one. For this reason, I will focus primarily on why the Western media apparently sees nothing of value occurring in Egypt. I will also refer to some elements in the articles that could not be left untouched.
First, the Western media prefers to sensationalise rather than to rationalise. It chooses to play down the good because the good does not sell. Western journalists indulge in resentful and negative stories that could be threatening to Egypt’s security if they were taken seriously. Fortunately, Egyptians have learned the lesson the hard way. They simply laugh off the sourness.
Second, the West has failed to see the Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) group for what they are, insisting on seeing them as socially conservative forces with no political affiliation or aspiration. Hardly ever does the Western media speak of the ill that Egypt withstood and withstands today from terrorist groups and from what the MB considers acceptable. The MB encourages chaos in order that it can control Egypt again. But again, the Egyptians have learned their lesson.
In the article “Counting the Detained” in the New York Times, the writer says that “the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which ran the previous government and has the largest contingent of political prisoners, has been excluded from the talks [the National Dialogue].”
Egyptians would be horrified if the outlawed MB were to be involved in Egypt’s National Dialogue. Compare the MB, though it has caused far more damage, to the misfits who attacked the Capitol in Washington DC on 6 January 2021. Would they be given an opportunity to discuss the future of their homeland? It is hardly likely.
Egyptian writers affiliated with the MB are encouraged to write extensively in the Western media. Mohamed Elmasry, author of “When Biden met Sisi: The US Soft Spot for Egypt’s Dictator” is a Muslim community leader and imam in Canada. “Egypt is Going to Crash. We Must Act Now to Limit the Chaos” was written by Yehia Hamed, who served in former MB president Mohamed Morsi’s government.
These writers assume the role of national defenders. They write as if they care about Egypt, when in fact they are adamant about making Egypt fall. One of them says that “we must not deceive ourselves. Instability is coming and chaos seems inevitable.” The other says that “all along, this has never been about combating Islamism, but about combating democracy.”
More often than not, such articles are written to fault every word that President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi utters. They end up twisting values, misjudging words, and ridiculing even the best of notions. When President Al-Sisi says that “the homeland is big enough for all of us,” they disbelieve him. When he urges Egyptians to be patient as prices soar, they assume they are starving.
The Western media would prefer to have the Western world have little to do with Egypt, which is why it faults US President Joe Biden for realising the importance of Egypt’s role in the region and thus of meeting President Al-Sisi in Saudi Arabia in July. Undoubtedly, the US realises that Egypt remains at the core of any negotiations or peace agreements in the region. It comprehends the value of its partnership with Egypt.
Writing in the New York Post in October 2019, columnist Sohrab Ahmari wrote that “once more, we’re forgetting the hellish threat a destabilised Egypt would pose to its people, the region and US security… Consider the New York Times, which lately has been pumping a steady stream of negative stories about protests and crackdowns, corruption and ‘Trump’s favourite dictator.’ Even assuming every word is true, there is something profoundly ahistorical and reckless about the mainstream media’s anti-Sisi push.”
A few samples of misleading content would suffice to prove the misconceptions in these articles. Vivian Yee, the Cairo bureau chief of the New York Times, wrote in the article “Counting the Detained in Egypt” that the families of prisoners buy mandatory white prison garments from “department stores that specifically sell white clothing for Muslims to wear on the pilgrimage to Mecca,” only to say later that “prisoners of conscience were so abundant that there was a go-to supplier for their families.” This is blatantly untrue.
The same article claims that “this isn’t about just targeting a few high-profile dissenters. It’s about turning Egyptians of every different class and profession into enemies of the state.”
This is puzzling: why on earth would Egypt want to turn every “different class and profession” into enemies of the state? You would think it would try to win them over, rather than alienate them. But this is the Times’ take on happenings in Egypt.
The articles are doused with defamatory phrases, such as “Sisi is facing multiple crises at home,” “the ‘favourite dictator’,” “extrajudicial killings,” “arbitrary detentions,” “mass trials,” “death sentences,” “torture,” “widespread corruption,” “squandering money on ill-conceived projects,” “an economy on the verge of collapse,” and much more. Did they pause to mention one positive matter? Hardly one.
One article, “UN Urged to Move COP27 from Egypt over ‘LGBTQ + Torture’,” is quite arbitrary. According to the UK Guardian newspaper, a gay White House adviser and his partner believe that gay visitors would be targeted in Egypt. Never has any formal visitor been harassed in Egypt because of their ethnicity or sexuality. Unless they are explicitly trying to provoke others, nothing, absolutely nothing, would detract from their visit to Sharm El-Sheikh. Yet, the Guardian believes the issue is worth discussing.
The UK Economist magazine challenges Egyptians on mahraganat music, a form of street music, and the BBC finds racism in how Egyptian women with curly hair and dark complexions are treated. These topics are so trivial as not to be worth noting.
Yes, these articles may sometimes irk us. However, they should not do so. We should just realise that the attitude of the Western media will not change, even as it leaves no mark on Egyptians. We could try to drown out the negativity by highlighting accomplishments, but the danger is that this would fall on deaf ears.
* The writer is a former professor of communication based in Vancouver, Canada.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.