Al-Ahram Weekly Online   10 - 16 June 2004
Issue No. 694
Press review
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Ministers in muddles

A new Egyptian newspaper came down hard on the government. Gamal Nkrumah presents the maiden issue

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A new Egyptian daily, Al-Masri Al-Youm, starts out by predicting what reforms in the Arab world might look like

It was a week of inauspicious launchings and lunacy as a promising -- some would say preposterous new daily newspaper Al-Masri Al- Youm, or The Egyptian Today -- hit the newsstands this week.

Supposedly a non-partisan mouthpiece of the masses, the first few issues of Al-Masri Al-Youm tried desperately, but not quite so convincingly, to keep a safe distance from the powers that be. Several ministers were given a severe dressing down.

"The government of [Prime Minister Atef] Ebeid will last until the presidential referendum in December 2005," ran the front page headline of the maiden issue of Al-Masri Al-Youm. "Some ministers might be sacrificed in order to assuage public anger. A plot is being hatched to marginalise the American lobby and the Muslim Brothers," the paper disclosed. Splashed on the centre of the first issue's front page was an implausible collage of the portraits of six uneasy- looking cabinet ministers huddled together beneath the banner "Ministers who are destroying Egypt".

"This is the most hated cabinet on the Egyptian street," the paper trumpeted. "It has been humbled, often humiliated, but it staggers on."

Al-Masri writer Khaled Ezz El-Arab, of Cairo Times fame, lashed out against Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher. "Is Maher's diseased heart behind the demise of the Egyptian role in all regional and international files?" he demanded to know. "The question of a permanent African seat at the United Nations Security Council is a pertinent one, demonstrating how low the diplomatic fortunes of the country has sunk in the international arena," Ezz El-Arab lamented. "During Amr Moussa's period in office as foreign minister, Egypt competed with South Africa for the permanent seat. By the middle of this year the chances of Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa look far more rosier than Egypt's."

As the country slouches towards democratisation and political reform, pundits savaged their political opponents with poisonous pens. "Minister of luxury housing, ghost towns and empty promises," Al-Masri Al-Youm taunted Mohamed Ibrahim Suleiman, the minister of housing. Farouk Hosni, the minister of culture, was likewise lambasted. "The puzzling question is how could a minister continue in office in spite of all his shortcomings and blunders -- the pillage of the country's archaeological heritage; the bungling up of cultural festivals; and the ruin of the country's cinema industry?"

In much the same vein, Al-Ahrar 's Editor-in- Chief Salah Qabadaya speculated that contrary to perceived wisdom, and most ironically, the more the ministers are savaged by the press, the stronger their chances of staying in office becomes. "The jokes have returned with a vengeance, people are exchanging witticisms, they are fooling themselves, and making fun of their situation," Qabadaya wrote. "All this is cause for optimism. When people stop joking about their sorry situation, when they are no longer sarcastic and cynical, then it is time to worry," he explained.

Qabadaya derided those whom he described as "simpletons who think that the days of Prime Minister Atef Ebeid in office are numbered. Gossip about the impending government reshuffle is flying about, and talk about conspiracy theories are rife," but Qabadaya suspects that the rumour-mongers are on the wrong end of the stick.

"Those who understand the rules of the game say that the rumours spewed by the malicious ones will only strengthen the position of Ebeid, buttress his political stature and prolong the stay in office of his government," Qabadaya stated.

"Who will bring the minister of aviation to book?" ran a headline in Al-Arabi Al-Nasseri, a paper issued by the opposition Nasserist Party. In characteristic outspokenness, the paper lashed out against the entire aviation business in Egypt today. EgyptAir, the national carrier, came under intense fire for a poor safety record, corruption and nepotism. According to the paper, the Central Bank, the Ministry of Aviation and a coterie of corrupt tycoons were to blame for the scandalous pilfering of public funds and poor performance.

"The Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army sign the Nairobi accords," ran the front page headline of the national daily Al-Ahram on Sunday. "Mubarak congratulates Al-Beshir and Garang. An Egyptian delegation led by [Egyptian Prime Minister Atef] Ebeid heads for Khartoum to congratulate the Sudanese government,"

"Taha and Garang visit Cairo to thank Egypt for its assistance."

The paper quoted Sudanese Minister of Justice Ali Mohamed Othman Yassin as saying, "There is no future for Sudan without Egypt." In an exclusive interview with Al-Ahram 's Asmaa El-Husseini, the Sudanese minister of justice said, "Sudanese renaissance is dependent on the effectiveness of the role played by Egypt in nurturing peace and development in Sudan."

The debate over the sharing and management of the water resources of the Nile Basin featured prominently in this week's Egyptian papers. "Are we nearing the arena of conflict over water or are we now in the era of water wars?" asked a concerned Ahmed Bahgat in Sunday's edition of Al-Ahram. "We know that Israel is playing at the sources of the Nile. It has established close relations, builds dams and has considerable economic influence in the countries of the Nile Basin," Bahgat continued.

Another topic that featured prominently in this week's Egyptian press was the much anticipated Egyptian involvement in Gaza after Israel's withdrawal from the Strip. Speculation was rife about the precise nature of Egypt's role in the security of Gaza. "The truth about the partnership between [President Hosni] Mubarak and [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon", ran the cover of the weekly national magazine Al- Musawwar. "Five Egyptian stipulations for cooperation in implementing the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza," Al-Musawwar explained. The magazine's Editor-in-Chief Makram Mohamed Ahmed outlined Egypt's role in a four-page spread that spotlighted the crucial part played by Egypt's Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman. But the writer's conclusion was somewhat ambivalent. "In the final analysis, Sharon's plan is still elusive. The common Egyptian saying 'Just a bird on a tree' or 'a fish in the water' aptly applies to Sharon's plan," he wrote. As it now stands, Sharon's plan can neither be marketed nor sold."

The focus of another national weekly, October, was Iraq. "Iraq: a new president and government, but occupation continues," ran the cover's banner splashed on a photograph of the new Iraqi President Ghazi Al-Yawar and Prime Minister Iyad Allawi juxtaposed on a background of heavily-armed and sinister-looking American troops.

Akher Saa splashed the photo of even more menacing American "mercenaries" going about their dirty business in Iraq against the background of the map of Iraq. In a two-page spread Akher Saa 's Editor-in-Chief Mohamed Baraka wrote a scathing critique of America's plans for a Greater Middle East.

Opposition press commentary this week noted with striking uniformity the parallels between the reported alleged honeymoon between Egypt and Israel and the process that led to the peace deal between the two countries in 1979. Opposition papers sounded the alarm bells following the visit of Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom to Cairo this week and was vehemently opposed to current attempts to lure Egypt into collaborating with the Israelis or playing into the hands of Sharon as Al-Wafd put it.

On the front-page of Al-Wafd 's Wednesday 9 June edition, the paper splashed a headline urging the "Egyptian government to back away from the trap set by the Zionist gangsters to Egypt into the morass of Gaza", the paper pleaded. Al-Wafd also called upon the Egyptian government "to train cadres of Palestinian police on Egyptian soil", warning that "Egyptian officers must not set foot in Gaza except with the explicit approval of all the various Palestinian factions."

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