Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mubarak's Regime against the Washington Post

Egyptians feel so bitter today as they see their country, an ancient civilization and a political powerhouse in the Middle East, sink into poverty and underdevelopment at home and nearly recede into irrelevance regionally and internationally. After decades of authoritarian rule, the ambitions of Mubarak's regime are now limited to maintaining its grip on power and polishing its image abroad.

While Turkey, Iran and Israel are vying for regional leadership, Dubai turns confidently into a world-class commercial and tourist hub, and Qatar makes history by becoming the first Arab state to host the football World Cup, Egypt is content with the spectator's seat it has been occupying for years.

History tells us that political regimes could be differentiated by the objectives they seek to accomplish, and by which of these goals are identified as top priorities. In this regard, the Mubarak regime has a long history of committing monumental follies and blunders; the latest merits close attention. Instead of steering the path towards real political reform, or devising creative policies that would promote growth, reduce unemployment and alleviate poverty, the Egyptian regime has indulged itself in meaningless media wars.

Ahead of parliamentary elections, it targeted Egyptian media, closing down independent satellite channels, harassing dissident journalists and bloggers, and intimidating owners of private newspapers. But in the age of information technology, national barriers cannot stop the flow of information and ideas or sustain the monopoly over information. Cairo's rulers therefore turned globally and aimed at international media, flexing their muscles particularly against The Washington Post.

A well-coordinated campaign against The Washington Post in Egyptian governmental newspapers is all too obvious. Hinting at The Post, Osama Saraya - Chief Editor of the state-run daily Al-Ahram - accused on Nov. 12 "international media" of blindly following the lies of Egyptian opposition. When it comes to Egypt's domestic affairs, he added, "we know what is best for us more than others."

In the same month, Abdallah Kamal, Chief Editor of the daily state-run Rosa Al-Youssef and member of the ruling party, dedicated one full article to Jackson Diehl, Deputy Editorial Page Editor of The Post. Diehl's views on Egypt are "ideologically motivated," "extremely naïve" and they "reflect ignorance" of Egyptian affairs; "It is as if he is writing about Iran or Myanmar," Kamal wrote.

The escalating campaign quickly acquired a blatant official stance. On Nov. 24, the Egyptian ambassador to the US, Sameh Shukry, sent an official complaint to Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of The Post, complaining about the "biased" and "irresponsible" editorial policy of The Post. Since March 2008, the ambassador protested, The Post published 24 articles on Egypt (12 editorials, 8 op-eds and 4 letters to the editor). Though attention is normally an asset, to authoritarian regimes, too much attention from international media is clearly detrimental.

To Mubarak's regime, The Washington Post has surely turned into a real nuisance. A recent op-ed in the independent daily Al-Shororuk carried the title "Jackson Diehl: Headache to the Egyptian Government in Washington" No doubt, within the circles of Egyptian diplomats, particularly in Washington D.C., Diehl and The Post are regarded as the enemies of the state.

To be sure, The Washington Post and the rest of international media are only the enemies of the regime, not the majority of Egyptian people who aspire to democratic governance and better living conditions. Over the past few years, these newspapers, along with new internet-based means like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, have played important roles in exposing the malpractices of Mubarak's regime, and pressuring the international community to adopt a bolder stance in support of political reform in Egypt and the entire Mideast.

Cairo's rulers are surely lowering themselves, and offending the great country and people they are unfortunately representing—or, rather, misrepresenting. By over-reacting to an editorial published in this or that paper, the Egyptian regime shows how precarious and unpopular its rule has become.

Egypt's sham parliamentary elections (conducted on Nov. 28 and Dec. 5) have changed the standing of its ruling party in parliament from hegemony to monopoly. With main opposition rivals undermined, and as Egypt gears up for crucial presidential elections next year, more vicious attacks on international media are expected over the coming year.

Defenders of liberty and democracy, remain on guard.

Nael M. Shama

* This article was published in Daily News (Egypt) on December 30, 2010.

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