- The Egyptian foreign ministry has slammed "deplorable" CNN
- This is a sign Trump's "fake news" Twitter rants are "setting an example"
- The BBC and The Guardian have also been targeted for criticizing President Sisi
- Unlike in the U.S., Egypt heavily censors its press
Launching a Twitter rant about “deplorable” CNN, Egypt’s foreign ministry seems to be taking a leaf out of Donald Trump’s book.
The incident has been taken as a sign of how “@POTUS is setting an example around the world” through his public singling out of news outlets.
It has sparked amusement among some, with Haaretz claiming “Egypt just went full Trump.” But for Egyptians it is not a laughing matter.
While the U.S. has “some of the strongest legal protections in the world for freedom of expression” according to Freedom House, in Egypt press censorship by the state is widespread.
On Nov. 26, the official Egyptian foreign ministry tweeted “as usual deplorable coverage of Sinai tragedy today.”
“Anchor more interested in reporters access to Sinai than in those who lost their lives!!!”
Foreign journalists were reportedly prevented from accessing the site of Friday’s bombing and shooting which killed at least 305.
As usual, deplorable @CNN coverage of Sinai tragedy today. Anchor more interested in reporters access to Sinai than in those who lost their lives !!!— Egypt MFA Spokesman (@MfaEgypt) November 26, 2017
The tweet came a day after the U.S. president had once again called CNN “fake news” and suggested that “they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly.”
It was widely noted that the foreign ministry tweet adopted a Trump-like hyperbolic style, as well as attacking one of his favorite targets.
The foreign ministry tweet was characterized by commenters online as a “repercussion” of Trump’s tweet.
Middle East repercussions of Trump's rant against CNN so far: 1) Egypt's Foreign Ministry copies Trump and criticizes CNN for having mentioned journalists' limited access to Sinai; 2) Libyan channel 218 TV doubts CNN's slavery report (https://t.co/O3EGNwWMSa) quoting Trump. pic.twitter.com/TG220HrU2g— Raniah Salloum (@Ranyah) November 28, 2017
While Trump may have appeared to give license to foreign governments to shout down those media outlets they do not like, such words have much graver consequences in the Middle East.
As Human Rights Watch has found, “public criticism of the government remains effectively banned in Egypt.”
The attack on CNN was likely a response to comments it had published the previous day from a survivor of the Sinai mosque attack who alleged Egyptian soldiers failed to protect them.
“The man said soldiers from a nearby military unit must have heard the gunfire during the attack but did not immediately respond,” it wrote.
Under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, journalists are routinely fired or arrested for criticism of the government or the president. It is currently ranked at 161 out of 180 in the Press Freedom Index.
The regime has blocked dozens of opposition and independent news sites, as well as the websites of human rights groups and others.
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- Hashtag Backfires as Egyptians Tell Sisi 'We Need to Talk' About Human Rights
In fact, soon after the foreign ministry’s tweet, Egypt’s Tourism Promotion Authority which is affiliated to the tourism ministry suspended its promotional campaign on CNN, Egypt Today reported.
It was blamed on CNN being “keen to report all the details of the horrific terrorist attack.”
Egypt’s foreign ministry did not stop at denouncing CNN, also launching an attack on The Guardian for its criticism of Sisi’s policies.
Shocked & outraged to read @guardian article by Simon Tisdall. Stark example of double standards & glorification of terrorism. Security Council res. 2354 condemns in the strongest terms the repudiating attempts at the justification or glorification of terrorist acts. #SinaiAttack— Egypt MFA Spokesman (@MfaEgypt) November 26, 2017
Foreign affairs columnist Simon Tisdall had written an opinion piece claiming “the ‘iron fist’ response to terror attacks in Egypt never works.” It compared the Egyptian president to an alcoholic who keeps drinking and suggested he would fail to crush the Sinai insurgency
The piece does not “glorify” or “justify” terrorism - it repeatedly calls Friday’s attack an “atrocity.” Rather, it challenges Sisi’s approach to combatting it.
Foreign minister of Egypt ally the U.A.E, Anwar Gargash, also tweeted that the article was “completely unacceptable” and “Egypt bashing journalism.”
It is not just the foreign ministry itself that has attempted to censor international criticism of Sisi’s rule. Pro-regime television presenter Ahmed Moussa launched a scathing attack on the BBC, claiming “it justifies terrorism… They are justifying this horrendous crime.”
“Today, the BBC, in its coverage, it was aligned to the terrorism of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Moussa continued on the Sada Elbalad network.
“There’s nothing stopping me from closing down the BBC’s office in Egypt,” he threatened, claiming that the U.S. had “closed down Russia’s RT.”
In fact, Russia’s state-funded RT was forced to register as a “foreign agent” by the U.S. justice department earlier this month.
Commenting on Facebook, however, Egyptians suggested there was no comparison between the situation in the U.S. and Egypt.
“If you think news in US is bad, these presenters in Egypt are told to sway viewers to one side (to the right and towards the government) and they are really good at talking,” wrote Ibrahim Yacoub.
Ahmed M. El-Sherbeeny added “his name is Ahmed Musa/Just another media puppet/You can think of him like the Fox News of Egyptian media.”
In his Nov. 26 tweet, Trump had praised Fox News as “MUCH more important in the United States than CNN.”
This "Trump effect" may have spread to Libya, where a news agency used his most recent rage against CNN to justify a claim that its report on slave markets in Tripoli was "fake news."
The U.S. president may have his preferred news networks that portray him favorably, and go to unprecedented lengths to undermine those that do not. Unlike his Egyptian counterpart, however, he has not shut down and detained those that are critical. So far.
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