Al-Ahram Weekly Online   5 - 11 January 2006
Issue No. 776
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The honest chameleon

The winding year saw the rise of figures and phenomena that promise to be of crucial importance this year. Al-Ahram Weekly keeps track of a changing vista

Anas El-Fiqi

"When I found myself in the position of someone perceived to be biased in favour of the ruling party, I decided to work on this image -- presenting my only bias, a bias in favour of objectivity, for what it is," Anas El-Fiqi, Egypt's current information minister, told an Egyptian- Canadian seminar a few months after he assumed his post in February 2004. During his talk, El-Fiqi underlined a new notion of the ministry as "a platform for political opposition", stressing his belief that "the media belongs to all Egyptians."

More than any other cabinet member, no doubt, El-Fiqi has engaged the elite and the masses alike. Following his appointment as minister of youth -- while still in his 40s -- shortly after Egypt's scandalous failure to host the next World Cup, El-Fiqi made a place switch with former information minister Mamdouh El-Beltagui that came as a surprise; certainly it was a pro- rather than de-motion, all the more significant in the light of the fact that he had had no experience in the field of the media.

Veteran Al-Ahram columnist Salama Ahmed Salama, for one, believes El-Fiqi's appointment had to do with the state's "implicit confidence" in his loyalty and skill. Meanwhile, in the words of Strategic analyst Wahid Abdel-Meguid, in stark contrast to the general perception of the Information Ministry's role of "preventing any rise in the public demand for political change", El-Fiqi has indeed positioned his appointment in the context of the "historic change" whereby the constitution was amended to allow for multi- candidate presidential elections.

Right before the presidential elections, indeed, El-Fiqi stressed "transparency and objectivity", making an effort to separate coverage of the president per se and of the president as National Democratic Party (NDP) candidate and distributing air space "equally and fairly" among the contenders. He produced a series of patriotic video clips performed collectively by popular pop stars to encourage voting. And it was in the effort to increase political participation that he placed a tiny, fluttering Egyptian flag with the words "Elections 2005" on one corner of the screen; on the radio a campaign urging people to "participate and vote for a better future" was widely implemented; and this policy continued through the parliamentary elections later that year.

El-Fiqi's political profile is expected to rise even higher in 2006, as Magdi El-Galad, editor- in-chief of the daily Al-Masry Al-Yom, predicted. The information minister announced that his main goal during 2006 is the "reconstruction of internal media administration, as well as major media organisations such as the Radio and TV Union", with a view to ensuring the eradication of "all forms of corruption", as El-Galad put it.

In fact, El-Fiqi appears to have already started pursuing that goal, for, in December 2005, he dismissed Media Production City chairman Abdel-Rahman Hafez -- former head of the Radio and Television Union -- and referred him to the prosecutor with charges of financial violation.

However, Salama's ever sober voice reminds us that the media may still not have changed all that much: "I can see that El-Fiqi is progressing step by step, in tandem with the current circumstances of the state. What he really needs is a long-term, comprehensive plan to fully open up the state-owned media in a way that would help achieve the democratic goals to which Egypt aspires."

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