Egypt

Egypt's Sermonizing Media Appoints Itself Morality Police

Coverage of social issues in Egypt is rarely even-handed. Instead, media outlets preach and bray, moralizing instead of taking a detached, just-the-facts approach.

Watching the news in Cairo
Watching the news in Cairo
Heba Afify

-OpEd-

CAIRO Videos of a curly-haired woman pushing and yelling at a police officer at Cairo airport took social media by storm earlier this month. Yasmine al-Narsh, who is from a wealthy and powerful family, has since been detained on charges of drug possession, for which many believe she was framed by police.

This story has several intriguing elements, such as the clash of power between authorities and the wealthy, not to mention speculation that fabricated charges are sometimes leveled against citizens. But many media outlets were more interested in investigating the woman's lifestyle after the outburst, given that she used language perceived as inappropriate for her social standing. Several websites published pictures from Narsh's Facebook account, showing her in revealing clothes and drinking at parties, labeling them as "shocking."

The way in which the media handled coverage in this case is not far removed from the general approach of various television hosts and prominent media personalities, who take it upon themselves to be agents of morality. They use their public platforms to preach to viewers about what's right and wrong, and at times feel obliged to set their guests straight when they don't approve of their choices. Here are examples of other incidents in which Egyptian media has sought to preach to the populace.

Tamer Amin cracks his knuckles at Inas al-Degheidy

Last month, Tamer Amin dedicated 10 minutes of his nightly talk show to respond to film director Inas al-Degheidy's statement expressing a belief that sex outside of marriage is not a sin.

Amin maintained a look of disgust throughout, cracking his knuckles and neck and pausing to exhale deeply in a show of suppressed rage. He opened the episode with, "As usual, on this show we talk about respect, ideals, what's permissible in religion and what's not, what's appropriate and what's not."

Amin said he respects people's personal freedoms and only criticizes them when they call for immoral acts in public. But he focused on Degheidy's personal life, showing a headshot of her and commenting that the team couldn't show a wider angle, and suggesting that she dresses too revealingly.

He also speculated that she addresses sex frequently in her work and media appearances because of a personal complex related to sex. He sarcastically asked the audience to pray for her, in the hope that God leads her towards the right path.

Amin finally asserted that Degheidy's statement is a crime and called on the authorities to punish her. "Why have we become so shameless and loose?" he lamented.

Mona Hala is interrogated by two talk show hosts

Pictures posted by young Egyptian actress Mona Hala, who lives in the U.S., on her personal Instagram account spurred a local media storm against her. The young actress couldn't have foreseen the amount of media interest that pictures she posted of herself in a bikini at the beach, or being intimate with her boyfriend, would garner.

In a visit to Egypt last month, Hala appeared on a talk show on the newly launched Ten Channel with hosts Ramy Radwan and Injy Anwar. The interview quickly turned into a moral court case.

It began when Anwar gave Hala a shocked look and turned her head away in dismay when the latter mentioned that she had a boyfriend.

Radwan and Anwar then argued back when Hala explained that she felt she was free to make personal choices, asking her why she's not married, whether her family advised her to change her behavior, and whether she worries that producers might not want to work with her anymore. They ended by asking her if she was planning to repeat the same mistakes.

To demonstrate that principles are relative, Hala explained that she's vegetarian and that, for her, killing animals to eat is a crime, but that she doesn't judge the majority of Egyptians who disagree with her. Anwar immediately dismissed her argument, claiming that vegetarianism is a luxury, while Egyptian traditions are not to be tampered with.

Mohamed Amin protects journalism from nightgowns

In his column in Al-Masry Al-Youm entitled "The newscast in a nightgown," published earlier this month, Mohamed Amin warns that satellite stations are no longer in harmony with "Egypt's character," because they permit female presenters to go on air in sleeveless shirts, which he claims are "similar to nightgowns."

"Is the competition about making female presenters take off their clothes?" he asks, adding, "One presenter uses flashy colors and is not pleasant to look at, either in terms of her clothes or her makeup, another lets her hair loose on her back and her face, another cuts it in a disgusting way. Who allowed them to appear on air like this? Every woman is free to wear what she wants, but not to appear like this as a presenter."

He concludes by pointing out that being a presenter should not be confused with modeling.

Riham Saeed kicks out the atheist

It was quite confusing when talk show host Riham Saeed invited an atheist onto her show last year and then proceeded to shout at her, ultimately kicking her out of the studio.

Instead of exploring the woman's views, Saeed dismissed her arguments. When the woman attempted to discuss her beliefs, including her conviction that the Quran was written by humans, Saeed repeatedly interrupted her angrily, warning her, "Stop saying this, or I will remove it from the edit."

When the guest said she believed that the Prophet Mohamed did not receive teachings from God and that he made them up, Saeed lost it. "You are the one making things up. You're speaking out of ignorance," she fumed.

When the guest threatened to walk out if her host insulted her once more, Saeed was quick to respond. "Get out. I wasted my time talking to a lunatic."

Basma Wahba is "shocked and disgusted" by transgender women

Talk show host Basma Wahba's judgment was focused on transgender women in an episode she described as "documenting a weird, bizarre and unnatural reality."

Wahba repeatedly asserted that an episode shot in Lebanon was focused on transgender women engaging in sex work, and not on those who she said need the operation for medical reasons. She congratulated herself on her professionalism. "I decided to neutralize my feelings and work professionally, despite the fact that I was shocked and disgusted by their gestures and their clothes and the way they looked. I was about to back out, but decided to continue working amid these scenes."

Wahba reinforced widely held societal beliefs that sex changes are the result of childhood trauma, randomly asking each of her guests whether they had been sexually assaulted as a child and whether they had a stable family life. She described one case as "comical," because the mother had approved of her child's decision to have a sex change.

Wahba insisted on alternating between addressing her transgender guests as male and female, and when one objected, she asked, "Am I offending your femininity?" The guest replied, "Yes, wouldn't you be offended?" to which Basma retorted, "Yes, but I was never a man."

At one point, she taunted a guest, Nicole (previously known as Nagy), referring to her by her previous name after she objected. "Well, you're a transsexual," she said. "What do you want them to think of you? And before you were Nicole you were Nagy, What's up Nagy? What's up?"

She considered her guests to have "given away their manhood" and lamented the loss of moral values in these decisions.

When all of Wahba's guests said that they had undergone sexual reassignment surgery after a lifetime of feeling they were in the wrong body, Wahba said, "They all say they felt disfigured before, but it's not true. They had the surgery to become more beautiful, as if we don't know it's artificial beauty."

Wahba said she couldn't understand why men would go for transgender women, and she expressed bewilderment at two of her guests, who were engaged to be married. "There are plenty of girls in this world. Why would he go for a transsexual who can't give him kids?" she asked.

In the end, science will have to reveal that they are "sick," she concluded, with a last piece of advice for men who fall for transgender women: "Look what recklessness can result in — you could end up with a man. It's all because we stopped listening to our parents. Stop being so careless about your future and listen to your parents. At least they won't choose a transsexual for you. Now you know the value of arranged marriages."

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January 15-16

  • Kazakhstan’s vicious circle of strongmen
  • COVID school chaos around the world
  • The truth behind why we lie to ourselves
  • … and much more!

🎲 BUT FIRST, A NEWS QUIZ!

What do you remember from the news this week?

1. What extreme measure did the Canadian province of Quebec take to encourage people to get vaccinated?

2. What caused a massive power outage in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires, leaving 700,000 in the dark for hours?

3. Norwegian soldiers were asked to return what piece of clothing at the end of their military service, so that future recruits can reuse them?

4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? ❤️ 🐖 🏥 👨 👍

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]

⬇️  STARTER

Djokovic, BoJo, Xi Jinping: rules & power in pandemic times

It was the phrase of the week down on Fleet Street, the historic HQ of the London press corps: “Bring your own booze” — BYOB — the instructions secretly sent around for the garden party held at 10 Downing Street in blatant violation of the first coronavirus lockdown, back in May 2020.The revelations of the event (the second such scandal to emerge in the past two months) has left British Prime Minister Boris Johnson barely holding on to his job after his admission to Parliament this week that he was there … and he was, well, quite sorry.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the former British empire, Australians are following how their public representatives will resolve the latest twist in pandemic policy that has captured the sporting world’s attention. Back and forth, like a tennis match. By the end of the week, Australia had reversed a Monday court decision, and canceled Novak Djokovic’s visa that would have allowed him to defend his Australian Open title. Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said the visa was revoked on the grounds that the presence of the unvaccinated Serbian star risks fueling anti-vax sentiment on home soil.

This is high-stakes political gamesmanship indeed. The unprecedented health crisis, and associated restrictions to limit the spread of the virus, requires our elected leaders to react to ever-changing information and a chain of lose-lose public policy choices. COVID continues to make the hard job of being a public representative that much harder. The best, we can agree, are doing the best they can. The worst, well … are the worst.

The British public has rightly taken offense to the idea that the very people charged with making and enforcing COVID rules, were also busy breaking them. In the Djokovic saga, skeptics of vaccination mandates — in Australia, Serbia and beyond — will have new ammunition if the world’s top tennis player is kicked out of both tournament and country.

The good news is that in our eternally flawed democracies, the public eventually (though not always!) finds out what goes wrong, and ultimately has the final say of who’s in charge. The same can’t be said everywhere, including the country that has been cited for having the most successful methods for controlling the virus and limiting death tolls. That is, of course, China … where it all began.

Yet the authoritarian regime's “Zero COVID policy” comes with deeper questions that largely mirror the downside of authoritarianism in general: ruthless enforcement, quelled dissent and the sometimes blind following of the masses. It’s hard to imagine that Xi Jinping has had any “BYOB parties” in the past two years. But if he did, you can be sure we’d never know.

— Jeff Israely


🎭  5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW

• Makar Sankranti 2022: The Hindu festival of Makar Sankranti is celebrated on January 14 and 15 in almost all parts of India and Nepal in a myriad of cultural forms. The festival marks the end of winter, the beginning of a new harvest season, and has ancient religious significance.

• Parthenon fragment returns to Greece: A marble fragment from the Parthenon temple has been returned to Athens from a museum in Sicily. Authorities hope the move will rekindle efforts to force the British Museum to send back ancient sculptures from Greece's most renowned ancient landmark.

• 400 years of Molière: France honors its seminal playwright on the 400th anniversary of his birth. His influence, comparable to that of Shakespeare in the anglophone world, is such that French is often referred to as the "language of Molière."

• Vinyl surpassed CDs sales for the first time in 30 years: For the first time since 1991, annual sales of vinyl records surpassed those of CDs in the U.S, according to MRC Data and Billboard, with an estimated 41.72 million vinyl records sold in 2021 (up 51.4% from 27.55 million in 2020). This means that vinyl is now the leading format for all album purchases in the U.S.

• Kendrick Lamar teams up with South Park creators: Grammy-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar and his former longtime manager Dave Free are working with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to produce a live-action comedy for Paramount Pictures.

📚😷 COVID SCHOOL CHAOS AROUND THE WORLD


The decisions to close schools have been some of the toughest choices made during the pandemic, with students suffering both academically and socially from online learning or no education at all. It’s universally acknowledged that children most succeed with in-person classes, but the question still remains whether the health risk to students and those around them is worth it.

The Omicron wave has only caused this debate to heighten, with teacher strikes in France, rising drop-out rates in Argentina and shortages of staff in South Africa. But there are signs of hope: Uganda has finally reopened schools, ending the world’s longest shutdown, and some American parents have decided to offer more personalized education with homeschooling.

Read the full story: COVID School Chaos, Snapshots From 10 Countries Around The World

🇰🇿  KAZAKHSTAN’S VICIOUS CIRCLE OF STRONGMEN


The real transition of power in Kazakhstan was supposed to have taken place in 2019. Former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had ruled the former Soviet Republic with an iron first since its independence in 1991, finally stepped aside to allow his successor, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, to take power.

However, Nazarbayev retained enormous influence behind the scenes. The real transfer of power is in fact happening only now, following large-scale unrest and protests around the country. Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev promises a new way of doing things, but his methods are strikingly similar to his predecessor. For Russian daily Kommersant, Vladimir Soloviev and Alexander Konstantinov ponder why strongmen are able to keep power in Kazakhstan — but can't ensure its peaceful transfer.

Read the full story: Kazakhstan, When One Strongman Replaces Another

🐟 DENMARK, A SMALL FISH IN THE SALMON INDUSTRY’S BIG POND


Things are getting fishy over Nordic fishing regulations, as the Danish government has banned further growth in sea-based fish farming, claiming the country had reached the limit without endangering the environment. In Danish newspaper Politiken, marine biologist Johan Wedel Nielsen explained why Demark’s policy has given Norway a de facto monopoly on the lucrative salmon industry. This is particularly significant as changing diet habits are increasing demand for the nutritious pink fish, and Norway has taken advantage, accounting for about half of the world’s salmon production.

Nielsen argues that environmental concerns aren’t warranted, as fish have an inherently small impact on the environment. Denmark has the potential to establish 150 salmonid (a family of fish including salmon and trout) farms in the Baltic Sea, producing some 500,000 tons of trout per year with a value of 2.7 billion euros and employing tens of thousands. But the Danish government has so far given no indication of allowing any addition to Denmark’s 19 existing farms.

Read the full story: Norwegian Salmon v. Danish Trout: Lessons On Ecology And Economics

💡  BRIGHT IDEA

French start-up Airxôm has unveiled its unique respiratory device at Las Vegas’ CES tech event. Their plastic and silicon face mask is the first capable of destroying particles of all sizes and has inbuilt decontamination properties, hence protecting against pollution, bacteria and viruses including COVID-19. Oh and, as a bonus, it also prevents your glasses from fogging.

#️⃣ TRENDING


Boris Johnson memes flooded social networks this week, mocking the UK’s prime minister's excuse for attending what was quite obviously a party at the height of the pandemic: “I believed implicitly that this was a work event.” The quote was shared alongside a toe-curlingly bad 2013 video of BoJo dancing to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” which resurfaced on Instagram, while Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair puts its own spin on the lame explanation.

🤦‍♀️🛴🤦‍♂️ FACEPALM OF THE WEEK


A Belgian national was intercepted by the French police while riding his e-scooter on a highway in eastern France. The confused trottinette user said it was his first time riding in France, and that he’d failed to select the “no toll roads” option on his GPS.

👉   OTHERWISE ...

Climate, COVID, Costa Concordia: why humans are wired for denial

This past week marked 10 years since the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Tuscany. Writing in Italian daily La Stampa, Guido Maria Brera sees connections between the way passengers and crew reacted in the minutes and hours after the ship ran aground to other calamities we face that may seem to be moving more slowly:

In 2012, the same year the Costa Concordia cruise ship sank off of Giglio Island, David Quammen published his book Spillover, which predicted that somewhere in Asia a virus would be attacking the human respiratory tract on its way to becoming a global pandemic. And so it was. This terrible shipwreck, which the world watched in slow-motion exactly ten years ago on January 13, 2012, now appears to us — just like the COVID-19 pandemic, like the trailer of a horror film we are now all living for real.

Millions dead, ten of millions sick, and the psychological collapse of entire generations, the youngest and most defenseless. In the meantime, climate change is spiraling out of control: sea levels are rising, land is drying out, ice caps are melting, not to mention hurricanes, storms, floods, droughts, famines, wars, migration.

The correlation between climate change and the pandemic has been demonstrated countless times by scientists. Soaring temperatures, intensive livestock farming, deforestation and the devastation of the natural animal kingdoms have led to zoonosis: Species-hopping, in which a bacterium or virus escapes from its host and spreads to another, creating a chain reaction with devastating results.

Finding the correlation between the sinking of the Costa Concordia and the current situation is more a subtle exercise: by looking at the decisions we made to respond to the disaster — or rather, how we failed to take action.

"The Concordia has become a maze of choices in the dark, deciding whether to open a door or not, whether to move or stay put, can be the difference between life and death,” Pablo Trincia said recently in his podcast “Il Dito di Dio.” (The Finger of God). A cruise ship with more than 4,000 people, including passengers, crew and ship personnel, is a microcosm in itself: it contains everything. And indeed, in these very long and slow moments, when time seems suspended, a tragedy was in the making.

There were reported many notable demonstrations of solidarity, as strangers helped each other. There were also those who fled as quickly as possible, seeking their personal safety at the expense of others. There were those who, between the ship crashing into the rocks and the dropping of the first lifeboats, seemed not to care.

If it is true that there are lessons to learn even from the worst tragedies, then we must make sure that the terrible wreckage of this small world can help us understand and identify the rocks we are heading towards today: the climate crisis and the pandemic. Time is the discriminating factor, as always. Director Adam McKay explains it well in his movie Don't Look Up, showing us how people react as they face slow-motioned tragedies.

In this scenario, the slowness of the film is the central narrative choice: there is initially plenty of time before the comet would hit the earth, ineluctably ending human life, and there remains plenty of time to live and love and enjoy.

Hence, we also have time to expect that the asteroid is still far away, to imagine that it will deviate from its course. We even have time to forget that the impact is inevitable, and to continue to live as if nothing is happening.

This is the most common reaction to pandemics and environmental disasters. Turn your head away, pretend you don't see, don't look up.

Denial is the work of politicians incapable of questioning the only development model they know, of the billionaires who built bunkers to survive in New Zealand, (where it seems that the crisis will have less impact), of the Silicon Valley gurus have already bought coolers to preserve their bodies for eternity by cryogenics.

On the Costa Concordia, refusal to look the disaster in the eye wasn’t just the work of those who were supposed to give the alert and manage the evacuation: we are all in the same boat when it comes to denial. When a disaster happens in slow motion, it feels as though there is still too much time to bother rushing for solutions now.

We tend to think about the time we have left, about the costs and benefits to our tiny lives, without even realizing that never has the need for salvation been more collective.

Ten years ago, as today, we convinced ourselves that we are absolved of responsibility precisely because we know that everyone shares the same responsibility.

⏩  LOOKING AHEAD

• Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov set next week as the ultimatum for a confirmation that NATO will neither expand nor deploy forces to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations.

• Next Sunday will mark two years since the World Health Organization declared during an emergency meeting that COVID-19 was a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

• On Tuesday, a 3,400-foot-wide asteroid will make a safe flyby of Earth, whooshing by our planet at the equivalent of five Earth-Moon distances (still pretty close from a cosmic point of view).

• Monday is Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day, so you still have a few more hours to decide whether that gym membership really was a good idea.

News quiz answers:

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