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Rayan's story between politics, economics and the news industry

February 11, 2022 at 12:17 pm

A man lights candle for the memory of 5 -year-old Rayan, died after being trapped in a well for four days in Riad district of capital Rabat in Morocco on 6 February 2022 [Jalal Morchidi/Anadolu Agency]

Rayan is the name of the Moroccan child that entered every house in the Arab world and became a symbol of the humanity of all people in the region, and all the villages in our afflicted region became called Ighran, the name of his village.

His story spread fast on social media along with debate, controversy and conflict. Now may be a time to discuss some of the political, economic and news debates which came to light.

Perhaps the most important observation is connection the people feel towards one another across the Arab world. Rayan’s tragic story coincided with Egypt qualifying for the final of the Africa Cup of Nations and the region discussed both events as if they were personal affairs.

The majority of the peoples of the Arab states forgot their differences and their own issues and focused on Rayan and the Egyptian team, although in practice they could offer nothing but prayers and hopes.

Media coverage has undoubtedly played a major role in spreading Rayan’s story, but it’s plain to see that the media cover didn’t match the care and attention which people gave to the story themselves.

Some in the media questioned the interest people had in Rayan’s story at a time when millions of Arab children suffer terrible tragedies between the loss of security, hunger, the collapse of health, and the risk of death in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine and elsewhere, without proper media coverage.

READ: Rayan reminded us of our humanity and ability to unite

As a matter of principle, the question seems right and logical and should not be criticised, yet some of those who raised it have been attacked on social media. It is natural and very understandable that people who are bereaved by the tragedies caused by conflicts are saddened by the lack of attention and media coverage their issues receive.

However, perhaps such questions could have waited until after rescue efforts to save Rayan came to a close.

Rayan’s story was a “new” one, unlike that of the suffering of millions in Yemen, Syria and Palestine, meaning that they are no longer “news worthy” and the level of attention followers give them gradually decreases.

But Rayan’s story was compelling because of its unique nature. It is about a child who suddenly fell into a well on an ordinary day, when there are no political or military conflicts. It is about a single person whose face and image were known. This adds to the “media value” of the story. In the case of the other tragedies in the Middle East, the victims are numerous, and they live in war zones where the suffering has become “normal”, their faces and images are unknown, so media interest is reduced.

This seems harsh and devoid of human feelings, but it is reality and the truth. Suffering and tragedy alone do not make “a newsworthy story” that attracts attention. This explains, for example, the international media coverage of the story of Alan Kurd, who drowned at sea while his family was trying to escape the conflict in Syria, although he is not the only child whose life ended in this tragic manner.

Away from the magnitude of the tragedy and the feelings of anticipation, joy and sorrow that accompanied attempts to save Rayan, the economic and developmental dimensions of the event were absent from the media. Rayan’s story ended tragically. The media interest in it will die down in days, undoubtedly. However, another tragedy began before this story and did not end after it, yet it has been absent from the media. We are talking about the tragedy of the weak economy and lack of development in Arab countries, where villages and towns suffer from a major imbalance in terms of development and lack safe roads, security and safety factors, electricity and water, and the necessary capacities that qualify local authorities to deal with emergencies and unexpected accidents.

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The village of Ighran in the Moroccan province of Chefchaouen is like thousands of villages and towns in Arab countries that suffer from marginalisation, poverty, misery and lack of development. These towns are waiting to become “worthy” of media attention to highlight their ongoing tragedies.

One news reporter told her station that Ighran was “dark” as a result of Rayan’s tragic loss, but this was also true because the village has no electricity. Rayan’s story may diminish from the headlines, but the power cuts, under development, economic marginalisation and ostracization of many in villages across the Arab world will continue to live in and we must work to highlight it, tackle it and make sure they are never forgotten.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 9 February 2022

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