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Polarised media fuels conflict in Egypt

August 18, 2013

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Cairo, Egypt – In the weeks preceding the breakup of the Rabaa Adaweya sit-in, the square became host to a strange assortment of social ails, according to reports in Egypt’s increasingly polarised media. State news anchors reported an outbreak of scabies due to the camp’s lack of hygiene, the “sexual jihad,” a supposed fatwa that permits un-married, usually nonconsensual sex, to support waging jihad, and a suspicious “foreign drone” hovering over the protest.

The scabies outbreak never happened. The “Sexual Jihad” in question turned out to be a rumor spurred by errant question on a Muslim Brotherhood Facebook page. And the drone turned out to be an airborne consumer camera used to take overhead pictures of the rally.

These accusations and others are indicative of a strong binary that has been unfolding on social media, private outlets, and the nation’s state owned radio stations, television channels, and newspapers since nationwide protests erupted on June 30.

State of the media

Starting shortly before former President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster, state run media began to rename the ruling political elite. Former politicians quickly became “terrorists” as public channels began to undergo a campaign to publicly rebrand the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice party, as an enemy of the state.

As Egyptian media quickly branded them “terrorists”, the Muslim Brotherhood began to participate in its own narrative creation. Reverting to its status of half a century of repression under successive rulers, through social media and spokespeople, the former ruling party deemed itself a group of victims, supporting a democratically elected president and opposing an illegal military coup.

Since a government crackdown on the pro-Morsi protests began on Wednesday, igniting violent clashes around the country leaving more than 600 people dead, state television has provided little coverage of the accusations levied against police officers from western media and human rights groups.

According to HA Hellyer, a Cairo based analyst at the Brookings Institute, “Egyptian media hasn’t been covering it [the crackdown] much except for calling it a ‘terrorist sweep.'” The product of this lopsided narrative, Hellyer said, is that “no calls have been made for accountability or an investigation [into the shootings] because of the media coverage.”

Ahmed Tourk, an employee of a state owned health channel, described the political climate within the state television headquarters as highly politically charged in favor of the current regime. “Most of the state media people are totally against Rabaa,” he said of the pro-Morsi protests.

According to Tourk, state broadcasters are forced to stick to a clear narrative due to an internal anti-Morsi bias among some reporters and pressure from government officials. “Some producers feel bad about what happened at Rabaa, but because of the channel, they only broadcast one opinion,” he said. Read more in Al Jazeera.

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