When political discourse is based on ideology and popular biases, it is necessary to resort to historical facts in order to understand reality. And any particular matter requires a certain methodology to discover the strategies of the discourse and its implementation. This is what we will try to do by relating the facts arising from President Mohammed Mursi’s and his government’s policy towards media and other issues related to the greater battle for power and state and their respective concepts. The Egyptian media battle under the reign of Mursi is part of this battle for power in which the newly elected president and his partisans managed to seize all the necessary winning tools.
The strategy of the battle for power:
Newly elected President Mursi unveiled his boldness and determination to implement his project in power and in the Egyptian state after the revolution by adopting the following measures: he decided to call the dissolved parliament to convene but the constitutional court canceled his decision. He accepted the court’s ruling as he was figured out that he did not really need the dissolved parliament, which was dominated by Islamists, since he managed to seize all the powers.
On Aug. 2, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Hicham Kandil was sworn in and on Aug. 5 the Rafah crossing was the scene of violent explosions that claimed the lives of 16 Egyptian officers in al-Masura ambush near the border with Gaza. On Aug. 8 the former Egyptian intelligence director, Maj. Gen. Mourad Mawafi, was discharged and the editors in chief of national newspapers were suspended. On Aug. 12, senior military commanders, including the defense minister, were sacked and the complimentary constitutional declaration was cancelled. Consequently, President Mursi has had his hands laid on both legislative and executive powers.
The chronology of these historical facts reveals the president’s philosophy and perception that guide his decisions and feed his discourse and practices. In fact, the terrorist operation that had been replicated 25 times in the same ambush over history and 40 times in the Sinai region has reverberated by a complete cleansing in many state institutions during the first half of August 2012, according to Mursi’s partisans. The repercussions of the terrorist incident might be the following:
Concern about Brotherhood’s control over the state:
This first surfaced when the president tried to revive the dissolved Islamist-dominated parliament. Then there was the formation of a technocrat government that does not represent the diversity of the country's political scene.
The Muslim brothers have kept the ministry of education and the ministry of youth along with three other portfolios including the ministry of higher education. The centrist Islamist party was represented by its leader, Muhammad Mahsoub, while the complementary constitutional declaration, which constitutes an interim constitution in transitional phases, was cancelled. Thus, the president became the sole holder of absolute powers until a new constitution is drafted. However, the majority of Egyptian political forces are opposing this situation.
Populist support for the president: This upholds the president’s decisions that should be based instead on legal and constitutional standards. Many demonstrations was held across Egypt in support for the president’s decisions, which has intimidated the opposing judicial institutions and civil parties.
Escalation of intimidation: it is difficult to oppose the current president due to the religious media tool that accuses any opponent of links to the former regime. Many Fawas (religious rulings) have been issued to stop the so-called anti-Brotherhood revolution while some reached the extent of calling for the murder of political and media figures who are against the Brotherhood.
The battle of national newspapers:
Egyptians were shocked by the explosions in Sinai and their repercussions and before President Mursi took his decisions to reshuffle the military establishment, first he ordered the replacement of state newspapers’ editor-in-chiefs.
The new editor-in-chiefs were keen to return the favor by praising the president’s discourse and stances and by criticizing his opponents.
In the same context, private media were intimidated by the closure of al-Faraen Channel and the referral of the editor in chief of al-Doustour newspaper and the Director of al-Faraen Channel to the criminal court in Cairo on charges of instigation and sedition. Moreover, an issue of Sawt al-Ummah newspaper was seized and its editor-in-chief was referred among other editors to the Supreme State Security Prosecution for investigation on charges of insulting the president.
Many civil society organizations have condemned these practices which they considered as a flagrant violation of the freedom of expression and freedoms in general that bring us back to the days of the oppressive regime. However, since the success of the revolution, Islamists in general had perceived many media outlets from a negative angle which led to a struggle between Islamists and a number of newspapers. The financial arm of the brotherhood tried to invest in many existing private media institutions or to establish its own substitute institutions by attracting non-Egyptian skills- after the failure of the brother’s experiences in a number of existing newspapers and television stations.
The battle for power requires the affiliation of official media to the authority and the intimidation of private media. Thus, many authors were banned from publishing their articles and some opinion columns were cancelled in some newspapers while the official press was still supporting the brothers’ interests.
Matters of power and matters of terrorism:
The Sinai explosions have had serious repercussions on the elite, the army and the society. While Egyptians fear for their army that is fighting against an anonymous enemy and while the Egyptian elite and civil society fear the return of terrorism and the release of crime perpetrators against intellectuals and police officers in Egypt, the concern that state might be controlled by the Brotherhood is rather a reality sought by the brothers and their close circle. According to their structured strategy, controlling media was one necessary step in the process.
Therefore, we believe that the problem of the Egyptian media is not only a professional problem- as cited by reporter Hamdi Kandil- but is also a problem in terms of the freedom of expression and political and social frameworks where the opposition is sometimes seen as a crime. However, transparency and equal opportunities are the main pillars that would promote this profession and support its message in times of differences, opposition and reform.