The success of Egyptian opposition TV channels reflects the failure of official media

“The Failure” was the broad headline that describes the state-sponsored media machine in Egypt over the past few days. The regime acknowledged the weakness of the media supporting it and sought closing or restricting the opposition media abroad.

Perhaps the statement of Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, when he said that “Egypt needs a powerful media machine that can reach and be influential to others, and this needs effort and capabilities,” is the best proof of that failure. “The Muslim Brotherhood has a powerful media machine targeting stability in Egypt, and it is not in its interest to show the positives,” said Shoukry. Shoukry’s statement is an official recognition of the local media’s failure to reach the people and convince the Egyptians of “the government’s achievements,” despite the considerable money that has been spent on the local press.

Shoukry’s statement is not the first in the context of state officials’ criticism of the local media’s performance. It was preceded by the Minister of Information himself, Osama Heikal, with statements that brought him a sharp attack from media professionals close to the authority. At the time, Heikal said, “those under 35 years, who represent about 60 per cent or 65 per cent of the society, do not read newspapers or watch television,” calling for “thinking about the lifestyle of these groups.”

Immediately after the minister published his post on his Facebook page, announcers and journalists working for newspapers and satellite channels owned by the regime or close to it launched a sharp attack on him. They considered that he was repeating the “enemies’ media” statements about the opposition Egyptian satellite channels abroad. They also accused him of providing “fertile material to undermine the reputation of the Egyptian media” until it came to describing newspapers owned by the intelligence service as a tool in the MB’s hands.

The Minister of Information was not the highest official in the Egyptian regime criticising the regime’s media. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi himself had previously criticised the media through statements on separate occasions, calling on Egyptian media professionals to pay attention to people’s concerns. Al-Sisi showed an early interest in possessing what he called “media arms,” as he spoke about this since he was defence minister under Mohamed Morsi before he led a military coup in mid-2013, disrupting the constitution and dismissing the elected president.

Despite these official criticisms of the failure to manage the local media, companies owned by security services or personalities close to the authority continue to acquire written and local visual media. Mehwer TV channel (especially) and Al-Masry Al-Youm daily are the latest media outlets acquired by organs of the regime. This coincided with the Turkish authorities’ request that the Egyptian opposition channels broadcasting from Turkey avoid offending Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and his government. This step came after a media calm on the Egyptian side and at his request in preparation for a dialogue between the two countries to restore relations to what they were before the coup that Al-Sisi led in 2013.

Observers believe that the Egyptian request from Turkey to put pressure on opposition channels indicates the power of these channels to influence the Egyptian interior, expose human rights violations, or expose corruption and the waste of public money that the authorities implement. Experts say that, since its launch about seven years ago, the Egyptian opposition channels abroad have played an important and influential role in the conflict with the ruling regime and have been a window to convey opponents’ voices to the Egyptian people and abroad. These channels have become the only window through which the Egyptian citizen is informed of facts, information, and sometimes “scandals that the regime’s internal media do not dare to publish.”

In addition to the news side, Egyptian opposition channels showed many artworks, TV series, films, artistic sketches, and plays, which were viewed by many people. In 2014, Al Sharq, Mekamelin, and Egypt Now (later on, Watan) TV channels were launched in Turkey.

Some TV shows produced by the Egyptian opposition TV channels appear among the most watched in the Middle East on Facebook or YouTube live broadcasts. Previous reports issued by the Ipsos Marketing Research Company confirm that they enjoy high viewing rates, indicating that Mekamelin and Al Sharq TV channels are the most popular channels in Egypt.

The Egyptian regime’s anger with the opposition TV channels led Al-Sisi to launch severe threats in mid-2018 to hold foreign channels accountable and anyone who appears on its screen, accusing them of deceiving the Egyptians, laughing at them, and killing their hopes, as he put it. Some supporters of the regime admitted on more than one occasion that the opposition media outperformed the authorities’ media.

The regime began years ago to prosecute Egyptian dissenting media professionals abroad, as it issued court rulings against them on charges including “treason and spying against the homeland,” “incitement against state institutions,” and “calling for the overthrow of the regime.” It also placed them on terrorist entities’ lists, watch and access lists, and harassed their families in Egypt, which confirms that the opposition satellite channels’ discourse constituted an unprecedented inconvenience to the regime, according to observers.

Journalist Selim Azouz considered what is currently happening with an Egyptian admission of failure in front of the opposition satellite channels that broadcast from abroad, indicating that despite all the media arsenal that Al-Sisi possesses, they want a media window. In turn, broadcasters of the Egyptian opposition satellite channels abroad received the Minister of Foreign Affairs’ statement with more attention. They considered it an admission of wasting considerable funds on a failed media. In contrast, the regime’s media is attacking it as the MB media. However, these channels are managed with minimal means.