What the papers said: Covering Mohamed Morsi’s presidency
By Sara Elkamel
Over the course of Mohamed Morsi’s year-long presidency, Egypt became increasingly polarised between supporters and opponents of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood.
A survey of some of the main Egyptian newspapers shows how this polarisation was expressed in – and reinforced by – the press coverage of events.
During Morsi’s tenure, there was a considerable margin of freedom for independent and partisan press and broadcast media, in comparison to previous eras. This meant that state outlets, which tended to support the government line, were rivaled by a strong opposition narrative.
Freedom was not absolute, however, and crackdowns on journalists still took place under Morsi. Still, the media was allowed to disseminate their respective narratives, which, at the risk of over-simplification, fell into pro-Morsi versus anti-Morsi.
The initial 18-days of Egypt’s 2011 revolution against the Hosni Mubarak regime had highlighted the vast disparities between the official rhetoric of Egypt’s state-owned and controlled media on the one hand and the more critical discourses in privately-owned press and in new media platforms on the other.
Following the uprising that ousted Mubarak, Egypt saw previously unparalleled levels of political polarisation in the country — with Egyptians of varying political and ideological orientations battling for power while striving to leave their respective imprints on Egypt’s sociopolitical future. This polarisation has played out most visibly in the dynamic local media environment.
During Morsi’s presidency, I conducted a study on the ways in which political actors and events were framed in Al-Ahram, Al-Wafd, the Freedom and Justice Party paper, Al-Masry Al-Youm, and Al-Shorouk. These five major dailies represent the three categories of ownership prevalent in Egyptian media – government-owned, partisan, and independent (or privately-owned) papers. The study used quantitative research methodology to analyse a sample of 290 articles from the first nine months of Morsi’s tenure.
The results showed that government-run Al-Ahram and the ruling party’s Freedom and Justice paper employed frames that favoured the president and the ruling regime. Al-Wafd, which represents the liberal party of the same name, took a decidedly anti-Morsi tone, while independent papers Al-Shorouk and Al-Masry Al-Youm exhibited more ambivalent coverage.
To put these findings into context, we must consider the history of press censorship and restrictions in Egypt.
Under president Gamal Abdel-Nasser, strict censorship and legal measures were used to control the media, independent voices were alienated and the media became an instrument of propaganda and national mobilisation.
Nasser’s successor Anwar Sadat had a more ambivalent attitude towards freedom of the press and was initially tolerant of political debate, although during his decade-long rule there were frequent crackdowns on dissident voices.
During Hosni Mubarak’s era, the development of new media technologies and emergence of a strong independent press challenged the state’s stranglehold on the media. Despite the myriad of laws used to exercise control over the media, including the emergency law, licensing laws and the penal code, independent newspapers and a host of privately-owned satellite television outlets emerged, and the rise of social media platforms also helped pave the way for dissident voices to make themselves heard via alternative spaces of expression.
In response to questions about the comparative freedom of Egypt’s media after the 2011 revolution, we can safely say that journalists were freer under Morsi’s rule than they had been under previous presidents.
While former president Mubarak, his government, his family or the armed forces were taboos in pre-2011 press, after the revolution, some newspapers felt free to boldly attack Morsi, ridicule his policies, and portray the government negatively. Read the rest in Ahram Online.