As I walk into my house every evening after work, I am almost always greeted with the blaring sound of an Arabic news program or political chat show, with my family duly attentive to every word being spoken, or more often than not, shouted. They barely notice as I walk in, until Dad looks up and says something along the lines of "Did you see what the Brotherhood did today, those sons of dogs?" while my uncle eagerly nods in agreement with a stern look on his face which I translate into "If I had a gun, I would shoot them myself."
Unfortunately my family is neither unique nor immune to the current stranglehold the military led Egyptian government currently has on media narratives on Egypt's tumultuous political climate. Egyptian households across the country, and indeed, in my case, as far as London, are all tuning in and receiving the same message: the Muslim Brotherhood are terrorists, we as Egyptians must stand steadfast against them, and Western media are puppets of Western governments who support the Muslim Brotherhood because they want to see a weak Egypt that they can control.
Pro-Muslim Brotherhood channels have been shut down, most notably Al Jazeera, with their journalists even being arrested and later deported, while other channels that were previously gaining a reputation for hard-nosed journalism and healthy debate over the past three years, now toe the military's agenda and blend in with the "terrorism" narrative of every other channel and newspaper.
Amidst this siege on the media and growing anti-Western sentiment, Western journalists continue to find it difficult to do their job since Morsi's ouster on July 3. That is not say they did not find their job difficult under Morsi, or even Mubarak: they did. But as almost every single facet of Egyptian media are today heating up the angst over western spies and a US backed Muslim Brotherhood, it becomes obvious why their combination of being journalists and of Western origin has presented upgraded or new challenges for them to over-come.
Matt Bradley, Middle East Correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, who moved to Egypt in January 2009, and carried out his work under the regimes of Mubarak, Morsi, and now the military backed interim government, notes that western journalists are currently being labeled as uninformed, "and what they mean by 'uninformed' is that Egyptians don't understand why Western media are not using the same type of language that the Egyptian media are using. And it makes sense when you see the Egyptian press who are almost insanely hostile to the Brotherhood and make up rumors that are completely nonsense. And so when English speaking Egyptians look at Western media, they expect to see a similar narrative, but they get a dramatically different narrative when they don't read, for example, that the Brotherhood and Al Qaeda are the same group."
Bradley notes obvious frustrations. For one, he has reduced the frequency with which he goes to cover protests due to the hostility he has received in recent weeks over his profession combined with his nationality, with his Egyptian colleague being able to blend in, "whereas I stick out way too much." There has, however, been one major upside. As a result of the military being keen to show their support base in Egypt and have a much more visible presence in politics, they now have a military spokesperson who Bradley can contact directly, whereas prior to July 3 "it was impossible to get hold of anyone in the military." They even flew him in a military helicopter so he could get a bird's eye view of pro-military supporters.
Bradley has also worked in Gaza, and notes an interesting nuanced comparison in covering a war zone such as Gaza and his work in Egypt. Whereas in a war zone the enemies are aware of each other and journalists are not the target, "in Egypt, mobs of people can suddenly become extremely angry and dangerous towards you if even one person suggests you're a spy, and that situation is frightening."
Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian's Egypt correspondent, refers back to his training as a reporter and objectivity: "I spent six months reporting on the failures of the Morsi regime and why he was forced out of power, but I won't use the failures of the Morsi regime as an excuse to not report on wholesale human rights abuses committed against them after Morsi's fall. If people expect us to present evidence unfavorable to Morsi during his regime, then they should also understand why journalists are going to present similar evidence of the regime that came after him if that is the case. That's your job as a journalist."
Kingsley understands that while as a "foreigner" doubts will always be raised about "how much I know about the country's history and culture," he also understands that this dismissal of his knowledge or understanding is used to undermine his credibility and his work if it does not fall in line with the wholesale narrative that is being churned out by Egyptian media. However, he remains undeterred, and while he has unfortunately had disturbing experiences that have threatened his safety, he is acutely aware that Egypt and indeed, Egyptians, are going through a turbulent transition, and aware that these challenges are part and parcel of any correspondents' role in covering such a transition.
After I spoke to Bradley and Kingsley, I asked my father and uncle, out of curiosity, if they ever thought about reading a report by a Western journalist on Egypt. Dad answered without hesitation, while my uncle nodded in agreement: "What do they know? They are being paid to sell only side of the story." The irony wasn't lost on me.
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