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The Struggle for Egypt’s Future Plays Out in the Pages of Its Newspapers

Posted by vmsalama on July 24, 2013

The Atlantic

July 24, 2013

By Vivian Salama

As chaos ensued on streets across Egypt this week, and speculation surrounding the whereabouts of ousted President Mohamed Morsi and his closest Islamist allies intensified, the country’s national newspaper splashed an expose across its front page.

“The public prosecutor ordered the detention of Morsi for 15 days,” Monday’sAl-Ahram headline read in bold red print, followed by a series of scandalous subtitles claiming the detention is linked to a 2011 prison break. It also alleged the ex-president is suspected of espionage after calling U.S. Ambassador Anne Peterson from the wiretapped phone of Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the man responsible for his political demise.

egypt newspaperBoth sides vehemently deny the report. That same morning, the court summoned Al-Ahram editor-in-chief Abdel-Nasser Salama for questioning, on the basis that news of Morsi’s imprisonment is untrue and unsubstantiated. In a statement on Monday, the prosecutor warned the media that those who publish false reports will face charges. IkhwanWeb, the Muslim Brotherhood’s online newspaper, called the report “utter lies,” adding that claims of spying are meant to intimidate those protesting “in support of the return of legitimacy.”

Wrangling over the sensational headline underscores the biggest casualty of Egypt’s two and a half year revolution: truth and accuracy.

Misinformation is rife — a dangerous thing in the Twitter era. Opponents of politician and Nobel peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei had already taken to the streets in outrage earlier this month after state news reported the former head of the UN nuclear watchdog was selected as interim prime minister. The news was picked up by the international press and spread quickly over social media. The report was then denied some hours later. (click here to read more)

Posted in al-Sisi, Arab, Coup, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights, Intervention, Islam, Journalism, June 30, Media, Middle East, Middle East Times, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Religion, Terrorism | Leave a Comment »

Can Hamas be Ignored?

Posted by vmsalama on November 27, 2007

by Vivian Salama

Middle East Times

Middle East author and historian Rashid Khalidi offered the following forecast for Tuesday’s peace gathering in Annapolis, “Cloudy with rain and a chance of storms.” He added, “That’s been the Middle East forecast for decades.”

The media has been criticized for its relentless skepticism of the “get together” – as one White House official described it – taking place in Maryland this week. For many, this multilateral gathering of more than two dozen delegations to discuss the Palestinian-Israeli issue is merely history repeating itself. In 2000, just as President Clinton was preparing to leave office, he invited the then-embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his beleaguered Palestinian counterpart Yasser Arafat together at Camp David to negotiate a final settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Seven years later, a politically besieged President George W. Bush has invited Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas – both of whom are fighting to stay for political survival – to make long overdue concessions and revitalize final status talks. Photo-ops and cliché catch phrases like “Road Map to Peace” will not undo the decades of damage this conflict has inflicted upon both sides. Israel’s Prime Minster Olmert has lost considerable support in Israel following his futile military campaign against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. President Abbas comes to the table representing a government that was not democratically elected by the majority of Palestinians, and so by attending the meeting – all the while further alienating Hamas which essentially rules over Gaza – he may be doing himself more harm than good.

Meanwhile, since September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has been preoccupied with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the greater War on Terrorism, all the while neglecting this conflict which continues to be a source, if not a consistent grievance for much of the Middle East and the Muslim world. The War on Terrorism ultimately amounts to a war of ideas. To win the war of ideas, the U.S. must take genuine steps toward solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. That’s where Annapolis comes in.

British-Arab historian Albert Habib Hourani wrote shortly into the Suez Crisis of 1956 that “[He] who rules the Near East rules the world; and he who has interest in the world is bound to concern itself with the Near East.” With just over one year left on the clock, the administration, led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has put considerable time and energy in recent months into assuring both sides that it is committed to finding a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. How the Bush administration intends to help foster the creation of a Palestinian state when neither the United States nor Israel recognize Hamas – elected democratically by the Palestinian people in January 2006 – has yet to be determined.

Much of the talk leading up to this meeting has revolved around the idea of concessions. Such a compromise would include full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank with the exception of a few areas amounting to minor border tweaks. Control of the city of Jerusalem would be shared along ethnic lines with commitments from both sides to strive for peaceful coexistence.

A positive aspect to staging the Annapolis gathering at this particular time is that the stakes are high for all the major players involved. The Bush administration, desperate to establish any kind of credibility in the region, knows that the road to fixing the diplomatic disaster created in Iraq runs through Jerusalem. Also, many Israelis, tired of the same old tug-of-war that has dictated the conflict, are pressing for the old “land for peace” notion that has popped up repeatedly in various peace processes involving Israel. Abbas and his Fatah party understand that a failure to achieve a final settlement for the majority of Palestinians will undermine the credibility he is struggling to retain in the face of Hamas. More poignant is that the United States and Israel understand this too.

Ultimately it is not what comes out of the meeting in Annapolis that will be telling, but rather, what is to follow. If the meeting can jump start a series of talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then hope is not lost. However, it is unrealistic to think that anything will be accomplished so long as the parties involved continue to isolate Hamas.

Posted in Annapolis, Arab, Gaza, Hamas, Islam, Israel, Middle East, Middle East Times, Palestinians, Politics | 1 Comment »

Hamas butts heads with local media

Posted by vmsalama on May 15, 2006

Vivian Salama
Middle East Times

 

RAMALLAH —  At least seven Palestinian journalists have reported receiving alleged death threats for their scrutinizing coverage of the Hamas government. According to the Palestinian Journalists’ Union, the threats – received by telephone, e-mail and fax – were said to be signed by Hamas.In the embattled Palestinian territories, leeway for journalists to report has been impeded in the past. A number of reporters were reportedly beaten for reproachful coverage in the past, and in 2004, a journalist who ran a government-funded magazine was killed.Parliamentarians say that further development of the Palestinian owned-and-operated media is a priority as it serves as the mouthpiece for the ruling party and a barometer for the political struggle with Israel.

Under Palestinian law the president remains the highest authority over the public media. Fatah officials are concerned, however, that when President Mahmoud Abbas must go through parliament to pass any legislation related to the media, his minority faction will not be able to get a word in edgewise.“There will probably be a struggle,” admits Palestine’s former deputy prime minister and minister of information Nabil Shaath. “I think Hamas will try to take over the radio and television from the president. Even when the president tries to implement laws, these will be stopped by parliament if Hamas doesn’t like them.”“There is really a great deal of uncertainty thus far,” says Ziad Abu Amr, an independent MP from Gaza. “The media is a tool in the struggle. This is a national struggle and so we mustn’t air just any programming in haste.”The Hamas-run parliament is currently forced to convene in split sessions. Prime Minister Ismail Haniya had to address his Ramallah-based cabinet from Gaza via satellite uplink. Resembling a businessman more than militant leader, Haniya admits that a cut in aid will be detrimental to the prosperity of Palestine, but emphasizes that the new government will not bow to foreign pressure.The victory of Hamas, deemed a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel, instantly threatened Palestine’s flow of financial aid. Nearly $2 billion of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA’s) annual budget comes from overseas sources, the majority from the European Union (EU).In April the US agreed to provide some $245 million in response to the growing humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories – the money would be distributed through the United Nations and other non-Palestinian NGOs. Most surprising, however, was an undertaking by the EU to send $143 million in emergency aid to the PA.

A portion of the EU aid package to Palestine goes to funding its state-run media. A far cry from the often militant programming that defined Palestinian media in the days of the Intifada, today’s Palestinian media – made up of some 80 networks – risks being silenced more so by financial loses than by the bullets that continue to be exchanged with the state of Israel.

“From the first days of the intifada in October 2000, Palestinian TV canceled all regular programming,” recalls Itamar Marcus, director of the ringwing Israeli group Palestinian Media Watch. “It was a nonstop war atmosphere with one-two-three clips encouraging young kid to be shaheed [martyrs]. Since the elections, we’ve seen a rise in violent clips – clips with a little more hatred in the messages being broadcast.”

During the second intifada Palestinian media centers in Gaza and the West Bank often served as targets for the Israeli military. In February 2002, for example, Israeli soldiers left retaliatory explosives in the Ramallah-based Palestinian Broadcasting Company (PBC) headquarters following a deadly massacre on Jewish guests at a Bat Mitzvah in Hadera. Several floors of the building were destroyed and the PBC was blown off the air.

One week after the attack, PBC’s deputy coordinator Maher Al Rayyes was the first to broadcast a message during experimental transmissions.

“Sons of Arafat know very well how to start from nothing; no one will mute the Palestinian voice,” he said.

Palestinians would go a step further, substituting regular programming with public service announcements promoting the glories of martyrdom. Commercials called out to children to, in one instance, “drop your toys; pick up rocks”. Such messages would peter out by the end of 2004, though critics believe that they have the potential to resurrect with the succession of the Hamas-run government.

“By the time of the elections, Palestinian television was showing more variety – children’s programs, sports,” says Marcus. “Now so-called education programs dealing with ‘historical’ [issues] are bringing academics talking about why Israel has no right to the land, about the delegitimization of Israel.”

“We want to establish a framework that television is not just entertainment, but to educate the people,” says Ghazi Hamed, editor-in-chief for Hamas’s Al Resala (the Message) newspaper and spokesman for the Islamic resistance movement.

“It’s a cultural weapon. It talks of our morals, of our national struggle against Israel.”

Meanwhile, just as the PA under Fatah was plagued by corruption, rumors of wrong-doing behind the scenes of the state-run media have long cast a shadow of doubt over its integrity.With the chairs in parliament still warm from the former government, Hamas is already butting heads with the local media. This week, a number of Palestinian journalists complained of alleged death threats for reporting critical evaluations of the new government since it assumed power in March.Previously known more for its militant calls for the destruction of Israel, Hamas must urgently seek a balance between its hardliner political agenda and its social responsibility to the people of Palestine. Officials with the new government believe that it is by well-equipping Palestine’s media arsenal that it will gain an advantage in their struggle to create a nation.

“It is not to our advantage to broadcast messages against Israel or America,” notes Youssef Rezqa, Palestine’s new minister of information under Hamas. “We want to correct the international image of Hamas through the media. There is so much about Hamas that has been forgotten because of this political panic.”

Posted in Arab, Hamas, Middle East Times, Palestinians | Leave a Comment »

Investors hesitate to put money into Gaza Strip

Posted by vmsalama on February 2, 2006

Vivian Salama
Middle East Times

February 2, 2006

 RAMALLAH, West Bank —  In the shanty villages of the West Bank and Gaza, since     palestine-green-flag-gaza.jpg

 well before talk of elections or Hamas were making headlines, Palestinians have been faced with a crisis more threatening than war or fundamentalism. “I worry every day about how I am going to feed my four children,” says Ragad Al Shawey, a taxi driver in Ramallah. “It is so difficult to find a job – I am lucky, but some people here stay months and years without working. This is why Hamas won, I think, because they will give people some new opportunities.”

While community services provided by a number of domestic groups, Hamas included, are welcomed by the poorest of Palestinians, they do not meet the demand for daily basic needs, especially in Gaza.

The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated areas in the world with an estimated 25,400 persons per kilometer, according to the Israeli ministry of planning, and so the pressure is on to rebuild both the infrastructure and the lives of its residents.

“Gaza has its own unique environment, circumstances and players,” explains Khaled Dozdar, head of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information in Jerusalem. “Violence will be concentrated in Gaza, because there, everyone is armed now. That said, entrance into Gaza, politically or economically, is equally a challenge.”

Experts agree that foreign direct investment in the Gaza Strip is crucial for ensuring the revitalization of the territory. According to Palestine’s former minister of economy, Mazen Sonnoqrot, $1.5 billion to $2 billion is needed annually for the first three years following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last August.

Sonnoqrot added that the Palestinian Authority (PA) was willing to give complete ownership rights to foreign firms looking to invest, emphasizing its commitment to eliminate any red tape that might interfere in the process.

“Certainly, there are advantages of investing in Gaza,” explains Ashraf Gamal, a senior advisor to Egypt’s minister of investment. “Being the first into a virgin market, improving relations between the two peoples.”

While eager to assist in the economic rebuilding of Gaza, Egyptian officials are trepid to encourage their nationals to put money in the war-torn territory, given the skyrocketing costs.

In Washington last November, just ahead of the annual World Bank and International Monetary Fund conference, Egyptian minister of finance Youssef Boutros-Ghali said that Egypt faced a continuous challenge convincing investors to set their sights on Gaza.

“The costs are higher than in India,” Ghali said. “Anyone who wants to invest there faces this problem. We have difficulties to convince investors because the costs of business are too high and the market is too small.”

“I do not think that Egyptians will start to invest in Gaza seriously now,” says Gamal. “First, the Egyptian market now is very lucrative and promising. The lack of stability, both political and militarily in Gaza is another reason. Capital usually flies away from such high risks. So, despite the high emotions by many Egyptians, this will not be enough to invest a lot of money, maybe small investments either for trial purposes or for emotional reasons.”

Further, economists stress that progress – or lack thereof – in redeveloping some of the major passages for goods, services and people in Gaza is not encouraging to investors who will desire a safe and efficient portal in and out of the territory.

Prior to the withdrawal, this had been a major point of contention for Palestinian authorities who constantly condemned what they considered suppressive security from the Israelis preventing both laborers and goods from flowing freely between Egypt and Gaza, particularly following the closure of Ashdod Harbor and Yasser Arafat International Airport.

Now, Israel says that it is willing to invest millions of dollars to reinforce border stability and promote easy accessibility for developing industries on both sides.

However, with last week’s resignation of Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei and his administration, the lives of Gazans struggling to make ends-meet and rebuild their tiny territory will ultimately be put on hold for the time being.

“We are trying to find a solution for everyone, but most important are the Palestinians,” says an Egyptian delegate in Ramallah who requested anonymity. “As much as Egyptians can benefit from investing in Gaza, I don’t think we can even discuss this seriously until there is a safe passage in and out of Gaza, a free passage to the West Bank and the marina and airport is fully functional.”

“People in Gaza have to have something that they want to keep – that they will be afraid to lose,” adds Mohammed Assem Ibrahim, Egypt’s ambassador to Israel. “But they don’t want it to be destroyed again. In this regard, I will venture to say Israel has interests to do the same, not necessarily to invest directly, but to facilitate and encourage the international community to come and to take part.”

Posted in Arab, Business, Egypt, Elections, Israel, Middle East Times, Palestinians | 1 Comment »