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Egypt’s Mursi and the media

November 5, 2013

By Abdallah Schleifer

Former Egyptian President Mursi finally appeared in court, but much of the media did not. TV crews and photojournalists in particular did not enter the courtroom. So, the one or two photos that have emerged of Mursi in his suit, standing with other Muslim Brotherhood defendants in their prison whites, had to have been snatched by camera phones. This illustrates how difficult it is getting to block media coverage, even when doing so is considered a reasonable move.

But, U.S. Secretary of State Kerry’s call, upon his arrival in Cairo, for “transparent trials” obviously had effect. The decision to let some journalists into the courtroom came after an earlier announcement that there would be no press coverage.

There was a mysterious video uploaded by al-Watan newspaper of Mursi talking to someone for a brief few minutes the night before the trial. It was played that night on an al-Tahrir, the Egyptian satellite channel talk show.

The mystery of the tape deepens in that it appears to have been ignored by the rest of Egypt’s media. The tape itself could conceivably have been shot on a mobile phone during a meeting of Mursi between either relatives , defence lawyers or openly filmed by interrogators.

Mursi’s behavior

Mursi in this tape is relatively composed and reserved, almost fatalistic rather than defiant. So different from his appearance the next day in court, where he kept insisting he was still the president of the Republic, defied the judge, denounced both the military and the judiciary and inspired both his fellow defendants, and well as the Muslim Brotherhood team of defense lawyers, to chant against the army.

All of this behavior – which would never be tolerated during a trail in America and silenced if necessary by police officers as contempt of court – angered members of the Egyptian press, some of whom had been beaten up by MB militants last December. They then started to chant: “Execution! Execution” in response, alluding to the faint possibility of a sentence of death if Mursi is found guilty of inciting murder. Chaos ensued and the judge walked out of the courtroom and adjourned proceedings until January.

Given the treatment of the independent Egyptian media during Mursi’s one year reign – indeed even at that very moment, outside the court room both state and private sector TV crews were being roughed up by pro-Mursi demonstrators – the outbursts in the courtroom are understandable but again point to the partisan polemical state of so much Egyptian journalism.

Of course, the Muslim Brotherhood media in Egypt has been closed down for about three months and the two satellite channels that remain sympathetic to the Brotherhood – al-Jazeera and TRT Arabic (a Turkish state channel) – like any other satellite channels, are not available to that estimated 60 percent of Egypt’s population that cannot afford a satellite dish and receiver. Read more in Al Arabiya.

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