Morsi's Death: How Cairo Controlled The Narrative

File screen shot of Morsi
File screen shot of Morsi
Egypt State TV
Mada Masr

CAIRO — If Egypt's daily newspapers are your only source of news, you might have woken up Tuesday to discover that a citizen by the name of Mohamed Morsi al-Ayat died yesterday during a court hearing on espionage charges.

In actuality, the seemingly unremarkable 67-year-old was the first democratically elected, civilian president of Egypt. A senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, he was elected in June 2012 and was ousted a year later by the military on the back of popular protests.

This information was irrelevant to the June 18 editions of Egypt's newspapers, which conspicuously dropped any reference to Morsi's presidency. The homogeneity was even starker: the majority of newspapers published the same 42-word news article to announce the death of the former president.

This 42-word story was sent to news editors by a government entity over the messaging application WhatsApp, a practice increasingly used by authorities to dictate press coverage, according to a source working in one of the newspapers. This came with instructions to place the brief account of Morsi's death on the inside pages as opposed to the front page, the source adds.

During a live broadcast on a TV channel owned by the General Intelligence Service, an anchor — reading from the teleprompter — ended her report on Morsi's death by saying, "Sent from a Samsung device," in an apparent gaffe suggesting television outlets also received scripted messages for their reports.

While newspapers were notified of Morsi's death about 10 minutes after he was declared dead upon arrival at the hospital, where he was transported after falling unconscious during a court session, most newspapers waited for official instructions on how to cover the event, according to the source.

The instructions were followed by the three state-owned papers: The 42-word news piece was featured on the third page of both Al-Akhbar and Al-Gomhoreya and on the fourth page in the "incidents' section of Al-Ahram's first edition. The story was moved to the centerpiece position of the page in the layout of Al-Ahram's second edition, when statements by the general prosecution office were added.

Private newspapers also abided by the instructions. Youm7, Al-Dostour and Al-Shorouk published the Whatsapp story on their third page. Al-Watan also published the piece on the third page, tacking on the statement from the general prosecutor's office.

Only one exception on the front page

The only exception to the uniform layout and report came from Al-Masry Al-Youm, which published the news on their front page and mentioned Morsi's title as a former president.

The state's interest in controlling the narrative around Morsi's death was made more apparent in a shrill press release issued by the State Information Service in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The body responsible for "regulating" foreign media coverage took umbrage to a tweet published by Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, in which she linked Morsi's death to the state's "failure to allow him adequate medical care, much less family visits."

The SIS, which is headed by Diaa Rashwan, head of the Journalists Syndicate, published a statement saying Whitson has sunk to a "new ethical low" and that her allegations of medical negligence were "nothing but unfounded lies." The statement pointed to an official report in 2017 saying Morsi "was in good health, and was only suffering from diabetes," despite numerous accounts by rights organizations that document the former president's health had deteriorated as a result of medical neglect in detention.

Morsi died Monday in court during his retrial in an espionage case. After addressing the court for several minutes, Morsi fell unconscious beside other defendants in the defendants' cage. He was immediately taken to a hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead on arrival.

According to Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsoud, one of Morsi's defense lawyers who spoke to Mada Masr by phone, Morsi asked the court to allow him to meet with his representation in his final address, arguing that his court-appointed lawyer did not have the requisite information to properly defend him. Being barred from legal consultation, the former president likened himself to a blind man who knew nothing of what was going on in his trial or in the media.

Morsi was buried Tuesday morning in a cemetery in Cairo's Madinet Nasr neighborhood where a number of other prominent Islamists are also interred. According to Abdel Maqsoud, all members of Morsi's immediate family were present at the burial. Ahmed Morsi, the former president's son, took to his Facebook page to say that authorities had prevented his family from burying Morsi in their family cemetery in the Sharqiya governorate.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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