Sisi and his domination of media production: A long story of failure and corruption

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After weeks of whispering and gossip, United Media Services, the media arm of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s regime, announced on Saturday that its board of directors will be changed and that Egyptian media will be rearranged.

Al-Mutahidah, United Media Services, is not just an ordinary media company; it is an octopus whose tentacles extend into various fields of Egyptian media and drama, as it controls dozens of channels, newspapers and magazines, and a quasi-monopoly of dramatic production in Egypt. Furthermore, it belongs to the General Intelligence Service, Egypt’s most powerful sovereign service under President Sisi. The leaks that accompanied the new changes revealed suspicions of corruption and the waste of tens of millions of pounds on failed dramas, amid a lack of transparency and obscuring the features of the crisis to protect officials from being questioned.

The demise of Tamer Morsi’s star

Days before the start of the Ramadan 2021 drama season, producer Tamer Morsi, president of the United Media Services Company, was experimenting with confidence after he had fully controlled the drama production in Egypt and was preparing for another dramatic season under his auspices and supervision. A sudden event disturbed his condition, which made him enter the season wounded and out of confidence; a new star appeared on the scene, contesting his status with the Egyptian regime – advertisement man Muhammad Al-Saadi .

Al-Saadi rose as a fierce competitor to Morsi in production, since the great success of his company Media Hub – Saadi Jawhar in organising the ceremony for the transfer of royal mummies to the National Museum of Civilisation on 3 April, which was a ceremony that Sisi and the General Intelligence Service were highly satisfied with.

Coincidence played a big role in sparking competition between the two men. In conjunction with Al-Saadi’s great success, Morsi faced severe criticism on social media because of the technical weakness of the historical series King Ahmose, produced by Al-Mutahidah. This criticism reached the General Intelligence Service and prompted its leaders to blame Morsi for the promo and its poor production, which forced the latter to stop the series. Before those incidents, there was mutual enmity and jealousy between the two men, for Al-Saadi had a position with the official authorities in the state, as he oversaw producing and organising presidential events, government campaigns, advertisements and any non-dramatic activity, while Morsi was the reliable man of the General Intelligence Service, to manage the media and drama productions.

The conflict between the two men has reached to a quasi-agreement that the two will share the market in Egypt, with the Media Hub monopolising the advertising market, and obtaining a small percentage of the dramatic production map, in exchange for the continuation of Al-Mutahidah ​​in dramatic and media production, managing channels, newspapers and other arms. Indeed, Muhammad Al-Saadi and his partner, Ihab Gohar, acquired through the Media Hub the entire advertising market, and they produced their first dramatic work, Newton’s Game, which was scheduled to be shown in Ramadan the season before last, as the beginning of the division between them, but it was postponed to the current season.

The series achieved great public success in addition to organising a large amount of propaganda, especially on social media, which made it seem like the series that saves the weak dramatic season, which gave Al-Saadi a great advance in his race with Morsi, and caused great embarrassment for the latter. Morsi received another blow after the end of the drama season, which is the incident of director Mohamed Sami, and a statement from Al-Mutahidah announcing the suspension of dealing with him after the great failure of the series Descent of Strangers written and directed by Sami, who was considered the spearhead of the company in the competition and its first bet in the season.

There were major disagreements backstage between Sami and the action hero Amir Karara, beside anger at Sami’s way of imposing his wife Mai Omar, his sister Reem and his friends on the two favourite stars of the state, Ahmed El-Sakka and Amir Karara, but all of that would have passed if Mohammed Al-Saadi hadn’t been present on the scene. There were rumors spreading about the Intelligence Service’s anger at the budget of The Seed of Strangers, which reached EGP 95 million. Muhammad Sami alone was paid EGP 16 million as an author and director and from the content of the series, especially the scenes that suggested the absence of the state and the police from the events in the series, which were disproportionate to the same as what the company offers in the series Choice 2, which glorifies the police and the state.

Driven by fear of losing favour with the sovereign, Morsi issued a firm statement announcing the cessation of UMS’ dealings with Sami, with the aim of repudiating the director and the failure of the series in front of the leaders, so as not to continue his losses in front of Saadi. Instead of Morsi’s movements contributing to the aggravation of the crisis, they were the reasons for fueling it, as the Sami incident was the main reason for opening an internal investigation and for accountability for Tamer Morsi’s men inside UMS, while fingers were pointed at Morsi as the primary person responsible for the crisis.

These hot conflicts resulted in many speculations and rumours about the overthrow of Morsi and his men, and even rumours about the arrest of several company workers, headed by Hussam Shawky, the production supervisor, and charges of wasting public money and administrative corruption were brought against him. Names of new leaders of the company were circulated, which Al-Mutahidah quickly denied, announcing that it had held a press conference to present its achievements, explain its plan for the coming period, and respond to the rumours raised about it.

New leaderships under suspicion

Reluctantly, Al-Mutahidah confirmed in its press conference, which was held last Saturday afternoon, that there is a crisis within it, as it announced the restructuring of its board of directors and the removal of Morsi from his presidency in favour of the former assistant governor of the Central Bank and the former CEO of the Arab African Bank Hassan Abdullah. The General Intelligence did not want Morsi’s exit to be more offensive and gossip-provoking than it already had been, so it decided to keep him as a member of the board of directors of Al-Mutahidah, and he was joined as expected by the new star, Muhammad Al-Saadi. Amr El-Feki, the former Minister of Investment, Ashraf Salman, and the economist, Mohamed Samir, also joined the board membership.

The choice of Abdullah as head of the United Media Services raised many question marks, due to what was known about him in terms of conflicts with the governor of the Central Bank, Tariq Amer, and the suspicions that Amer had previously raised against him, when Amer decided in May 2019 to remove Abdullah from his position as his first deputy in the Central Bank on the pretext of financial corruption, appropriation of public money, granting major customers credit facilities amounting to EGP 9.2 billion, and using part of it to repay facilities and loans granted to them by the same bank amounting to EGP 2.8 billion, and other banks worth EGP 191 million.

The newspapers at the time quoted a report issued by the Inspection and Supervision Sector in the Central Bank, that Abdullah granted company facilities contrary to the decisions of their establishment and the nature of their activities, as he did not follow up on the use of loans and facilities for some customers, besides he obtained with senior officials in the bank money unlawfully, which reached $5.2 million in 2018 alone.

He also made amendments to the workers’ fund regulation to disburse his dues in dollars instead of the pound without submitting the amendments to the board of directors, according to which he disbursed $19.3 million, an increase of $11 million, bringing the total of the money he received, unduly, to $24.5 million, equivalent to more than EGP 411 million, but these charges were not followed by any investigations or judicial accountability for Abdullah after that.