More From the Daily News Egypt on Egyptian Media Woes

March 15, 2009

The chief editor of the Daily News Egypt, and independent English language Egyptian newspaper affiliated with the International Herald Tribune, has published this op-ed about the problems Al-Ahram is facing with its journalists as a result of financial issues and censorship.

It is no secret that Al-Ahram is a mouth-piece for the Egyptian government but the newspaper’s censorship usually does not get this much attention, nor does it cause this much of an uproar. Salaama Ahmed Salaama’s reported defection from the newspaper to Al-Shurouq is certainly part of this as he is a big name in Egyptian media. And as the Daily News Egypt points out the issues of media coverage and especially Egyptian media during Israel’s offensive in Gaza has also exacerbated the issue.

Egyptian Media Woes

March 10, 2009

Here’s a really interesting post from The Arabist about growing political and economic problems within the Egyptian media scene, having to do especially with the government’s Al-Ahram publication and some of its dissenters, including well-known progressive writer Salama Ahmed Salama and Dar Al-Shurouk’s new popular newspaper Al-Shurouk. Read more about Al-Shurouk (from Al-Ahram) here.

Thanks to Rob at Arab Media Shack for originally posting the story.

On the NYTimes Article

January 29, 2009

So there has been some debate about the NYTimes article “Revolution, Facebook-style” which I posted about below and on the Foreign Policy Egypt Blog. Semi-Expert has taken issue with the article here for being what he calls “social pornography.” I am not about to criticize a Georgetown professor (I mean that respectfully-seriously), but I do agree that he is being a little harsh.¬† I think he makes some interesting points about how articles like this paint Westerners’ perceptions of political and social issues in countries like Egypt, and he is not really incorrect in his criticisms but just maybe a little too critical.

The fact is that for the average New York Times reader, this is an informative piece touching upon a number of important political and social issues facing Egypt today. I think the positives here outweigh the issues Semi-Expert raises. And that fact that Ms. Shapiro does not speak Arabic to me is trivial, even if the “bint” issue was completely missed. While it would be nice if journalists were better linguists, being someone who does speak Arabic relatively well, I think it is unfair to discredit a whole article on this point.

“Revive la resistance”

January 4, 2009

Here’s an interesting article by Nathan Field discussing what is going on in Gaza right now and its implications for Egypt and the region. I think¬† in regards to Egypt it is especially interesting to note the differences between what the Egyptian government does i.e. Hamas and Israel, how the Egyptian people feel about it, and what the Arab media is saying about it.

The Shoe Incident

December 15, 2008

Most of the Egyptians I have spoken with today, despite the fact that they either strongly dislike or hate President Bush, did not think what happened at the press conference yesterday was appropriate. In fact, the majority of them said it was “ayb,” or shameful that an Iraqi reporter threw his shoes at the President.

In Egyptian and other Middle Eastern cultures, the bottom of one’s shoe is an extremely dirty thing. No pun intended. Showing the bottom of one’s shoe is considered insulting, so people here do not often cross their legs lest they show the bottom of their shoes. Slapping or hitting someone on the back of the neck is also a very nasty insult, and likely to lead to a serious streetfight. But the worse is probably hitting someone on the back of the neck with one’ shoe, or throwing one’s shoe at someone, which is kind of a combination of the two because one is not only attacking someone else, but with one’s shoe, no less.

I found this interesting because I would not have been surprised had a lot of people supported the reporter’s actions. I get the sense that people here appreciate when someone stands up to the US, especially to President Bush, even if it is just symbolically (or even if they miss). Not necessarily because they hate the US, but because from the other side, it probably seems like the US is a bit of a bully sometimes.

So the fact that this cultural norm overrode this common feeling I thought was interesting. I think most people saw through the pettiness of that action, despite what they think about the American President or the War in Iraq.

Al-Jazeera and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

October 19, 2008

I just had a nice conversation with a cab driver which started somehow with us discussing TV and how most TV programs and channels are a waste of time. I listed a few that were good, however, like History Channel, Discovery Channel, and yes, HBO. I mentioned that news programs were generally good as well, as long as they were mostly news. He then said to me, “can I ask you a personal question, and if you don’t mind, could you answer me honestly?” I said sure, of course.

He asked what I thought of Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I gave him my usual spiel, and noted that what I object to about Al-Jazeera in this regard is that they give mostly favorable coverage to the Palestinian side and have mostly stories covering the plight of the Palestinians, while ignoring those Palestinians and Palestinian groups which commit wanton acts of violence, terrorism, and are actively trying to stop any peace process. In addition, I think Al-Jazeera only covers Israeli news which relates to the conflict, and if it is supposed to be a “Middle East focused” news station, it should treat Israel in this regard like it does all other countries in the Middle East.

In any case, he told me that I have to see Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the conflict in a context of occupation and resistance. This of course is a prevailing notion here among others explaining causation for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which I agree is part of the issue but not all of it. I told him that in that context I understand, from the Palestinian side, that when someone kills an Israeli soldier in the West Bank, that is seen as “resistance.” Fine. Obviously, I am very upset when that happens, but if you are going to try to understand the other side, this is a point of view which can be backed up by logical arguments about occupation and resistance. However, I explained, when Palestinians shoot rockets from Gaza into Israel proper, or when suicide bombers blow themselves up on buses or gunman shoot students in schools, this is not resistance. This is terrorism. And when Al-Jazeera does not make that clear, and calls the people who commit these acts “martyrs,” that is completely unacceptable.

At that point I was ready to get out, and he either did not have a response or had had enough. Regardless, it was a very friendly conversation, and we both parted with smiles on our faces.

Egyptian Media Censorship

October 17, 2008

This past week my program had a meeting with an author, poet, and journalist who works for Al-Ahram, the major pro-government newspaper in Egypt. We had an interesting conversation with him, and he shared some of his poetry with us. I bought a copy of his most recent collection of poems titled Coffee and Chocolate.

We asked him questions about his personal interests, about being a journalist, and mostly about media censorship in Egypt, which is always a hot topic. A number of journalists have been put in jail recently for “slandering,” “threatening national security,” etc., and I think Americans are especially interested in media censorship because of the large degree of freedom of expression in the United States. So, when asked if there is censorship of the media in Egypt, our guest flatly responded “no.” He then explained that there are three lines the media does not cross in Egypt. They are:

1. Criticism of the president
2. Criticism of judges
3. Criticism of the army

To me, of course, this sounds like plain old censorship. In addition, criticism of religious officials, such as the Mufti of Al-Azhar, is also not acceptable, as journalists have been put in jail for criticizing him as well.

What I thought was especially interesting was that he explained that the real censorship in Egypt is societal. People censor themselves for political, religious, or cultural reasons. This makes a lot of sense, as the effects of the political status quo here and the consequences for altering it are established to the extent that people usually do not need to be told when to shut up. They know because it has been this way for a long time. (As a side note, Egypt has been under “Emergency Law” since former President Sadat was assassinated in 1981). In addition, there is cultural and religious self-censorship as Egypt is a culturally intense and religiously conservative society. As an example, many women do not report when they have been sexually assaulted as it is seen as shameful for the family.

In any case, our guest does work for Al-Ahram, and certainly knows the limits on his freedom of speech, so I understand his self-censorship and unwillingness to admit that this country censors its media.

Gym Talk 2 "Why do Americans Think that all Arabs and Muslims are Terrorists?"

October 14, 2008

One of the questions I am most often asked by Egyptians is “why do Americans think that all Arabs and Muslims are terrorists?”

Most Egyptians I have spoken to believe that Americans have a very negative view of Arabs and Muslims (can I just write A/M for now if I am refering to both?) . Some of them do. But just like some Americans have stereotypes about Arabs or Muslims, Americans shouldn’t all be stereotyped either.

Tonight in the gym, the Captain asked me why I was studying Arabic. I told him the usual, which I actually think I have explained to him before, the crux of which being that for whatever study or work I am going to be doing in the future, understanding Arabic will be crucial to understanding the politics, religion, culture, and people of the Middle East. With Ahmed, Walid, Mario (Mahmoud), and the Captain (whose name is also Mahmoud), we continued the conversation and spoke about Americans’ ideas about people in the Middle East. Of course I get very worked up about this topic and although I talked a lot, which I know I normally do in these situations, I thought we had a good conversation and in the end, I think we all learned something and for the most part agreed with each other. I wish I had a transcript of it so as not to miss anything, but I’ll share what I can remember write now.

Ahmed said that Americans believe stereotypes about A/M because of American media. This is interesting, because I having been watching more Al-Jazeera lately and although I think it is a good news channel, it is no doubt biased. So I explained that I think all news and every person has biases, and that the challenge is to gather as much information as possible and then sort it out for oneself. Fox News vs. Al-Jazeera. Neither are perfect, but I learn from both. Ahmed seemed to agree. I explained that part of the reason I am here in Egypt is, in this sense, to get as much information as possible and then go home and try to help Americans understand this region better.

You know what? I realize I sound pompous with some of this and frankly I am sick of writing about this stuff. What I really want to say in this post is how awesome it is and how lucky I am to be able to joke around, talk politics, and make friends with a bunch of Egyptian guys my age in a “ghetto” gym in the middle of Cairo. For me, that is such an important part of what this experience is about. That is the learning that takes place outside of the classroom.