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Media at odds with military in Egypt coverage

August 13, 2013

By Abdallah Schleifer

Abdallah Schleifer is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the American University in Cairo.

Abdallah Schleifer is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the American University in Cairo.

I have been shocked by the shallow way the Western media has covered the political situation in Cairo since the coup against former President Mursi.

One would never know from reading The New York Times editorials and a good deal of its coverage – along with that of other leading news organizations – that the Egyptian armed forces had moved against a political movement attempting to impose an authoritarian regime on the country.

One would never know that, aside from coached demonstrators, the exultation stirring the crowd at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp was for martyrdom and not really for democracy.

One would never know, until pollsters finally released data on the subject, that the overwhelming majority of Egyptians were opposed to Muslim Brotherhood (MB) sit-ins and marches. These disrupted both the traffic and a more general recovery in tourism, investment, job creation, law and order – leading to calls for the sit-ins to end, one way or another.

One would never know, given the absence of any real political parties with grassroots support aside from the Muslim Brotherhood, that the Egyptian army – with its massive number of conscripts and status as a symbol of Egyptian independence – is the most significant popular institution in this country, along with al-Azhar, Egypt’s top Islamic institution.

One would never know any of this, because it was a military intervention which deposed Mursi – and not a bloody civil war between a couple of million MB and allied Salafi supporters, and the many, many more opposed to the drift to an Islamist dictatorship. And that – a civil war – is something media can focus on.

From much of the Western coverage, few would recall how press freedom was undermined during Mursi’s one-year rule. This was overshadowed in reports of how the army closed down MB media outlets after Mursi’s ouster. However, tomorrow that period will be surveyed, along with the present situation, in a Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report called “On the divide: Press Freedom at Risk in Egypt”.

The skewed media coverage of Egypt is partly due to something intrinsic in journalism, which makes so many of its practitioners uncomfortable or hostile to a professional army. Some Western journalists –Americans in particular – make psychological associations between military forces and the U.S. Army’s role in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Read more in Al Arabiya.

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