Never let a crisis go to waste

Azza Radwan Sedky
Tuesday 21 Apr 2020

The Western media has been systematically misreporting the Covid-19 outbreak in Egypt, writes Azza Radwan Sedky

Even during a sweeping pandemic that is testing humanity’s resilience, “they” don’t stop to ponder the calamity at hand. On the contrary, they are even exploiting it by twisting facts and seeing the bad in the good. “They” are those who have been against Egypt from day one: the Western media whose journalists roll their eyes disdainfully after every Egyptian government decision, mock its validity, and then dump their scorn on us soon afterwards.

I have come to know much about the Western media’s manipulative journalistic practices. I have also come to realise that some Western journalists work relentlessly against Egypt. Compare “Made-in-Egypt ventilators” and “Egypt announces financial stimulus package to cushion Covid-19 impact” to “Egypt is more concerned with controlling information than containing it,” “Egypt delivers medical aid to Italy despite severe shortages at home,” “Reporting on the coronavirus: Egypt muzzles critical journalists” and “Will Egypt’s military corner the coronavirus market?” 

The first two headlines are from the Egyptian press, and the latter group has been written to perpetuate objectives that Western writers have in mind and to spice things up against Egypt. 

In a UK Guardian newspaper article headed “Egypt: rate of coronavirus cases likely to be higher than figures suggest,” the subheading was “Infectious disease specialist from the University of Toronto provides grim picture of possible spread.” The specialist concluded that since several tourists had returned from Egypt with Covid-19, this must mean that there were 19,000 Covid-19 cases in Egypt. This was on 15 March.  

It’s been a month since then, and figures on the Worldometer Website say that Egypt has 1,939 Covid-19 cases and has had 146 deaths. Egypt has only conducted 25,000 tests, which is not many, but the fact that the death rate is so low is indicative of the number of positive cases. According to the New York Times, the World Health Organisation (WHO) “has praised Egypt’s efforts but has also said they can be scaled up in some areas.”  If the pattern in other countries is an indication, where there have been brisk increases in the number of people testing positive on tests, Egypt’s death rate should have reached six figures by now – if the Guardian specialist’s assumptions had been correct. 

Most of the tourists returning to their countries from Egypt had been on a cruise ship in Upper Egypt. There were significant numbers testing positive on this cruise ship, but this does not mean that Upper Egypt as a whole was infected. While those infected on the Egyptian cruise ship numbered in the hundreds, those on cruise liners around the world were in the thousands and suffered the same tragic consequences. However, the specialist quoted by the Guardian did not multiply these cases by 200 to come up with the astronomical figure he suggested for Egypt. That applied only to Egypt. 

“Will Egypt’s military corner the coronavirus market?” was the headline of another article in the Western press indicative of a premeditated intention to warp Egypt’s image. According to this article, the hike in the prices of ventilators and medical equipment in Egypt has reached 300 per cent. When the Egyptian military opted to assist citizens and provide masks at the price of LE12, when they were being sold in pharmacies for LE70, the article said that this was an attempt at “cornering the market” and not what it clearly was – a desire to assist people in need and protect them against spikes in prices. 

In the meantime, according to the Los Angeles Times, the US federal government “is quietly seizing orders [of medical supplies], leaving medical providers across the country in the dark about where the material is going and how they can get what they need to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.” Where the supplies are being rerouted to and to whom they are being directed is unknown. “Hospital and health officials describe an opaque process in which federal officials sweep in without warning to expropriate supplies,” the article said.

It would have been better if the writer of the article on Egypt had looked more closely at what was going on in the United States and had understood more clearly what the Egyptian military was doing for the well-being of the population in Egypt.

According to another Western newspaper headline, “Egypt is more concerned with controlling information than containing the coronavirus.” However, in fact Jean Jabbour, head of the WHO’s Egypt office, has said that the Egyptian government’s response has been “prompt.” “There are 2,000 beds allocated for Covid-19 treatment, half of which are in intensive care units and 600 with ventilators, while 400,000 test kits have been delivered,” he said.

According to Egypt Today, “Egypt provides 11,000 beds in seven university dorms to receive Covid-19 cases,” and all those arriving at airports are being quarantined for 14 days. The numbers, of course, keep changing. A headline in Al-Ahram on 11 April said that “Egypt set up 94 hospitals and 38,000 university dorms to receive and isolate coronavirus cases.”

Another Western press article entitled “Egypt’s family planning policies tested by Covid-19” assumed that since families were under lockdown in Egypt there could be a population surge. This is possible, of course, but doesn’t it apply to every locked-in society anywhere in the world? The article, however, talked about Egypt’s “married with two kids’ policies” succumbing to Covid-19. 

In another article entitled “Egypt battles Covid-19 amid a flood of misinformation and conspiracy theories,” the writer implied that these things were uniquely Egyptian. However, the US Reader’s Digest has also discussed the growth of conspiracy theories around the world. In an article entitled “Coronavirus conspiracy theories you shouldn’t believe,” it said that among these were “coronavirus is a hoax,” “all these precautions are an overkill,” “coronavirus was Canada’s bioweapon stolen by China,” “greed and gun violence accidentally unleashed Covid-19”, “Chinese eating habits caused the virus,” “it’s all a plot to make the president look bad” and “Covid-19 is a ruse to distract us from a ‘doomsday’ asteroid.” 

It is not uncommon for people during hard times to come up with, and maybe even believe, false information. But I wish Western journalists and some of the Arab ones who write for the Western media would balance their reporting on Egypt. It can’t be all bad in Egypt; and it can’t be all good elsewhere. 

The writer is the author of Cairo Rewind on the First Two Years of Egypt’s Revolution, 2011-2013.


*A version of this article appears in print in the  23 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

Short link: