13 March 2011
Any observer of the Egyptian media coverage of the sectarian violence which occurred last week in Etfeeh and Muqattam is bound to realise that not much has changed in Egypt in the wake of the 25 January revolution.
Apart from the concise sentence on the digital news strip of the State-owned Nile News TV channel the media completely overlooked the incident during the first days. “Hundreds of Copts hold a sit-in in front of the National Radio and Television building on the Nile Corniche in Maspero to protest the demolition of a church in Etfeeh”, the sentence read. A couple of days later it broadcast an item that read: “The Ministry of Defense decides to take on the cost of building the church.”
It took a major swelling in the number of protestors and the blocking of major Cairo trafficways for the media to acknowledge the incident.
The talk show Al-Hayat al-Youm (Life today) screened daily on the privately-owned al-Hayat satellite channel, harshly denounced the Coptic protests. The anchoress Lubna al-Assal shouted: “What do they (the Copts) want now that the Armed Forces have promised to rebuild the church?”
Al-Ashira Massa’an (10 o’clock) on Dream channel was not much different. It aired a voice call by one of Sole’s elders who also presented himself as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He accused the Sole church of practicing witchcraft, and said they found ‘obscene’ items when they broke into the church, including women’s lingerie and bottles of alcoholic drinks. The talk show did not bother to ask any Coptic figure to comment or explain such preposterous claims. This prompted Father Abdel-Massih Basseet, a Coptic Orthodox priest, to appear on a number of other TV channels where he explained what happened in Sole and how the Army looked on as the church was being torched and demolished, which provoked the anger of the Copts. He refuted the falsities propagated against the Church, and explained that it is impossible for the Church to practice witchcraft since it is sinful in Christianity, that garments—not ‘lingerie’—may possibly be among the items manufactured by micro-credit projects and sold at discount mini-outlets to the congregation, and that wine is used by churches in Holy Communion. Tacit, false allegations that churches hold orgies are a sure way to propagate hatred against Christians.
Same old story
Nile Life’s Min Qalb Misr (From the heart of Egypt), anchored by Lamis al-Hadidi, was among the few shows which offered credible, balanced coverage. When Helwan Governor Qadri Abu-Hussein declared a plot of land had been allocated outside Sole to build a new church instead of the one which had been demolished and in place of which a mosque would be built, Hadidi answered with scathing criticism.
Several TV channels claimed no Copts had been forced to leave Sole, but it was later announced by the ruling Military Council that the Coptic families who had left the village returned home—all but three families.
The writer Bilal Fadl, was hosted by Yusry Fouda in Akher Kalam (The last word) on the privately-owned OnTV, and blamed the sectarian violence on the ‘counter revolution’ perpetrated by former State Security officials and remnants of the National Democratic Party.
It has become common practice now to place any negative behaviour to the account of the ‘old regime. Fadl’s theory was so well received by the media and in the street, and was later endorsed by other media and press outlets. Many in Egypt fear that such allegations merely serve to divert attention from the real culprits and the actual underlying causes of sectarianism. If anything, it appears that not much has changed about dealing with the problem, only now there is a new pretext to explain it off.