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Why does Saudi Arabia fund new Egyptian satellite channels?

Satellite orbiting Earth [ThegreenJ/Wikipedia]
Satellite orbiting Earth [ThegreenJ/Wikipedia]

After the 25 January, 2011, revolution, the Egyptian scene witnessed a state of media explosion, as many new satellite channels, newspapers and websites appeared, taking advantage of the atmosphere of unlimited freedom. The most prominent feature they all had was the extravagant spending, whether in terms of employee salaries, guest compensation or studio equipment This extravagance was the result of the huge Emirati-Saudi funding of these media outlets, many of which played a prominent role in misrepresenting the January revolution, and the experience of the late President Mohamed Morsi's rule (according to the plan of the financier), and according to official statements by the Minister of Information during the rule of President Morsi, Salah Abdel-Maqsoud. The expenditures of these channels amounted to 4 times their advertising revenues (6 billion Egyptian Pounds in expenses and 1.5 billion in revenues). The difference was the Gulf "zakat" that did not enter the country legally.

Military coup that ousted Mohamed Morsi in Egypt- Cartoon [Latuff/MiddleEastMonitor]

Military coup that ousted Mohamed Morsi in Egypt- Cartoon [Carlos Latuff/MiddleEastMonitor]

Saudi funding was not limited to supporting channels or buying media professionals, but also extended to establishing an Egyptian branch of Saudi's MBC television channel, which continued to operate, while the Egyptian authorities closed Al Jazeera Mubasher Egypt after the coup, on the pretext that a foreign channel may not bear the name of Egypt. It was not satisfied with this channel alone, in which it employed the highest-earning journalists and technicians, but recently decided to finance the establishment of two new news channels in Egypt, one of which is international, and the other is regional. So, what prompted it to do so?

Let's go back to the beginning of the story. In 2017, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi announced he was willing to launch two major news channels with the aim of confronting Al Jazeera, which caused him a major headache, and his local channel networks, along with Arab channels supporting him, such as Al-Arabiya and Sky News, did not succeed in confronting the channel. The idea of these two channels that were part of an ambitious plan for the DMC channel network owned by the Egyptian intelligence, failed, as the inability to secure the necessary funding nipped the idea in the bud. An attempt was made to launch the regional channel in the first quarter of 2022; however, it failed again, due to a lack of funding.

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On 11 July, the United Media Services Company, which dominates more than 80 per cent of the private media in Egypt, announced the launch of a news sector that surpasses its counterpart in the official television, Maspero, with more than twenty channels. This new sector includes two news channels, one international and the other regional, which will be launched in cooperation with a global think tank in conjunction with the climate summit that Egypt will host next November. It later became apparent that this new media project was reached after reaching an agreement with Saudi Arabia, after Prince Mohammed bin Salman's visit to Egypt to finance the news sector and the two new channels under the name Cairo News, as well as the development of a third local channel, and the launch of another local channel.

According to the available information, Saudi Arabia will not pay cash to Egypt to establish these channels, but will, through its specialised companies, provide operating systems, broadcast technology and train media and technical staff.

Now, let us go back to answer the question: Why is Saudi Arabia financing the establishment of these new expensive Egyptian channels?

The answer is simply because these channels will be Egyptian in name, and on Egyptian soil, with the majority of its staff Egyptian, but they will be, in fact, new media machines for Prince Mohammad bin Salman that will help him in marketing his leadership of the Arabs, which was establish by US President Joe Biden in his last meeting with him in Riyadh and in the presence of other Arab leaders. This implies that these leaders acknowledge this leadership, but the leaders' approval of this under financial and American pressure does not mean that the people of the region will easily accept Mohammad bin Salman as the regional leader. This has prompted him to establish new media branches, alongside the current ones, to address these nations and try to market and promote the young Prince's project.

Meanwhile, the Sisi regime will benefit from these new channels in maximising its soft power in the media, marketing its project called "the new republic", which it complains that its current media has failed to market to the Egyptian public opinion.

But the important question is also: Are these channels expected to succeed?

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The answer, in my opinion, is no. Despite the huge funds that will be pumped into it to equip modern studios, provide it with a network of professionally distinguished broadcasters and correspondents, and provide financial temptations for its programs and guests, it lacks, like other existing channels, the space for freedom necessary for its success. The Egyptian regime has shown open hostility to freedom of the press and media from the first moment of the 3 July coup in 2013 when it stormed and closed down some channels. It also imprisoned hundreds of journalists, killed some of them, and stopped programmes and articles it did not like. It also took over private television channels, newspapers and websites or forced their owners to abandon them, ultimately achieving its goal of controlling the media and setting its pace, making the media have one unified voice. This resulted in readers and viewers to turn away from these media outlets, and to resort to alternative media outlets from the opposition, outside Egypt, or social media. In such an environment, no newspaper or channel is expected to succeed, regardless of their budgets.

The Egyptian regime is also not expected to loosen its grip on media freedom after the end of the national dialogue sessions. Rather, it continued its march of repression by blocking one of the important press websites, Al Manassa, a few days ago, and refused to pardon a number of imprisoned journalists after news spread that they had been pardoned. The regime is still captive to its fears of the freedom of the press, which it sees as a main reason for the 25 January revolution and could be a reason for a new revolution. All of this is sufficient enough for the new channels to fail.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 17 July 2022

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

AfricaArticleEgyptMiddle EastOpinionSaudi Arabia
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