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


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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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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