Al-Ahram Weekly Online   15 - 21 April 2004
Issue No. 686
Press review
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Going the other way

Egyptian writers frustrated over foreign policy matters vented their anger at domestic affairs instead. Aziza Sami looks at our columnists elsewhere

Tongue in cheek, under the headline, "In Egypt there is press freedom" the national weekly newspaper Akhbar Al-Yom 's Anwar Wagdi took aim at officials and non-officials alike. Hailing his column with four photographs showing slightly-different poses of Minister of External Trade Youssef-Boutros Ghali, Wagdi (alias the paper's Editor Ibrahim Se'da) said he had decided to "resume writing about the scandal of Joe (Ghali) so that readers will remain assured that in Egypt there is freedom of the press, no censoring of writers or breaking of their pens". He will do this, he says, by doing more of the same. And so Wagdi writes that Ghali, "not satisfied with his constant failure in all the ministries in which he has taken charge, recently surprised us all by standing up in parliament and insulting -- with full audio-visual effects -- the mother of one of the MPs in the most abhorrent language". Wagdi did not spare the insulted MP either who, "instead of taking the minister to the courts, decided in a most weak-minded fashion to forgive him".

Moving on to other targets, the cynical Wagdi devoted a paragraph to former Nasserist MP Farid Hassanein, casting doubt over the real reason for his resignation. Hassanein had claimed he had "lost all hope in the country's reform", but Hassanein resigned, writes Wagdi, because he knew he would achieve nothing out of all the rosy promises he had made to his constituency. "He is, after all, a Nasserist, addicted to failure, whose (socialist) recipes have already sent the country to the dogs. But still he must also be praised since he is the first person ever, in our country's long history, to resign out of his own free will!"

On Monday, the independent weekly Sawt Al-Umma wrote about what it described as the habitual "anti-Egypt" defamation campaign launched by the US press every time President Hosni Mubarak visits America. Editor-in-Chief Adel Hammouda wrote that the elements of the campaign have become all too familiar, from pointing out contentious aspects in the relationship between Egypt's Muslims and Copts to the country's stalled political and economic reform. "This time," writes Hammouda, "the attack has taken on a new dimension, with the US publication World Daily accusing Egypt of possessing nuclear weapons.

"The paper claims that a team of American and British inspectors working in Libya found evidence of this but did not state what kind of evidence this was except to say that Libya was involved as a third party between Egypt and North Korea. The story is an old one, going back to the days before Libya announced its relinquishing of alleged WMD. Egyptian officials have expressed anger at these accusations, especially since Egypt is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and announced last December that it had scrapped all plans to build eight nuclear reactors designated for peaceful purposes. Moreover, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed El- Baradei did not in any way refer to Egypt when he visited Libya to investigate this matter."

Hammouda pointed out that the president "turned the tables" on his critics, who charge that there is no democratic reform, by abrogating the imprisonment of journalists on publication-related charges, restricting the implementation of the emergency law and, most important, immediately prior to his departure for the US, had the [recently-formed] National Council for Human Rights announce that it will look into the cancellation of the much-maligned emergency law, except under exceptional circumstances."

The banner of the weekly newspaper Al-Arabi issued by the opposition Nasserist Party on Sunday underscored the "fierce criticism in the American press to President Mubarak's regime". The paper cited reports in the Western press, namely in Britain's Economist, the London Times and the International Herald Tribune outlining the status of "democratic practices" in Egypt. Al-Arabi quoted the Tribune 's prognosis that "increased clout" is being exercised in domestic politics by pro-democracy activists who have been able to direct public criticism at the president himself and who oppose the continuing imposition of the 30-year-old emergency law. They have also broken the former taboo topic of hereditary rule by publicly discussing -- and opposing -- the possibility of the president's son Gamal taking over after his father.

The independent weekly Al-Osbou on Monday gave voice to an unspoken yet prevalent analysis that the motive behind criticism directed at Egypt in the American press is part of the traditional carrot-and-stick approach espoused by the US which aims to restrict Egypt's manoeuverability and the potential role it can play as a leader in the Arab world and, more specifically, a mediator favourable to the Palestinians in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Mahmoud Bakri wrote, "President Mubarak's stances in which he opposed the war on Iraq, refusing to become a part of it, and his declared opposition to the transgressions of the Zionist Prime Minister Ariel Sharon against the Palestinian people, have forced the Zionist lobby and far-right circles (in the US) to conduct a series of concentrated and hostile campaigns against Egypt."

The press also continued in its predominantly favourable coverage of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Al-Ahram columnist Salah Montasser on Sunday wrote that among the admirable aspects of the film was the fact that Gibson was able to stand up to the "strong influence wielded by Jewish interest groups at the political and media levels and in the international arena at large. Gibson has shown that there is an individual with passion who is ready to shout out the truth." Montasser says that by this he means that the Jews, according to Biblical narrative, "incited Pontius Pilate to order Jesus's crucifixion".

An exception to the sweeping popularity of the film has come from Al- Ahram 's Mohamed Salmawy. "This is one of the worst films I've seen in the last few years," wrote Salmawy on Monday, "because of flaws in both artistic and religious interpretation. Despite the excellence of cinematography and the rare instances where emotions are portrayed, the film is primarily a bloody documentation unsurpassed in the history of cinema, of all the forms of torture known to man. On the level of religious interpretation, it has failed to portray the sublime meanings upon which the Holy Book is based such as love, sacrifice and forgiveness."

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