Al-Ahram Weekly Online   10 - 16 November 2005
Issue No. 768
Press review
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The monster within

Fatemah Farag discovers that not only is the press concerned with the democratic process but also the state of the media

Reviews of the Egyptian press have the potential these days of being more interesting simply because there is so much more to cover. What is commonly described as the "new face" of the press is in fact the proliferation of a plethora of privately-owned newspapers, making the arena a more vitalised -- if sometimes confusing -- place.

And while this might be interpreted as a positive state of affairs not everyone within the media establishment is happy. In the state-owned Al-Ahram on 5 November Tareq Hassan laments, "it has become clear that this type [what he describes as 'seditious'] of press does not care about the feelings of its readers or the fate of citizens. In front of me are examples such as the Al-Destour and Sawt Al-Umma which replace fact with insult." He goes on to claim, "they [the seditious press] will tell us -- and they have done this before -- shut us down and censor us so that they can portray themselves as the oppressed and martyrs in this country. And of course we do not need to give them this honour. But we do need to differentiate between the good and the bad." In doing so Hassan goes on the say, "if someone asks: 'what are lies?' we answer: 'read the Al-Destour and Sawt Al-Umma.' And if they ask 'what are insults' we say: 'read Ibrahim Eissa'."

However, some might suggest that it is an odd choice of publications to describe as "seditious" in the same week that the prosecutor-general informed the public that investigations into the riots that took place in Alexandria (when Muslims stormed a church two weeks ago angered by allegations that a CD showing an anti-Islamic play was shown at the church) have proven that no CD was in fact shown. The origin of the allegation had been an "expose" published by the Midan newspaper -- a sensationalist paper and allegedly connected to security bodies. In his column in Al-Masri Al-Youm Magdi Mehanna calls on the prosecutor-general "to investigate the paper that published and disseminated this false rumour."

Further, in Al-Ahali, Gouda Abdel-Khaleq claims, "the national media has failed miserably. The state- owned press has become blatant mouthpieces of the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the government with only few limited exceptions. And television has become more royal than the king, distributing its time between promiscuous programmes and government propaganda." He goes on to wonder how all of this relates to "political reform, new ideas and the crossing into the future. In fact they [the regime] are planning to assassinate the will of the people and swamp parliament."

Talk of which brings us back to both Salah Eissa and Wael El-Ibrashi whose articles this week did not reflect intimidation. In Sawt Al-Umma El-Ibrashi says, "we know the NDP will swallow most of the seats (of parliament) whether we like it or not. We realise that they will use all the forms of thuggery, forgery and buying of votes because the next parliament is more important than any other as it will be used by the regime to pass laws and prepare the political environment for the process of inheriting power."

In a scathing article in the same issue, Eissa focuses his anger on everyone. "While the world has turned upside down, in the Arab world years pass without a sound, without movement. Intransigent rulers, hypocritical intelligencia, ridiculous party men, a dead nation and a subservient people."

And while many in the press have pinned their hopes on the parliamentary elections as capitalising on a new momentum, Gamal Badawi in Al-Wafd on 8 November suggests, "it is wrong to consider the phenomenon of so many candidates as evidence that democracy has expanded or that political consciousness is heightened because most of the candidates do not meet the basic minimum of the necessary qualifications needed to be an actor in parliamentary life."

But perhaps the most disturbing facet of these elections is money. According to Amani Qandil in Al-Ahram on 8 November, "one of the most important phenomena, in my opinion, of the 2005 elections, one which I follow with surprise and sometimes amazement, is the race between businessmen to win seats in parliament. This unprecedented spending spree by some businessmen to win the votes of candidates... raises many questions, perhaps the most objective and scientific of which concern the 'national achievements' of businessmen in the parliamentary round 2000-2005."

In Al-Ghad, Mohamed Abdel-Fattah says strong rumour has it that a vote in some constituencies has reached LE500 while in others it is a paltry LE200. "It is said that some businessmen candidates have spent millions of pounds," says Abdel-Fattah whose one explanation to the willingness to spend is corruption.

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