In Morsi’s death, Egyptian newspapers missed an opportunity to regain credibility

It was so bad that a popular newspaper published news of Morsi’s death in 42 words in a single column.
Sunday 23/06/2019
Egypt's ousted Islamist President Muhammad Morsi. (AFP)
Egypt's ousted Islamist President Muhammad Morsi. (AFP)

On June 18, Arabic-language newspapers Al Arab and Asharq Al-Awsat published on their front pages news of the sudden death of former Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi, accompanied with a picture.

In Egypt, only Al-Masry Al-Youm shared this editorial choice confirming by its exception that Egyptian newspapers followed, as a rule, their preference for moral revenge over other considerations, including the readers’ right to know.

Morsi’s death could have been the golden opportunity for the Egyptian press to restore readers’ trust through true professionalism but it wasn’t to be.

It was as if there is a strong determination to fail and to commit one serious and scandalous professional error after another that confirms the subordination of editors to the security authorities or to even supra-security authorities that ordered them to bury the event.

It was so bad to the extent that the popular daily newspaper Al Akhbar published the news of Morsi’s death in 42 words in a single column accompanied with a picture of the deceased that was smaller than a postage stamp. Most other papers seemed to agree on publishing the news in their “crime” pages, which are usually devoted to news of criminal, not political, trials.

The newspapers reporting the event referred to Morsi by his full tripartite name — “Muhammad Morsi al-Ayyat,” omitting his academic title “Dr” and making sure to give his less-known family name “al-Ayyat.” It is axiomatic that names and titles should be neutral but, when the newspapers dubiously agreed to refer to Morsi by his less-known family name, they were showing contempt for readers who did not forget that Morsi was an elected civilian president of the country.

These newspapers wasted the opportunity to dissert on and clarify the dubious ways used by the Muslim Brotherhood to recruit voters in a wave of religious and sectarian zeal following the revolution of January 25, 2011.

It would have been better to analyse the circumstances and factors of Morsi’s ascension to power. US writer John Bradley did just that in his book “After the Arab Spring: How Islamists Hijacked the Middle East Revolts,” translated by Refaat Sayyed Ali, debunking the illusion of the majority in Egyptian elections.

In the first free vote in Egypt on March 19, 2011, the vote on constitutional amendments, 41% of the eligible voters went to the polls. Considering this turnout, it is not difficult for Islamists to ensure a majority among this minority of actual voters as most of the zealots tend to vote.

So, they seem to be a majority vote. To put it simply, the Islamists do not need the support of the majority of the people to win any election. The Muslim Brothers had used all the tricks in their book to mobilise their voters. They even issued a fatwa that considered “voting on and approving of the constitutional amendments to be a religious duty.”

That Egyptian newspapers are begging for readers is not new and it appears that the only freedom left to the Egyptian reader is the choice not to read these papers.

It was the news of Morsi’s death in court that would have attracted readers to buy newspapers, that and front-page announcements of serious issues being dealt with in inside pages, perhaps in a quieter and much more civilised way using facts and analyses rather than just piling insults on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Readers would have been interested to read about facts regarding the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi was, in fact, the first president to break the national consensus by unconstitutionally declaring presidents not accountable to anyone; the first to declare jihad in an Arab country but conveniently omitted to direct people’s energy and anger towards jihad in the occupied Palestinian territories; the first president to listen to his supporters insult and threaten followers of other Islamic sects; and the first Egyptian president to announce on television, amid loud cheers and applause, his willingness to sacrifice his citizens (“Yes, we can sacrifice a few for the sake of the country… with no problem at all.”).

Those positions and others are better suited for persuading readers, while showing respect for their intelligence, because they clearly reveal the readiness of the religious right to resort to holy violence. However, making fun of Morsi’s family name, al-Ayyat, was not the right thing to do while his family was grieving and

simply reveals the source that runs the newspapers from behind a veil that does not conceal anything.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi often said former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser was lucky to have the media with him but forgot that journalism is not advertising. The Egyptian media are playing one single tune: the regime’s achievements. Meanwhile, citizens can only count on more restrictions on their livelihood and their freedoms.

What is happening in Egypt is that even those rejecting the Muslim Brotherhood, including the Christians, choose to listen and read the pro-Muslim Brotherhood media just for the sake of reading and listening to a different tune and of learning more facts than reducing a former president to his obscure family name, al-Ayyat.