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Rant: poverty in numbers and media

In the past months, it has become increasingly difficult to write about Egypt. On an emotional level, it is disappointing to watch hope for change turn into a desire for stability and a return to the way things were. On a more political level, the Committee to Protect Journalists has ranked Egypt as one of the most dangerous places on the planet to report from, along with Syria and Iraq.

That it ranks there, along with a country in which people are reduced to nourishment from blades of grass, and one devastated by almost 20 years of ongoing civil, secterian and militant strife, is worrying. The reasons for which it is ranked there- according to me- are quite different from the two other countries: while in Syria and Iraq, I count casualties of war, in Egypt, they are casualties of politics.

In the aftermath of the June 30th / July 3rd coup (soft, or otherwise), the powers that currently steer Egypt towards an Orwellian police state, revived the old idea that "no bad news from Egypt" should reach the rest of the world- that the foreign press, and all its representatives were guilty of skewing the image of the country and the political processes unfolding within to international onlookers. That those powers themselves have repeatedly used independent and state media as a tool of skewing within the country is an irony that hopefully does not escape them.

Hani Shukrallah, former editor of the Ahram Weekly and Ahram Online publications, writes, in a scathing essay on the failure of mainstream media both at home and abroad.

"Intense political polarization after June 30, coupled with the bellicose posture occasioned by the severity of the confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood, did away with whatever diversity had existed in journalism beforehand. Television presenters and anchors have been transformed into overzealous preachers shouting harangues from their various pulpits. Meanwhile, the few exceptionally talented and ethical among them, such as ONTV’s Reem Maged and Yousry Fouda and the enormously popular CBC satirist Bassem Youssef, have disappeared off the airwaves."

and in the foreign press reporting on Egypt, he reminds us that 

"Western media and experts would also pontificate on how Egyptians are indoctrinated from childhood to worship their armed forces, neglecting to even note that just a mere year before, and for a full year and a half, “down with military rule” was being chanted by hundreds of thousands in the country – and that in fact it was the fierce resistance to military rule by these hundreds of thousands that brought down the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). This resistance, incidentally, was consistently boycotted and condemned by the Muslim Brotherhood."

When caught in a 24- hour news cycle, ever feeding the events that it is fed by, it becomes very difficult to understand what the latest news report was about- almost as difficult as keeping track of what happened yesterday in the same place. It is, without taking the time to read up on contexts, actors and backgrounds, a daunting task to form an own opinion and follow through with it. And yes, it is very difficult to find any media outlet, whether mainstream or otherwise, that does not establish a narrative according to its own bias, on events anywhere- the classical example is the fear-mongering of a Fox News channel, or in the case of Egypt, the misdirections of State Television.

Reliable, independent news written for an audience outside Egypt by Egyptians has become hard to come by, after editorial restructuring of Egypt Independent, formerly one of the most widely- read foreign-language publications with a reputation of independence, the relaunch of a defanged Daily News Egypt (which, incidentally, for a while shared some editorial staff with EI). Above, Hani reminds us of what many other outlets became- spokespieces for political propaganda, Egypts very own "War on Terror". Mada Masr, founded by those journalists who left both the above, fills part of the gap- with the caveat of a slight 2011 bias. Al-Ahram- in particular the Arabic edition- has, in spite of articles such as the above, been reduced to its former politicising state of reporting. 

And yet, even as I, the recepient of this news, sit 4000 KM north of the epicentre, await events that were deemed newsworthy and look for those that are not, a referendum has taken place in the country over the past two days. Another election for Egypt! For another constitution! Hooray- after a transitional constitution, an imposed constitution, the country- or a rough 40% of the electorate- has voted, almost unisono, to ratify a constitution that the few who have taken the time to read it consider, at best, worthy of improvement. At worst, it can be considered a document that enshrines military trials, continues legislature based on religion, and gives Al-Azhar control of the Arabic language as it is spoken in Egypt. This document received the support of 98.1 per cent of the voters- a number reminiscent of an era thought to have ended on the 11th of February 2011. 

For a variety of reasons, the electorate has voted for what they believe to be security and a measure of stability. In a country that has seen the hardships it rose up to combat worsen, in which an already wide societal gap has only grown in the three years, deepening into a chasm that is uncrossable for most, it is understandable that the current developments do not inspire a desire for further national experiments in the near future. But in the face of the arrests of activists attempting to urge a no vote, lawsuits raised against puppets and a ubiquitous yes campaign labeled as the only way out for the country that ran along with the writing of the draft constitution, it is hard to call this vote free and/or fair. The Strong Egypt party, founded by Monem Abdel Fotouh upon his departure from the Muslim Brotherhoods ranks, went so far as to claim it signals Egypts return to "the club of totalitarian and authoritarian countries". In a recent opinion piece, the BBC also explores the rethoric of the election, singling out the term "a democratic ceremony", a term that has not been heard since Hosni Mubarak was in power (begins at 10min20sec).

It is hard to draw any conclusions from the current state of events on where the country will finally end up. Presidential election are the probaly next election the country will face, and in spite of persistent rumors that AbdelFattah El-Sisi may become the next president, a poll by Al- Masry- Al- Youm, the Arabic edition of Egypt Independent (or rather vice versa) shows 86% of over 330 000 participants do not wish the most unpopular Job in Egypt on the man who is considered by many to be the strong man who could lead the country to some form of glory. In spite of that, strategically, the cons outweigh the pros for him- and weren't we promised a civilian government? 

What is maybe the most cynical development is the appropriation of the revolution by the state itself- the Ministry of Interior, one of the state organs the 2011 uprising demanded to change, calling on the people to go out and demonstrate in masses amidst tight security on January 25. A mother reports her son as a member of the April 6th workers movement. The arrest warrants against activists associated with the early days of the uprising, such as Mahienour El Masry, Ahmed Maher and many others issued are worrying signs of the shift in perception that the new, old, deep state is attempting, with some success, to engineer. 

In 2011, walls of fear came crashing down. Block by block, they are being rebuilt. 

* The picture above is from berlin and reads "today used to be the future"


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