One of the most obvious changes in the Egyptian press, marking the end of President Mubarak’s reign, are the missing pictures of his wife, Suzanne Mubarak, from the front pages. The amount of articles covering the news of her ‘activities’ by the Egyptian press was more than the collective number of articles covering the news of all other Egyptian women put together. She was reflected as the Chair of almost every charity organisation and a supporter of all women’s groups. Whoever reads the Egyptian newspapers must have seen the virtual halo above the First Lady’s head. Even though her family enjoys caviar and the finest brands of Swiss chocolates, the majority of Egyptian children and their mothers – whose rights she was supposedly advocating – struggle to find the minimum to feed on, since 40 percent of Egyptians live on two dollars a day or less.
The media is not the only institution accused of using national funds to inflate the ego of the First Lady. The academic institutions, which are supposedly ethically driven, have also wasted a great proportion of their funds on promoting her image. Following Mubarak’s ousting, the protesters demanded that all the establishments, including Cairo University, should be held accountable for corruption.
On the first day of resuming education following the ousting of Mubarak, 2000 employees demonstrated, accusing the university’s administration of squandering 6.5 million Egyptian pounds (1.1 million US dollars) of public money on the doctorate award ceremony held for Suzanne Mubarak in September 2010. A number of academics considered the award an insult to the university. The President of the university, Hossam Kamel, denied those figures. He said “what has been spent on that ceremony is only 200,000 pounds (34,000 US dollars), spent on some decorations that were necessary for the ceremony.”
Another striking change in the Egyptian press is the fact that all of the newspapers which came out on the morning of Mubarak’s ousting praised the revolution and criticised the same former regime they applauded and glorified just few hours earlier. This sudden change is worrying for all those who understand the moral responsibility of the press and the ethics of journalism. It was shocking to see the rhetoric of the newspapers change overnight in a way that reflected political hypocrisy. The majority of Egyptian journalists turned from one extreme to its opposite; from glorifying Mubarak to a fierce attack on him and the way he ran the country during his reign, reflecting many years of the media’s lack of transparency and lack of credibility.
Obviously there were a considerable number of restrictive laws and measures that impeded the work of journalists, such as no freedom of access to information and the fact that the articles of most journalists had to be approved by the Minister of Media or by the immediate boss before publication. But now, in light of the disintegration of the old institutions, it seems that the journalists are not subjected to the same amount of censorship they used to be.
The sudden and striking changes in publishing and censorship policies, from total control to freedom of expression, reflected a shocking contrast in most newspapers. This can be witnessed clearly in the Aljomhoriya (The Republic), a publication which used to be one of the system’s tools. Aljomhoriya journalists defended Mubarak’s system furiously and attacked the revolution until the very end. They then turned against Mubarak after his stepping down and attacked his system.
Only a small number of journalists and publications did not find it easy to shift suddenly after more than 30 years of polishing the old regime’s image. One such publication was Rose al-Yousef, which was known to support the policies and actions of Mubarak’s son Jamal, and of Ahmad Ezz, a member of the National Democratic Party (NDP) and Chairman of the Planning and Budget Committee of the People’s Assembly of Egypt, who is accused of corruption. Even though Rose al-Yousef is a national publication, its Editor-in-Chief, Abdallah Kamal, declared that they would continue to defend the former regime. The Egyptian Information Minister, Anas Al-Faqih, resigned from his post saying that he will defend the policies of the former regime and cannot defend the current system. At present, there are calls to abolish the Ministry of Information and to codify the role of the General Authority for Information and the Press Office of the Foreign Correspondents.
It is a well known fact that the heads of media institutions and all the media managers supervising and controlling the outcome of the Egyptian media were imposed by the Supreme Council of the Press, which is chaired by Safwat al-Sharif. Al-Sharif was a founder member of the NDP, and has been accused of corruption and of misusing public funds. The formalities of selecting top media managers and directors were overseen by the President of the Republic, and choosing the media professionals was considered necessary for supposed security reasons. These appointments caused friction between journalists because they were made depending on loyalty to the regime rather than journalistic skills or professional experience.
The tension between journalists caused by such policies was fierce, because of the dramatic differences of wages between journalists of similar skills working within the same institution. For example, the salary of the editor in chief of Al-Ahram can reach up to two million Egyptian pounds (339,000 US dollars) a month depending on commissions and rates of publication, while other journalists working at the same publication and who have the same experience as the editor in chief earn less than 2000 Egyptian pounds (339 US dollars) a month. This is because the managers control the bonuses and offer them to the journalists in their own close circles.
Following the success of the revolution, changes are inevitable. It would be interesting to find out what will happen to the journalists who were in favour of, and benefited from, the former regime, and how their employment conditions will be affected when the dust settles. Would the public trust them following their sudden shift of loyalty?
And what would happen to the Egyptian women journalists’ representation, since they account for only 34 percent of the general assembly of the Egyptian Press Syndicate? Only 2,400 Egyptian women journalists are members of the press syndicate out of a total of 7,000 members, and the percentage of female representation in the Syndicate’s Council is only 7.7 percent, or 13 members. Will the Egyptian women journalists’ representation improve after the revolution? And will their equality demands be met?
Iqbal Tamimi is Director for Arab Women Media Watch Centre in the UK.
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This post was written by Iqbal Tamimi