x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Breath of new life for Egypt's newspapers

A round-up of Arabic language newspapers.

The Arab media has been dominated for the past 60 years by two main schools, Egypt and Lebanon. Due to deteriorating democratic practices in the former and civil war in the latter, both schools have lost ground to upcoming media outlets in the Gulf, namely Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, according to Abdelbari Atwan, the editor-in-chief of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds al Arabi.

But after the January 25 revolution, there are signs in Egypt that the country's media landscape is about to undergo a complete makeover, challenging the status quo in the region.

Formerly pro-regime, Al Ahram, one of Egypt's best-known newspapers, seems to have taken a new direction. Earlier this week, the newspaper took quite an unprecedented step in Arab journalism: it explicitly apologised to the Egyptian people in its main editorial for "its bias towards the corrupt regime", pledging to side from now on with legitimate causes and become "the conscience of the nation".

"We hope this kind of discourse is just the beginning in this pivotal Arab state," the editor observed. But media organisations that had supported Hosni Mubarak in the past cannot expect to be trusted overnight.

All those editors who acted more like make-up artists than journalists under the dissolved regime must be held accountable.

Women will lead effort to reclaim their rights

"'What is the ruling on women's … ?' Just fill in the blank with any sort of product or activity, and you'll have a question worth asking an honourable mufti or preacher. And guess what? You may one day hear someone ask about the ruling on women's breathing," wrote Turki al Dakhil in the comment pages of the Emirati newspaper Al Ittihad.

That blank after the word "women" should not exist, simply because women's rights and duties are identical to men's.

"Those who attempt to portray women and everything that has to do with them as a source of menace are plainly involved in the practice of discrimination," the writer said.

We are tired of those preachers who keep repeating that "Islam has granted women all their due rights" and soon afterwards veer off into a detailed list of cases that restrict a woman's freedom, he added.

"I am expecting Khaleeji women to lead their own renaissance. The UAE for instance has cut short the whole debate about women's sport and made the practice a reality."

Abu Dhabi is indeed getting ready to host the second edition of the GCC women's games in March. Five national teams will participate - UAE, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait - in seven disciplines.

All the hardliners who like to reduce women to "locker-rooms of pleasure" must feel shame.

So far, Egypt's army is acting responsibility

"Claims that the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces (SCEAF) is rejecting demands that were voiced loud and clear in Tahrir Square - or that it is already backtracking on pledges made after the former president Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down - do not hold water," wrote Mazen Hammad, a columnist with the opinion newspaper Al Watan.

So far, the SCEAF has suspended the provisions of the current constitution, dissolved both houses of parliament, delegated caretaker powers to Ahmed Shafik's government for a limited period and set a timeline for the transition to civilian rule in six months.

"The SCEAF needs time. Things do not happen overnight. And I don't think the council and its commander-in-chief, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, are eager to retain power indefinitely. Everything is moving ahead according to schedule," the columnist said.

On top of that, Egyptians have proved that they are capable and willing to flood Tahrir Square anytime if the situation calls for it.

The one million person march scheduled for next Friday must not be seen as a provocation to the military. "The message that the protesters want to convey is that there is no slacking or backing down on their demands: namely, the release of political prisoners and lifting the state of emergency law."

Emiratisation of media is a national priority

Studies tell us that the message of the media gains a great deal of legitimacy when it is formulated by journalists who operate from within the target culture, wrote Khaled al Khaja, the dean of the media and humanities school at Ajman University of Science and Technology, in the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan.

"The Emiratisation of the media sector must not be undertaken as a simple formality. Having a few presenters here and there, however influential they may be, is not enough. Emiratisation efforts must be part of a comprehensive framework that involves all aspects of media production, not just the parts that are visible to the audience."

There is indeed a five-year plan being implemented by the National Media Council which treats the media sector as a vital matter of national security.

This said, even Emiratising the media sector is not enough, for the message of the media itself must be Emiratised. The content has to address the UAE people and culture, the writer said.

Of course, seeking the expertise of foreign media professionals enriches the local media sector, and this cross-pollination still stands and is not going anywhere; but it must not be the basis of the national media landscape.


* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi