Egypt: Who really needs Coptic TV?

A new Coptic channel started broadcasting in Egypt last week. Some say CTV addresses a strong need in the Coptic community to have their own media; others fear it only fuels the current trend towards a more religion-based society.
By John Ehab, Correspondent
Egyptian Coptic priest. ©AFP / Khaled Desouki
Egyptian Coptic priest during celebrations for the Feast of Assumption. ©AFP / Khaled Desouki

CAIRO, Dec. 6, 2007 (MENASSAT.COM) - Christians make up ten percent of Egypt's population, yet state-owned TV has always failed to provide specific programming for the country's Christian community. A new TV channel, CTV, started broadcasting last week with the promise of addressing the specific needs of Egyptian Christians, and particularly the Copts, who make up around 85 percent of Egyptian Christians.

CTV is a welcome addition to Egypt's media landscape, said bishop Marcos, the official spokesman of the Coptic Church in Egypt. "Egypt's Muslim population can find religious programming everywhere but Christians just don't have that option", Marcos said. "I complain constantly to Egyptian officials about the lack of Christian programming, with little results."

Egypt has a Coptic TV channel already, called Aghapi TV, which started brodcasting in 2005. But Aghapi specializes in broadcasting lithurgical services. CTV will be different, according to director Atef El Abd.

"We have a different vision from Aghapi", El Abd told MENASSAT.COM. "We will have social programming, dedicated shows for kids and teenagers and drama as well."

CTV was founded by a prominent Coptic business man, Tharwat Bassily.  The latter’s membership in the National Democratic Party’s higher political committee has raised some questions about the growing religious currents in the Egyptian society.

“CTV's owner is close to the authorities which makes him a public figure. So why would a well-known business man support a Coptic TV rather than just an Egyptian one?", asked Yousef Seidhom, editor-in-chief of the Watani weekly and a Coptic rights activist.

In fact, there are those who feel that the last thing Egypt needs is another religious station, whether it is Christian or Muslim.

Another wealthy Coptic businessman, Naguib Sawiris, announced plans last week to launch two new TV channels: an all-movies channel in early 2008, to be followed by an all-news channel.

Sawiris - who is estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth $10 million - already owns OTV, a 24-hour entertainment channel. He also owns a stake in the daily newspaper Al Masry Al Youm and he is the chairman of Orascom Telecom, the fourth largest mobile phone operator in the Arab world.

Sawiris told Reuters last week that he opposes radical Muslims and Christians alike, and that his OTV channel has sought to counter the "high dosage" of religious and conservative programming on other channels, both Muslim and Christian, by offering light shows targeting young people, along with uncensored Arab and foreign movies.

It is also true that Copts have started appearing on government TV. An opinion show recently invited several Coptic priests to give their view.

But CTV's owner still sees a need for a religion-oriented TV channel. “Many people in Egypt need the church’s message to reach their homes, especially those who can’t go to church", Bassily told MENASSAT.COM.