Egypt’s newly-elected President Mohamed Morsi has been the target of a media campaign aimed at tarnishing both his image and that of Islamists.
The campaign, launched by several Egyptian media outlets suspected of having close links with both the former regime and the military generals (who ruled the country in the transitional period), has been defending the military council’s policies while vilifying their critics.
Newspaper editors and columnists have in recent weeks raised questions about whether the new leader’s loyalty lay with Egypt or with the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual guide Mohamed Badie. An old photograph of Morsi kissing the forehead of Badie on the cover of state-owned magazine Al Mussawar seemed to suggest that the Brotherhood’s spiritual guide will be in control rather than Morsi. The magazine also published interviews with liberals opposing a Muslim Brotherhood presidency. They warned that “the Islamist group could change Egypt forever.”
Morsi was a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood but severed his affiliation with the movement after his appointment as President. He has promised to be “a president of all Egyptians and to protect the rights of minorities.”
Talk show host Amr Adeeb told viewers on his show Al Qahera al Youm this week that he expects Egyptians to be flogged for their wrongdoings in public squares under “Islamist rule”. He went further, hurling insults at Islamists whom he described as “backward and retarded”. Adeeb also suggested the Islamists may try to kill him for speaking out against them.
“But I shall continue to speak the truth rather than die a coward,” he said.
Columnist Adel Hamouda claimed that Islamists had tried to blow up his home because he had been critical of them in the past. He had earlier warned that the Muslim Brotherhood planned to create an “Islamic emirate” of Egypt.
The front page banner in the independent Al Dostoor on 7 July meanwhile warned readers that Egypt was in “real danger.” The paper quoted Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khameini as saying “what is happening in Egypt now is an extension to the Iranian Revolution.”
Earlier this week, state-owned Akhbar quoted on its front page a representative of the radical Islamic Party of Liberation (Tahrir el Islami) — an Islamic political movement that seeks to implement a pure Islamic doctrine — as saying: “We wish to revive the Islamic Caliphate from Cairo and advise Dr Morsi to renege on his promise to establish a civil state.”
In what some analysts described as “Mubarak-era tactics to terrorise the public”, several talk show hosts and newspapers appeared to deliberately hype up an incident in Suez in which a man was reportedly stabbed and killed by “bearded Islamists”. The presenters and journalists alleged that this was “just the beginning of a trend where Islamists would try to impose their ultra-conservative norms on the rest of society.” The man, who had been walking his fiancée home, got into a fist-fight with his assailants who had insisted that he reveal the identity of his partner and was killed. The presenters and journalists charged — even before investigations were conducted that “Islamist organisations seeking to Islamise Egypt were behind the killing.” Investigations later revealed that the suspects were not affiliated to any extremist organisations or religious groups and that the killing had been an accident.
Liberal media have also taken aim at Morsi’s wife, questioning if she was fit to represent Egypt. “How could she receive world leaders and still adhere to her traditional Islamic attire?” was the sarcastic question posed by a columnist in the weekly Al Fagr newspaper. Her new status presents “a comic scenario,” the columnist added.
Whether Morsi’s popularity has been affected by the negative publicity remains unclear. But in a country where the illiteracy rate is as high as 40 per cent, the public can easily be swayed one way or the other. Losing even a handful of his supporters may prove fatal for a president who has won the election with a margin of just 800,000 votes.
As Morsi struggles to wrest more power from the generals — who have recently been guaranteed sweeping legislative and budgetary powers by supplementary constitutional amendments issued just days before the run-off vote — media coverage can be a make or break factor. A credible and unbiased media can certainly go far in helping the new president gain greater powers.