Creating new perspectives since 2009

Opposition TV channels in Turkey are giving Sisi’s regime a major headache

March 22, 2021 at 12:57 pm

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Berlin, Germany on 18 November 2019 [ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images]

The number of attacks on Turkey and President Erdogan in the Egyptian media have declined since indications of reconciliation between Ankara and Cairo have started to emerge. This is a positive step that will certainly be followed by more with regard to the Egyptian opposition TV channels that broadcast from Turkey so that they become more conducive to reconciliation. It was no surprise that the Turkish authorities asked the channel owners in Istanbul to amend their editorial line in accordance with professional standards of journalism and refrain from attacking the regime of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Cairo.

Media outlets and social media, including Facebook and Twitter, have been buzzing with speculation that this request would be followed by other measures, such as broadcasting more entertainment programmes and suchlike rather than politics. We have even seen major channels like Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath, as well as the UAE’s Sky News Arabic, announcing that the channels in Turkey will be closed, with their staff deported and handed over to the Egyptian authorities, and that Muslim Brotherhood officials in Turkey will be placed under house arrest.

Sisi's Prisons - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Egypt Sisi’s Prisons – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

All of these claims are completely unfounded. Their purpose was to create confusion that the pro-regime Egyptian channels would encourage and follow suit, rejoicing in what befell the opposition groups and individuals. They forget that the existence of opposition channels gave the pro-Sisi broadcasters life; without them, there would be no need for their existence in such numbers. Their programmes are linked directly to the opposition channels in Turkey, a reaction by pro-regime journalists on the Egyptian TV to what is presented by the opposition media in Istanbul. Without the latter, the pro-Sisi programmes lack content and so face being shut down, with their employees being made redundant.

The opposition actually only has three channels: Mekameleen TV, El-Sharq and Al-Watan, which expresses the view of the Muslim Brotherhood and is weaker than the other two. As such, the regime in Cairo does not focus on it much, opting to concentrate on the others. They are all, though, referred to constantly as the “terrorist Brotherhood’s” channels.

READ: Turkey will not crack down on Egypt’s opposition

The Egyptian regime, meanwhile, has dozens of satellite channels at its disposal. However, the influence that the three opposition channels have not only on Egyptian viewers but also Arab viewers in general worries Cairo. Despite their modest capabilities, they have attracted viewers from the regime channels. It is worth noting that the salary of just one major presenter on a regime channel is more or less the entire budget of any one of the three opposition channels.

The latter has thus played an important part in raising the level of awareness among the people in Egypt and exposing many of the silent issues, such as political detentions, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. They also help to give victims’ families a voice for action by international human rights institutions.

These channels have also been prominent in prompting discussions about major issues of national security in Egypt, such as the concession of Tiran and Sanafir islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia by broadcasting the testimonies of professors regarding Egypt’s ownership. They have shed light on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis and its effect on the River Nile, to which Egypt has a historical right. They have reported on the failed negotiations between Egypt and Ethiopia (and Sudan) and warned against the disaster of drought that will afflict the Egyptian people and land if the regime does not take a serious stance towards Addis Ababa. They have also highlighted the suffering of the masses in Egypt, the high prices of basic commodities, and the economic crises they face.

In short, the opposition channels reflect the reality of life for the people of Egypt, echoing their voices and genuine concerns. In contrast, the pro-regime channels are remote from the people and simply parrot regime propaganda about its achievements, which citizens have not seen on the ground. If they want to know the truth of what is happening in their own country, they tune in to the channels broadcasting from Turkey.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry paid the opposition channels a backhanded compliment when he told a parliamentary committee that Egypt needs a powerful media machine that can reach others and be effective. He claimed unambiguously that such a channel needs effort and capabilities, as the “terrorist organisations, in particular, the Brotherhood”, have several media outlets “targeting stability” in Egypt.

It is ridiculous to make such a call when the regime already has an arsenal of media outlets, including newspapers and TV channels, on which it spends billions. Shoukry’s comment was a public recognition of the failure of the state-controlled media in Egypt and the superiority of the three Istanbul-based opposition channels.

OPINION: Turkish-Egyptian reconciliation, the prospects of success and of failure

Britain’s Guardian, the New York Times and the BBC have reported about these channels and the important news that they have provided over the years. If this indicates anything, it is that they have had great influence both within and beyond Egypt.

This is why the Sisi regime in Egypt is trying to silence dissenting voices abroad, as it has silenced dissent at home. It is taking advantage of the ongoing negotiations with Turkey to put pressure on Ankara to shut down the opposition channels. However, I do not believe that Turkey will agree to shut them down, but will be satisfied with asking for an adjustment to editorial policies in line with professional standards of journalism. This is a polite request to refrain from attacking the regime as a goodwill gesture towards Cairo.

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