Egyptian media at war with Hezbollah

In the weeks since Egyptian authorities arrested alleged Hezbollah (Party of God) operatives in Egypt, the Egyptian media has waged a war against the Lebanese Shia party, calling its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, "the monkey sheikh" and accusing these so-called agents of planning an attack against Israeli tourist attractions in Egypt. MENASSAT's Ahmad Ragab suggests it is Hezbollah and not official Egyptian media that is having the last laugh.
Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters through a giant screen during a rally in Beirut southern suburbs December 29, 2008, to express solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. © Reuters

CAIRO, May 4, 2009 (MENASSAT) - In a quick overview of the readers’ comments, news forums and street reactions in Egypt since the April arrest of 49 suspected Hezbollah operatives, an increasing number of Egyptians have been siding with the Lebanese Shia political party in a case that has sparked public debate about foreign operatives on Egyptian soil.

Pro and anti-regime media outlets have spent 3 weeks in a tug-of-war with pro-regime editors looking to marginalize the independent press in order to assert the official government version of events.

But the Egyptian publics' growing compassion for the Lebanese Shia party is, however, indicative of how pro-government media has managed to misread the situation.

Aiming at Hezbollah

The targeting of Hezbollah was carried out primarily by Egypt’s major pro-regime dailies including Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar, Al-Joumhouriya (The Republic), Al-Masa (The Evening), Rose el-Youssef, and Al-Watani Al-Youm (The Patriot Today).

Writer Fahmi Houwidi described their campaign as “devilish" because of what he says has been a lack of proffesionalism.

“The Egyptian media made unforgivable mistakes on the professional, ethical and political levels. On the professional level, our media had already convicted Hezbollah - without any investigation and without a judge," Houwidi said.

Mubarak plainly accused Iran and its agents of trying to harm Egypt's security in a reference to Hezbollah's ties to Iran. "We will not allow any interference by foreign forces . . . who push the region towards hell out of a desire to spread their influence and their agenda on the Arab world," he was quoted as saying in the pro-regime press.

And while the anti-Hezbollah message remained the same, Al-Ahram and Al-Akhbar took two different approaches in denouncing the suspected Hezbollah operatives.

Al-Ahram focused on the international community's response, quoting people such as Terry Larson, the UN ambassador to the Middle East and UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, while locally quoting Arab writers, such as the Kuwaiti journalist Ahmad al-Jar Allah.

Partisan and independent press

On the other hand, independent newspapers showed a more pluralistic take on the issue.

Al-Masri al-Youm and al-Shourouq (The Dawn) provided more balanced coverage leaving questions of culpability to the readers, while Al-Dustour published articles by writers known for their support of Hezbollah, including Khaled Mahmoud Ramadan and Montaser al-Zayat.

Newspapers associated with political parties like 

Sawt el-Umma (The Voice of the Nation) drew on party interests for their analysis. Sawt, for example, published an article by Rifaat Sayyed Ahmad accusing Israel and Saudi Arabia of blowing Hezbollah’s case out of proportion for their own political benefits. 

Rifaat Al-Said, head of the Leftist Gathering Party (LGP) attacked the Muslim Brotherhood and wrote an article in the LGP's newspaper - Al-Ahali - called “Did the Brotherhood give Hezbollah the green light to execute terror attacks inside Egypt?”

Al-Arabi was the only partisan publication to defend Hassan Nasrallah, denouncing the campaign against Hezbollah as a fraud.

Official press

Morsi Attallah, Chairman of al-Ahram Corp. (Pyramids), wrote a piece called “The implicated party and the justifications” in which he said, “I understand the motives of Hezbollah in Lebanon, but it's difficult to justify non-Arab reasons and motivations in this case."

He continues, "Hezbollah's actions are just Iran’s plans that come along with wider regional and international plans to keep the Middle East in a permanent state of division, rivalry and instability.”

Mohamad Farid Abu Hadid, chairman of Dar al-Tahrir association, leveled even stronger accusations at the Lebanese party in the official press. "Let’s leave the case of the devil’s party in the hands of the judicial system," he wrote in Al-Ahram.

“We caught the devil’s party, its leader Nasrallah and his agents in the act against the Egyptian people. We caught the guilty in Beirut’s southern suburb, but we heard the bark in Tehran and the same orchestra that attacked us before.”

Imad Fuad, an Egyptian professor in media studies, called the entire media uproar an ethical "catastrophe" for the press establishment in Egypt.

"Lacking tangible information, Egypt's official media advanced their skewed perspectives using defamation tactics and insults" in their reporting of the Hezbollah incident, he said.

"On the other hand," Fuad said, "some independent newspapers, tried to covertly defend the government's case because they feared being accused of treason by the official newspapers.”

Meanwhile, an Egyptian court Monday rejected an appeal by six of the accused Hezbollah agents who were officially charged with being terrorists.

The prosecutor also accused the six of being members of an outlawed group, and possessing fake documents and passports.