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Why did the Egyptian media side with the coup?

January 27, 2014 at 12:25 pm

It was not only natural for the Egyptian media to side with the coup leadership, but also inevitable. The media has played a key role in Egyptian politics for decades thanks to ownership and inherited loyalties.

Gamal Abdel Nasser took power thanks to the support of the media, and if there was a role for any profession in resolving the conflict in the best interests of the 23 July 1952 revolution before it even took place (which was supposed to be a military coup), it was the media. Journalists such as Ihsan Abdul Qudoos were at the forefront, followed by Ahmed Abu Alfutouh and Helmi Salam; other writers like Khaled Mohamed Khaled, Tawfiq Alhakim and Ahmed Husein were also involved.

Nasser the soldier did not want to owe his success to anyone, so he was keen on removing the role of the media in such matters, to make sure that a similar revolution to depose him could not take place. Because of this, he used to welcome media differences with him so that he could justify attacks on freedom of expression and the media under the umbrella of patriotism, unity and the national structure. Before long, the number of media publications in Egypt plummeted to just 1 per cent of what it was before the 1952 revolution.

When I wrote about this period it hurt journalists because of the title of my book: “In the service of the authorities”. This was welcomed by others as it threw light on a stage in Egypt’s development that has not yet ended; indeed, it has possibly become even more necessary over the past year.

Although the media became an easily-handled tool in Nasser’s hands it was never enough for him so he decided to nationalise the industry. His “Nasserite” ideology was guided to humiliate the media so that it looked as if it was journalists and their work which created the economic chaos which had resulted from his mass nationalisation policies.

Historians, journalists and current writers all admit that prior to Nasser’s nationalisation journalism as a profession was very polite and genteel. The media moved from service to humiliation in the guise of being “organised” by the state. Its nationalisation preceded that of companies and the creation of the public sector workforce.

A complicated picture then emerged with the internal situation in Egypt facing severe economic and institutional problems. The matter wasn’t helped by the exaggerated claims of success and involvement in the affairs of Yemen and other countries.

Political conflict meant that Nasser was unable to get wheat from the United States, despite Egypt’s own dwindling supplies, so he had no option but to turn for help from the Soviet Union. This was a strange move given that he had already destroyed his relationship with the leadership of the USSR, but he had little choice in the matter. This was to the benefit of the Soviets as they sought to gain influence in the world at the height of the Cold War.

Nasser approached Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev through channels which had strong ties with the CIA; the Egyptian president himself had a longstanding relationship with US intelligence. Firm, decisive and smart, Khrushchev was able to complete the smartest and quickest deal in history, providing Nasser with Soviet wheat (which was diverted to Egypt while it was already at sea heading to other countries) and providing the means to complete the next phase of the High Dam on the River Nile.

In exchange, Khrushchev took away Egypt’s conscience, and made Gamal Abdel Nasser release all of the communists who’d been detained since 1958/9; every communist released from prison was given a post in media and culture regardless of whether they had experience or not. Anyone with no link to communism disappeared from the media scene and the Egyptian media and culture took on a Soviet hue, not just ideology. Following the downfall of the Soviet Union its influence stayed on in the Egyptian media, where it remains to this day.

Sadat was right to think that his strategic and political achievements were not in need of the media or sponsorship. He left media and culture issues to move with their own momentum which used to benefit him and not restrain him, although some believed that it did the opposite.

Although this is an issue which requires major studies to take place, it is accurate to say that the Nasserite-style of media and journalism persisted until Mubarak took office. The media then developed extreme loyalty to the regime which proved to be very generous towards it, in stark contrast to the Sadat and Nasser eras.

Thus we have witnessed talentless people become media billionaires, and media staff who are envied by their much more skilled international counterparts for the size of their salaries. Most still get paid, directly or indirectly, by pro-Mubarak forces, not by the Egyptian government, and they are still approved by Mubarak’s men, not those in authority.

Hence, the likes of Field Marshall Tantawi, President Mohamed Morsi and Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi may well be in the public eye in positions of influence, but the ones to watch are the Mubarak-era people smiling gently in the background. It is they who have the money which keeps the media wheels turning and the scribes happy. Is there really any wonder why the media supported the coup?

The author is an Egyptian historian. This article is a translation of the Arabic text which appeared on Al Jazeera Net on 6 October, 2013

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.