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Al-Sisi asks journalist to lead campaign for him to maintain military leadership shows leaked sound clip

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General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi. Source: Egyptian military official Facebook page

General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi. Source: Egyptian military official Facebook page

General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi asked a top newspaper editor to lead a campaign securing his position as Minister of Defence whether or not he runs for or wins in presidential elections.

“You are supposed to lead a campaign with intellectuals for a clause in the constitution that safeguards General Al-Sisi’s position as Minister of Defence and allows him to resume his role even if he does not enter the presidency,” the country’s strongman could be heard saying in a leaked sound clip from his interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm editor in chief Yasser Rizk.

The interview was published in a three-part series in the nation’s leading privately owned newspaper but did not include that quote. Al-Masry Al-Youm, like most Egyptian news organisations following the military’s ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in July, has a pro-military stance.

The leak was posted by the RASSD news website. RASSD is known for its support for the Muslim Brotherhood from which Morsi hailed and is largely seen as being run by the Islamist organisation.

Al-Masry Al-Youm has posted a story saying the sound clip is fabricated and that it was suing RASSD for EGP 50 million, about $7.2 million. The voice featured in the clip sounds exactly like Al-Sisi’s voice however.

RASSD had previously posted three leaked videos of Al-Sisi in September of a meeting he had with military leaders in December of last year. The videos made obvious attempts at taking what Al-Sisi was saying out of context but the sound clip released today is more clear cut and does not leave room for interpretation.

Al-Sisi enjoys overwhelming popularity in Egypt following his ouster of Morsi in July. He refused to answer Rizk’s question on whether or not he would run for the presidency but did not rule it out.

The general appointed Supreme Constitutional Court Chief Justice Adly Mansour as the country’s interim president following the ouster of Morsi but is seen as holding actual power in Egypt. He is the military Commander in Chief, Minister of Defence, and following Morsi’s ouster he was also appointed First Deputy Prime Minister.

In late July he called on Egyptians to take to the streets and offer him and the police their support in their efforts to “combat terrorism” which is shorthand for the state’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

The following months security forces shot dead over 800 pro-Morsi demonstrators in the Raba’a Al-Adawiya mosque and Nahda Square sit-ins. The protestors were not peaceful but claims over how heavily they were armed were later found out to be widely exaggerated, the Minister of Interior later admitted.

Islamists responded with massive church burning campaign as well as repeated instances of shooting soldiers and policemen. Dozens have been killed in violence between civilians since as well.

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Written by Ahmed Aboulenein

October 11, 2013 at 1:06 am

AUC’s Hidden Treasures – Part 1: Were thefts of antiquities part of well-kept conspiracy?

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For 30 years AUC has hosted Egyptian antiquities from different eras of history, yet most students, faculty and staff have never seen them or even knew about them. The existence of these antiquities was only revealed to the public after they were stolen in late 2010 and the media publicized the theft. The Caravan has conducted an investigation into this matter. We publish this four-part series answering questions like where these objects came from, where they were housed and how they were stolen.

By Reem Gehad Fathy and Ahmed Aboul Enein

Part 1: Were thefts of antiquities part of well-kept conspiracy?

Over the past year, several Egyptian antiquities in the care of The American University in Cairo have been quietly stolen and sold to collectors. A Caravan investigative report has uncovered the details of these thefts.

AUC has had antiquities, from different eras of Egypt’s history, stored under its Tahrir Square campus’s famous Ewart Hall for almost 30 years.

The antiquities, which are not owned by AUC, are registered with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and are kept in the university’s guardianship.

The existence of the antiquities, which were finally moved to the New Cairo campus on December 19, 2011, came to light after the on-campus newspaper The Independent reported on March 28, 2011 that 145 pieces were stolen in late 2010.

Theft revelations (March – May 2011)

AUC President Lisa Anderson said that the theft was reported to AUC indirectly.

“It was discovered, actually not directly, but somebody reported to us that somebody was trying to sell property of the university, and it turned out […] that some of these antiquities […] had been stolen,” she said.

The SCA issued an official statement on April 5, 2011 acknowledging the theft: “The [SCA] conducted a new inventory, revealing that 145 authentic pieces and 50 replicas were missing.”

It also stated that the collection “had previously been looted in 1989, with the culprit still at large.”

Inventory records at AUC show that nine pieces were missing in 1989. A police report carrying case number 2643 filed in Abdein police station in March of the same year confirms this, but the case went cold as no suspects were identified.

As for the 2010 case, six men were initially considered suspects: Adel Gaber, a security guard from AUC’s on campus security; Samir Abdallah, a security guard at the AUC gates; Mahmoud Mohamed aka Mahmoud Felfel, AUC safety officer; Hossam Mohamed, Felfel’s brother who worked in a pharmacy near AUC; Hassan Ismail, an electrician at the university’s maintenance department; and Ahmed Gad, also an electrician on campus and the person who reported the theft to AUC.

Gad had been asked to submit his resignation in December 2010 after Felfel accused him of stealing his laptop.

On May 10, 2011 five men were found guilty in military court case 77 of 2011, the charges of which had been amended by an earlier judge from theft to smuggling.

The judge made the amendment because of insufficient evidence to convict the men of theft. However, military court laws allow him to modify the charges and that there was enough evidence to convict the men of smuggling.

“If this is a smuggling case then who stole?” Felefel told The Caravan.

Gaber, Abdallah, Felfel were all sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay a penalty of EGP 500,000. Hossam Mohamed, Felfel’s brother, and Hassan Ismail were sentenced to three years in prison and also slapped with an EGP 500,000 penalty.

However, Hassan Ismail’s sentence was suspended as the court determined he had not stolen or smuggled anything and he was only involved in lighting the antiquities storage room for the others. He was released in May 2011.

Gad was found innocent and was released in May as well, after spending over 50 days in military prison pending investigations. He was listed as a witness in the case files and charges against him were dropped.

A few months later, a year after the January 25 revolution, the remaining four men were released when the case was pardoned as part of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi’s general pardon in celebration of the first anniversary of the revolution.

AUC’s internal investigation (February 27 – March 9, 2011)

On February 27, 2011 Gad presented his manager, Director of Maintenance in the Tahrir Square campus Gamal Abdou, with a CD containing photos of antiquities he said were stolen by a number of campus workers, including Felfel. Abdou then reported the CD and the AUC security office started an internal investigation.

Hossam Abu Zeid, who was responsible then for internal security at the Tahrir Square campus (and currently holds the same position on the New Cairo campus), conducted the investigation.

The Caravan was able to obtain some of the internal investigation documents, one of which was the initial report Abu Zeid filed on February 27.

Copies of the February 27 report were sent to both Refaei Fattouh, assistant director of warehouses and stores and the man directly responsible for the storage of the antiquities, and Mokhtar Ragab, assistant director of security at the Tahrir Square campus.

Ragab said that neither he nor the security office in general were aware that the university housed antiquities of any kind.

In the report, Abu Zeid says he checked the scene of the crime accompanied by the Executive Director of the Office of Supply Chain Command and Business Support Aly El Araby, Fattouh, Ashraf Kamal, who was then the director of security, some supply chain command office staff, and some security staff.

They found that the lock was different from the original lock that Fattouh had the key to and they were forced to break in. They then found several boxes inside three chambers, each of which was surrounded by metal wires.

The boxes had hand and footprints on them, indicating that they had been touched recently. One of the boxes’ locks showed signs of an unsuccessful drilling attempt, the report says.

The report goes on to say that after this initial inspection of the crime scene, everyone left and Fattouh replaced the broken and partially drilled locks with new ones, fitted them and then locked the room. He kept one set of keys and gave the other to the security office.

Fattouh confirmed this to The Caravan. When asked about his interference and possible tampering with what was evidently a crime scene not yet investigated by the police, he said that the decision to enter and examine the storage room was made by the security department and not himself.

A week later, on March 6, 2011, Karim Abdel Latif, the university’s legal advisor, sent a letter to Sabry Abdel Aziz, head of the Egyptian antiquities sector, informing him that AUC has “suspicions” about the possibility of a theft of some antiquities in its custody.”

The letter did not mention that AUC had begun an internal investigation after Gad fingered a group of men as the perpetrators.

It also did not mention that AUC staff conducting the investigation visited the basement under Ewart Hall where the antiquities were stored and that the site was tidied up with new locks put in place.

The letter says that AUC’s suspicions are as a result of “tampering signs on the storage room’s door.”

Abdel Latif asked Abdel Aziz to put together an inventory control committee to check the antiquities at AUC to “confirm the validity of these suspicions.”

A committee was formed after the administrative decision number 163 was issued on March 14, 2011.

This committee was headed by Adel Abdel Rahman, general director of possessions in the Supreme Council of Antiquities, and included seven other members, one of whom had to be from the antiquities investigations authority, a department of the Egyptian police. No such member was present with the committee.

Legal counsel Abu El Nasr Mohamed Soliman, representing Felfel and his brother, filed a motion that the absence of an officer from the antiquities investigations authority was in violation of the criminal code and that the committee should not be able to produce reports.

Meanwhile, during AUC’s on-going internal investigation the security office tried to negotiate with the men in question to return the antiquities, a confidential source told The Caravan.

However, the negotiations broke down as the men demanded to keep their jobs and some even demanded pay raises.

Fattouh confirmed that Abu Zeid was negotiating with them, but acknowledged that he did not succeed in regaining the pieces.

According to his statement in the university’s internal investigation, Gad initially only named three men: Felfel, Abdullah, and Gaber.

Documents from the official case file show that he later added Hassan Ismail and Hossam Mahmoud, Felfel’s brother to the list of people he accused.

Gad said Ismail had only lit the storage room up for the other men, however.

How the theft went down: conflicting stories (October – December 2010)

According to a trusted anonymous source, the thefts did not happen all at once. The men went into the underground warehouse several times, taking a small number of pieces at a time, and hid them in their gym bags on their way out.

The men regularly played football on campus at night and the gym bags would not raise any suspicion.

Hassan Ismail later confirmed this story to The Caravan. He said that he learned this information in prison from the rest of the sentenced men, and that he was not involved.

He admitted to lighting the room for them once in October, however, but claimed he had no idea what they were doing and that he was just doing his job.

“It was when I had my night-shift in the university… Mahmoud [Felfel] called me that night – Adel [Gaber] was him – Mahmoud called me and said that [something needs to be fixed],” Ismail told The Caravan.

“I went where he was, he had the room opened, but it was dark and they did not know where the electric lines for the light were, so I lit the place and then left. There was a safety officer and a security guard, and so when they open a place [I don’t really ask] ‘why did you open it’.”

Later, the men showed the pieces to an antiquities “expert” who was meant to help evaluate and sell them. The expert, who was not identified, was an acquaintance of Gad’s according to The Caravan’s anonymous source.

Hassan Ismail and Gad himself confirmed this relationship.

Felfel, Abdullah and Gaber arranged a meeting with Gad at his house and brought with them a CD of photos of some of the antiquities they took.

Gad kept a copy of the CD.

They also, according to Gad’s testimony, had about 20 pieces of pottery with them.

Gad was contacted in the first place because he was a member in the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) branch in Helwan and may have access to people who deal in antiquities.

Hassan Ismail confirmed this to The Caravan but accused Gad of complicity in the theft from the very beginning. He said Gad knew about the antiquities because he was close to Fattouh, and that it was he who convinced the others to carry out the theft.

Fattouh denied knowing Gad personally, saying that he only had a “work-based relationship” with him.

Gad also told The Caravan he provided Felfel, his brother, Abdullah and Gaber with an expert and confirmed his membership in the NDP.

But his account of the thefts was markedly different.

In Gad’s version, he was approached by the men who told him they had found an ancient tomb in the Badrashein area of Giza and that they had uncovered antiquities there.

They asked him to provide an expert to help them price the items and maybe find a buyer.

Gad told The Caravan that he agreed and contacted an acquaintance of his from the NDP on December 2, 2010. The acquaintance, who he did not name, examined photos of the antiquities stored on a CD provided by Felfel in a meeting at Gad’s house.

Gad says that on December 4, his acquaintance informed him that after closer examination, he was able to determine that the antiquities were stolen and that stamps on the items indicated they came from a “foreign scholarly institute.”

Having learned this, Gad says he put two and two together and deduced the pieces were stolen from AUC. He then decided he wanted nothing to do with the operation. Furthermore, he says he immediately contacted Gaber on the same day and asked him to return the antiquities.

Gad says that on December 6 he was forced to sign his resignation after he was accused of stealing Felfel’s laptop.

Gad claims that Felfel had lied about the laptop in a bid to intimidate him and prevent him from reporting the theft to the university. He also wanted to delete the antiquities photos Gad had stored on the same laptop.

But both Hassan Ismail, and a confidential source, dispute Gad’s version of events and suggest that it was more likely that he had a disagreement over how to divide the money procured from the illegal sale.

The Caravan was able to talk to Mahmoud Felfel who disputed both Hassan Ismail’s and Gad’s narratives.

He said that he had lost his laptop and one of his colleagues told him that he saw the laptop with Gad.

Once he confirmed this, he reported the matter to the security office.

Felfel says that Gad was asked to either submit his resignation or face a police investigation and that Gad decided to submit his resignation.

Felfel also accused Gad of trying to get back at him by fingering him for the theft. He added that he was not aware that there are antiquities on campus.

He also says that he barely knew Gaber, Abdullah and Gad.

The case became even more complicated when Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Hamid, Mahmoud and Hossam Felfel’s father, filed a report (number 11812 for the year 2011) to the General Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud.

In it he asks the general prosecutor to “lift the injustice off his sons” and he claims that Abu Zeid and Fattouh fabricated the case in cooperation with Ahmed Lasheen from the Abdein police station. He points out that the police did not inspect the scene of the crime.

Similarly, Felfel’s lawyer points out that the whole case is only built on a “report written by AUC’s security office in which the security also says that it was not aware of the presence of antiquities on campus.”

The security men, Adel Gaber and Samir Abdullah, also have their own version of the story.

They claim that Abu Zeid made them sign documents that they did not read because they trusted him when he said it was merely routine procedure.

Only later did they discover that the documents implicate them in the thefts.

These documents, of which The Caravan obtained a copy, were written in Abu Zeid’s office as part of the internal investigation.

In the documents, Gaber and Abdullah say that Ahmed Gad told them that there were antiquities below the main building on AUC’s Tahrir campus and that he asked them to help him and Mahmoud Felfel in stealing a number of pieces.

In return, they would get a percentage of the money gained from selling the pieces.

But according to the documents, Gaber and Abdullah felt guilty about what they did and told Felfel and Gad to return the pieces to the university.

Gaber and Abdullah decided to report the issue to the university, when the four fell into disagreement over returning the pieces (Gad and Felfel refused to do so).

However, lawyer Abu El Nasr Soliman doubts the veracity of these documents.

He suspects these documents were written in a way that indicates the testimony was phrased or coached by a police officer, and not by Gaber or Abdullah.

He points out that it is customary that the police or administrative person writing the report mentions the place where the crime happened, the district of jurisdiction, and the police station with jurisprudence over the area.

Gaber and Abdullah’s own statements in the report are phrased in the exact way; they each said these details in the correct order themselves, without being asked.

Soliman argues that no one, especially not two men with a modest educational background, would refer to a geographical area in that way. They would say “downtown or Tahrir Square” and leave it at that, but in the documents they name the area, district and police station.

Soliman argues that these are not actually Gaber and Abdullah’s statements, but that they were forced or tricked into signing false statements.

Regardless of the suspects’ conflicting statements and claims of innocence, one fact remains: 145 antiquities were stolen from AUC and remain missing.

How were they stolen from under the university’s watch? Why were they not better protected? Who was responsible for their storage?

Responsibility for the antiquities

Refaei Fattouh, assistant director of warehouses and stores, has been the sole custodian of the antiquities in AUC’s guardianship since 1994.

Fattouh said he did not know much about the theft or the objects, saying that he only kept books and attended inventory checks.

He says he had little actual interaction with the artifacts.

“I am just a porter, a doorman, for these antiquities,” he told The Caravan.

However, a memo dating back from 1994 shows that Fattouh has been directly responsible for the safety and upkeep of the antiquities, and that he has been attending regular annual inventories as part of a committee made up of AUC staff members and representatives from the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The memo, sent from AUC Supply Chain Management and Business Support Director Aly El Araby on November 16, 1994, shows that Fattouh received the antiquities from SCA after they had taken them for inventory.

“I have been informed by the [Egyptian] antiquities authority that the committee assigned for the supervising of the delivery of AUC antiquities to Mr. Refai [sic] Fattouh will be present at Sunday Nov. 20 on 10 am,” the memo read.

El Araby was in charge of the antiquities but transferred that responsibility to Fattouh after the former was promoted to supply chain management director.

He and Fattouh are related by marriage; their wives are sisters.

Fattouh is the only person at AUC who has the keys to the storage room, however, and is directly responsible for the antiquities.

He was not directly questioned in the university’s internal investigation, however.

“We did do an internal investigation and concluded that although clearly people in charge of the downtown campus, in charge of inventory control, and in charge of security had been negligent,” Anderson told The Caravan.

“We did not ultimately conclude that they were criminally negligent… So they were reprimanded, but we didn’t go any further than that,” she added.

But The Caravan has learned that this is not the first time the antiquities kept at AUC were subjected to theft.

SCA records show that another theft had taken place in 1989; this is backed by AUC inventory records that show missing pieces in the late 1980s.

A police report – case number 2643 filed in Abdein police station in 1989 also confirms this. The case went cold as no suspects were identified.

The SCA records also confirm that there were missing pieces indicated by inventories taken in the early 1990s.

Aly El Araby was in charge of the antiquities at the time of these documented thefts.

But El Araby, like Fattouh, also denies knowing much about the antiquities in the first place even though documents confirm his caretaker responsibilities up until 1994.

SCA is meant to be performing annual inventories of the antiquities and both their and AUC’s records confirm this process.

According to SCA, they performed inventory checks on March 4, 2008, on February 5, 2009 and in April 2010, months before the theft.

However, Mokhtar Ragab, the top security official at the Tahrir Square campus, said in the internal investigation that neither he nor the security office had any knowledge of antiquities on campus.

Ashraf Kamal, who was at the time of the case AUC’s head of security, has also said the same thing in court.

Court records show that in his testimony, Kamal was asked how he did not know of the antiquities if SCA officials came to campus to perform inventories.

Kamal responded by saying he never saw any officials and that entry and exit records to the campus do not register such officials going in or out of campus.

Furthermore, an AUC employee who prefers to remain anonymous hinted to The Caravan that SCA officials never performed proper inventories and that everything was just on paper.

When confronted with Kamal’s statement, Fattouh told The Caravan that he had no comment regarding the entry and exit of SCA officials and that documents were proof of the inventories taking place.

When asked if he had even informed Kamal or anyone in the security office of the antiquities’ existence, he said he had not because he saw no reason to.

He explained that he is not senior staff and as such his seniors are the ones meant to inform the security office.

When The Caravan asked if he, the person responsible for the antiquities, ever asked for extra security for the storage area, he said he had not.

“These antiquities are on the university campus, AUC security should be protecting the entire campus,” he said.

Written by Ahmed Aboulenein

April 2, 2012 at 11:57 pm

Media ownership revisited: will a rich man’s channel cover poor people?

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Al-Hayat owner, Wafd party chairperson Sayed El-Badawi and Dream TV owner Ahmed Bahgat are not the only examples of rich business men owning media organizations in Egypt. Quite the contrary; most private media organizations whether they be broadcast or print in nature are in fact owned by big name tycoons.

Perhaps the biggest of tycoons in Egypt’s media landscape is billionaire Naguib Sawiris. Besides owning shares in Egypt’s leading independent daily newspaper Al Masry Al Youm, Sawiris also owns liberal channel OnTV which runs two extremely popular talk shows, Yousri Fouda’s Akher Kalam (Last Words) and Reem Magued’s Baladna Bilmasry (Our Country in Egyptian).

The channel, and these two shows in particular, have gained immense popularity after the revolution for their objective coverage and detailed expert analysis. OnTV is not without faults, though, for what it gains in objectivity and detail it loses in speed. The channel employs a very small amount of field reporters and as such their coverage of live breaking news leaves a lot to be desired.

The objectivity exhibited by OnTV is not down to Sawiris’s benevolence. Rather, he is a good business man and thus knows that the best way to make money would be to interfere as little as possible. Furthermore, Egyptian journalistic icons such as Reem Magued and Yousri Fouda would never allow editorial interference.

The channel is not without the influence of Sawiris, however. In May 2011 Sawiris founded the liberal capitalist Free Egyptians Party and announced that the party would be contesting the upcoming parliamentary elections. Ever since the party’s founding, campaign advertisements for it have swarmed OnTV. This advertising campaign doubled after the FEP joined with two other parties to form the liberal Egyptian Bloc ahead of the elections.

Furthermore, whenever Sawiris decides to send a message to the public or make an appearance, he always does it on one of OnTV’s programs.

Perhaps the largest indicator of Sawiris’s influence, alongside all other business men who own media organizations, on these organizations is not what they cover or how the cover it, but rather, what they choose not to cover.

For the past few years Egypt has been witnessing a surge of labor strikes daily. According to popular blogger and socialist activist Hossam El Hamalawy, there were at least three labor strikes a day before the revolution. That number has intensified to about 19 after Mubarak’s ouster.

Yet news of these strikes rarely makes it to OnTV, Dream, Hayat or CBC which is owned by by wealthy engineer Mohammed Amin who also owns Youm 7 newspaper.

The pattern of wealthy capitalist men owning almost all of Egypt’s independent media leads to them adopting an economically bourgeoisie agenda where labor strikes are discouraged and portrayed as destructive and anti-stability. Media outlets that do not engage in this are still complicit by ignoring these strikes.

The systematic ignoring of these labor movements, which are an attempt to purify and reform institutions and business as well as combat corporate greed, clearly shows that these media outlets adopt a very pro-capitalist and corporate agenda.

Most owners of independent media organizations who have made their fortunes in other industries such as telecommunications and construction are personally opposed to these labor movements, which in of itself is fine, except these owners actively derail coverage of these strikes and movements in their news organizations as part of fulfilling their personal agendas.

Written by Ahmed Aboulenein

December 28, 2011 at 10:32 am

Posted in Egypt, Media

Tahrir on TV: more than just Al-Tahrir and OnTV

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Forgive the horrible pun, I couldn’t resist.

Ever since the 18-day uprising from Jan. 25 to Feb. 11 that ousted former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from power, the iconic Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo has witnessed major protests at least once a month, and more often than not protesters and security forces, be they police or military, clashed.

The way these protests and clashes were portrayed in the Egyptian media was extremely different from one station or newspaper to the next, to the point that one might think they were covering different events.

One recent example is the clashes that took place in front of the cabinet building near Tahrir Square earlier this month. While some outlets such as Al-Tahrir channel and the liberal OnTV showed the full brutality of the violence military officers and soldiers inflicted on protestors, others were careful to point their cameras only at the protestors fighting back bullets with rocks and molotov cocktails, labeling them thugs and saboteurs.

The privately owned CBC (Cairo Broadcasting Channel) had the best live coverage of the events, with on field camera men capturing most of the scenes that would later become iconic of the military’s brutality. Below is a clip caught on CBC’s cameras that shows soldiers beating and stripping a female protester. The video would later go viral and inspire thousands of women to hold a women’s march the very next day:

Unfortunately in contrast to CBC’s fair reporting, it provided what at best could be described as slanted analysis. CBC presenters and hosts regularly contradicted what their on field reporters and camera men told them, and in one case viewers were treated to presented Khairy Ramadan blatantly contradicting his reporter and overruling him every time the reporter corrected him.

The reporter said that soldiers had started the violence and were throwing molotov cocktails at protestors, a fact Ramadan seemed unwilling to acknowledge. Ramadan also reported that protestors had set fire to the Institute d’Egypt without having any footage to back such claims.

Furthermore, Ramadan reported the Institute catching on fire 24 hours before it did. He is now facing questioning from the authorities as to how he got such information.

Although CBC showed live footage of the military’s first wave of attack, the transmission was cut momentary after. It is unclear whether the channel did this themselves or if the authorities took them off air, but the incident was never mentioned when coverage resumed.

CBC’s biased coverage came no where near that of state owned media, however.

State TV’s Channel 1 went beyond its usual labeling of protestors as thugs and showing hazy shots of Tahrir where the viewer could not discern what was going on this time.

State TV’s  cameras were always stationed on the side of the soldiers, thus only showing the protestors throwing rocks and ignoring what the soldiers were doing.

Furthermore, Channel 1 broadcasted scenes of supposed thugs that were arrested on the scene of the clashes admitting to receiving money in exchange for attacking soldiers and burning down government buildings.

It was later revealed that those “thugs” were in fact arrested days before the clashes in relation to a completely different case and were tortured into confessing their involvement in the clashed live on Channel 1. The video below, in Arabic, details this incident:

The lack of professionalism, slanted coverage, and outright lies that State TV continues to subject viewers to are a perfect argument for why governments should never own media.

Written by Ahmed Aboulenein

December 28, 2011 at 7:22 am

Posted in Egypt, Media

And you thought Murdoch was evil: media ownership and editorial independence in Egypt

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While media ownership and editorial independence is an issue that dominates the thinking of journalists and media experts globally; the situation in Egypt seems to exemplify the strong need for a figurative “wall” between owners and  content producers at any media organization.

Egyptian journalists not only have to deal with strict publishing laws and both soft and outright government censorship, they have to balance this with the fact that their news organization’s owner usually has an agenda for owning the organization and in several cases will not hesitate to interfere in editorial policy, veto certain things or even fire a journalist or two to maintain that agenda.

Back in 2001 the government first allowed the opening of private satellite channels and prominent Egyptian business man Ahmed Bahgat ceased the opportunity and started the first such channel, Dream TV.

Since then, the trend has been for wealthy tycoons to start their own television channels if not group of channels, both a profit seeking venture but also in order to have a mouthpiece that serves their views and advances what agendas they may have.

Examples of such arrangements include the previously mentioned Ahmed Bahgat with his Dream TV and Dream 2, medicine tycoon and Wafd party chairman Sayed El-Badawi who owns the Hayat group of channels, and of course OnTV which is owned by telecommunications tycoon Naguib Sawiras.

Over the years, and especially after the revolution, there have been examples of owners interfering directly or indirectly with the running of their media organization, for more than once purpose.

Just recently on July 24, Bahgat fired prominent morning talk show presented Dina Abdel Rahman after she had an argument live with a military general. The general called in on the show and reprimanded Abdel Rahman, a veteran presented whose show was the only one to compete with state TV’s morning shows, for reading out an op/ed criticizing the ruling military council in the show’s journalism segment.

A clip of the argument can be seen below:

According to personal accounts later given by Abdel Rahman, Bahgat called her after the show and told her it was her last. She went on to start another show on Al Tahrir channel only a few weeks later.

This was not the first time Bahgat did such a thing. Bahgat, who had close ties with Gamal and Alaa, ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s sons, was known to play it safe and limit political adventurism on his channel.

In 2005, Wael al-Ibrashi, a Dream TV presenter and journalist at the daily newspaper Sawt al-Umma, was one of three journalists put on trial for publishing the initials of judges accused of condoning electoral fraud while overseeing parliamentary elections. Bahgat fired him before he was even sentenced.

Similarly in 2003, Ibrahim Eissa, host of Aala al-Qahwa on Dream TV and also editor-in-chief of Al-Dostour and was dropped from the network as part of a deal Bahgat made with the government regarding debt rescheduling in state-owned banks.

Furthermore, Dream TV and Dream 2 act as a medium where Bahgat advertises for his products ranging from televisions and heaters to apartments and villas in his Dream Land compound and rooms in his Dream Golf resort.

Sayed El-Badawi exerts control over his Hayat group of channels in a somewhat different manner. Rather than fire journalists who criticize the regime, Badawi uses Hayat to promote the Wafd party, of which he is chairman, by all means possible.

In recent election coverage by Hayat, the average time they devoted to discussing political parties has been two hours. One hour was solely devoted to discussing Wafd; its ratings, its campaign, how well it was doing, the challenges it faced, etc.

El-Badawi is not innocent of firing journalists for their opinions, however. In late 2010, El-Badawi bought the Egyptian opposition daily, Al-Dostour. When the paper’s editor-in-chief Ibrahim Eissa decided to publish an opinion piece by Nobel Peace Prize winner and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei on the occasion of the October 6 anniversary, El-Badawi told him not to.

Eissa published the piece anyway and the next day he was fired from the paper he had founded himself a few years earlier.

Both the Bahgat and El-Badawi examples show that press freedom has a long way to go in Egypt, and not just in terms of government censorship.

Written by Ahmed Aboulenein

December 27, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Posted in Egypt, Media

Reporting the ballot box: election coverage in Egyptian media

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With the third, and final, stage of Egypt’s historic lower-house parliamentary elections approaching, local news organizations are competing more strongly than ever over who presents the most detailed, accurate and sometimes overwhelming coverage of the process.

Egyptian audiences are being regularly treated since late November to exhaustive coverage of the entire electoral process, and almost every newspaper, program and channel’s coverage goes somewhat like this:

  1. Predictions (and analysis of the previous round’s trends before the second round) start a week before election day
  2. Coverage of campaign promises and strategies throughout the week
  3. Detailed coverage of poll station security the night before, with interviews conducted with the highest ranking security official, police or military, the reporter/presenter can get access to
  4. Initial turnout numbers on election day across several voting districts
  5. Man-on-the-street interviews with voters standing in line visa-vis their choice of candidate and how they find the electoral process to be going so far
  6. A piece on the transport and storing of the ballot boxes overnight ahead of the second day of voting
  7. Stories on how turnout on the second day is less than that on the first
  8. Repeat steps 4 and 5
  9. Coverage of the boxes being transported to the counting stations
  10. Initial results from the counting start flowing and the preliminary predictions come with them
  11. Analysis of the results after they are officially announced

This is how the first and second rounds of the elections were covered, with small variations across each program or channel and the obvious limitations of print newspapers restricting them to summaries and analysis, and there is little to suggest that the third round will be dealt with any differently with the media well into steps 1 and 2 already.

However, there have been ways in which media outlets have been able to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack.

Private satellite station CBC (Cairo Broadcast Channel), famous for its plethora of big name presenters and hosts such as veteran presenters, formerly of State TV Lamees El Hadidy and Khairy Ramadan, Al Masry Al Youm editor-in-chief Magdy Al-Galad, Al Fagr editor-in-chief Adel Hamouda, activist Abdel Rahman Yousef among others, each regularly hosting their own show, merged all of their slots into one big television slot running for over eight hours a day under the name “Egypt Votes” where the big name presenters take shifts.

A clip showing election analysis on “Egypt Votes,” hosted by Lamees El Hadidy, can be seen below:

Prominent daily newspaper Al Shorouk, already famous for its active and regularly updated online portal and website, created a second, specialized, online portal dedicated exclusively to the elections.

The website, titled “The Voice of my Country” goes beyond the cycle posted above, and offers extensive coverage of every district allowing readers to read about the electoral happenings in their local area, as well as categorizing news in several ways including district, electoral round, and by political parties or electoral coalitions allowing readers the chance to read all the news concerning a certain political party or group.

On top of that, the portal also conducts video reporting on the elections, allowing it to compete with even broadcast media. Furthermore, the website offers background information, statistics and interviews with members from every single party and coalition contesting the elections.

The "Voice of my Country" portal offers text stories as well as video reporting on all aspects of the election

Written by Ahmed Aboulenein

December 27, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Posted in Egypt, Media

More than 50 percent of AUCians favor ElBaradei for president

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Clockwise from top left: El Baradei, El Awa, Bastaweesi, Moussa

First published in The Caravan on Sunday October 23, 2011

Over 72 percent of AUC students polled by The Caravan said they intended to vote in Egypt’s upcoming parliamentary elections in November. Some 73 percent, said they would vote in presidential elections.

Almost 75 percent of students said they followed political analysis and discussions in the media with 17 percent classifying themselves as “very politically aware” and a further 58 percent saying they were “somewhat politically aware.”

As elections draw nearer, one political party stands out with over 30 percent of students who say they identify with or intend to vote for the liberal Free Egyptians Party co-founded by business tycoon Naguib Sawiris.

“I like the Free Egyptians. They are a liberal party that advocates social freedoms and they believe in market values which would lead to Egypt’s development,” Omar El Sheikha, a computer science sophomore, told The Caravan.

“Among all the new parties, I see them as the ones who are doing the most work on the ground, advertising and getting their name out there,” he added.

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party trailed in second with over 10 percent while over nine percent said they would support far-left socialist and communist parties.

Five percent said they supported the centrist Justice Party and only three percent support the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.

Around 27 percent of students did not support any of the 23 parties listed.

There was less indecision regarding presidential candidates, with more than 50 percent saying they identify with or would vote for former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei.

Former Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa garnered over 13 percent of the AUC vote in our poll while five percent picked reformist judge Hesham el-Bastawisi.

Mariam Hamad, a political science senior, told The Caravan she intended to vote for ElBaradei in the presidential elections because he was the only person who really opposed the Mubarak regime from the start, even before the January 25 uprising.

“ElBaradei provides Egypt with a vision of the future that is very progressive but at the same time moderate. Other candidates I see have the same mentality as the old regime. I think he provides this new insight that is much needed at the moment,” Hamad said.

“It would have been nicer if he were younger but these are the options we have and out of all of them I think he is the best,” she added.

Islamist candidates Mohammad Salim Al-Awa and Hazem Salah Abu Ismail received three and two percent respectively.

Almost 17 percent did not express support for any of the candidates.

Mohamed Sami El-Masry, an economics sophomore, said he identifies with Al-Awa because of his Islamic leanings.

“I believe he is a thinker and has written a lot of books on Islamic thought. He is a strong man, but at the same he is not a dictator,” El-Masry told The Caravan.

“He is a lawyer which is important [. . .] we are at a time where we need men of law because the state is in a legal void and at the same time he has political experience,” he added.

Most students do not believe in a religious state with almost 50 percent saying [that] religion should play no role in politics.

Hamad believes the state should be completely separate from religion. She feels that religion is interpreted differently from one era to another depending on social circumstances.

“For there to be an equitable and social system there has to be a system that is fair to everyone. You can’t have a country that has a Muslim majority and a Christian minority and then ask them to follow your rules. That is undemocratic,” she said.

Around 33 percent of students polled believe the morals and guidelines of religion should influence politics, and only two percent believed the countries political system should be completely based on religion.

“I believe that the state, and its laws, should be based on the general principles of religion because these principles benefit society. Politicians should also adhere to the morals and ethics of religion,” Sami told The Caravan.

He believes that there is a phobia of religion mixing with politics and that it is not something to fear.

“We should just treat [religion] as a source of legislation and that the majority are electing politicians to legislate on the basis they see fit. Personal laws would only be applied to Muslims, non-Muslims have the right to choose not to be subjected to them,” he said.

“The general principles of Islam are accepted by the entire society, even non-Muslims,” he added.

As for the economy, 40 percent of the polled students believe the state should be expected to regulate the market and offer some sort of re-distribution of wealth.

Over 25 percent said they believed the freer the market, the freer the people, while just seven percent said the state should plan and control the economy.

“If you have a free market that is self-regulating, as long as there are laws against fraud and corruption, then you will create more jobs and wealth will trickle down,” El Sheikha told The Caravan.

Hamad disagrees. She believes there should be a balance and that the market needs to be regulated, but that the state should not have absolute control over the economy.

“If you give the state too much control it will ultimately be corrupt and undemocratic. If you give the private sector, which has not even been elected too much control then that is even more corrupt and undemocratic,” she said.

“For there to be a balance, both have to exist. Yes you can have this capitalist model everyone loves but you have to regulate it because it needs to be manipulated in a way that makes it more about equity than just efficiency because efficiency is not enough to have a fair system.”

Written by Ahmed Aboulenein

October 24, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Posted in AUC, Student Journalism