Totalitarianism in the Egyptian manner: Media under the instructions of the general

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On February 9, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi addressed the Egyptian media performance during the opening of the second phase of the military-owned Silo Foods factory in Sadat City. As a totalitarian tyrant, the general instructed the private or governmental media and addressed the exchange between Saudi writers and Egyptian journalists on Saudi-Egyptian relations, “I hope we take care. If there is something to say, the state will make a statement about it officially, and if we – as a State- don’t say this, then everything is good between our countries.”

Sisi added, “We shouldn’t follow some tendentious and biased websites that want to create strife between our brothers and us. This applies to our media, which we do not interfere with…” By “biased” sites, Sisi means a few independent areas besieged by security services and suffering from restrictions, which revealed information about a crisis between Saudi Arabia and Egypt recently, and which the president himself admitted the existence of that crisis in his last speech. At the beginning of his (official) rule of the country in August 2014, the president made clear that he was aspired by a sixties-type form of media, like the Nasser era, saying during the announcement of the inauguration of the Suez Canal axis, “The late leader Gamal Abdel Nasser was lucky because he was speaking and the media was with him.”

While Egypt is very low in terms of media freedom classification, in addition to being among the countries that imprison journalists the most during the past years, this came as part of a real plan to extend the regime’s control over the media. It is a plan based on two aspects. The first is besieging independent journalists by dismissing them from their job, imprisonment and other measures, including blocking independent websites or closing their headquarters and arresting those in them. This policy led to a decrease independent journalists, as a small number of them remain and can work from inside Egypt, even they were also not spared from blocking or storming their headquarters and their arrests or summoning them to the prosecutor’s office because of prohibited subjects they have discussed in their newspapers. The second part of the plan was to control the media – which was once private -. That journey began with the purchase of the intelligence company Eagle Capital, the Egyptian Media Group owned by businessman Ahmed Abu Hashima before the same company assigned the management of these platforms to Tamer Morsi and his company Synergy. Together they created United Media Services, which began a broader and more significant role in controlling the media, newspapers, and news websites, and now owns DMC channels, ON channels group, Al Hayat TV, and Al Nahar TV, in addition to a controlling stake in the CBC channel group that owns Extra News channel, in addition to Radio 9090 and several other press sites.

A media organisation was created with the help of intelligence services, and its influence is stronger than that of the government itself. For example, after disagreements between the two sides, the group removed the former Minister of Information, Osama Haikal, from his post! The media is managed according to the instructions of a group of graduates of the Presidential Youth Rehabilitation Program. It is an integrated training on the vision of security for the country and the people, which will appear on TV, and it is what is known as the term “national security”. The management of what is shown on the screen, beginning with the topics, the names of the guests, to the details of the announcer’s own words, is the responsibility of these people, and whoever deviates from the text finds himself outside the Egyptian media.

This media has become trapped between two parts: the restricted areas it should not reach and the losses of the United Organization under the administration of Tamer Morsi before his overthrow. This is why it must achieve gains at least to spend on its work. And between all of this, this media has to stop following up on real public affairs and issues that concern citizens and affect their lives, especially those issues which are related to the performance of the government and its policies, in addition to the excellent task of pursuing every voice that breaks out or was already dissident, by persecution, attacks, and even incentives. Finally, it has to convey the voice of the government and the president and prioritise official statements and speeches.

This combination must be rephrased within the “trend” template to attract the most significant number of views to achieve the required returns, making newspapers closer to bad quality newspapers interested in two issues. First, “who is on a trend today” to open live broadcasts, along with murders, treason, and these daily incidents. But things went in another direction as today’s trend is about poverty, amid the high prices and the results of the president’s and his government’s economic decisions. This is a paradox as crime rates increase and develop for the worse, and crimes become more gruesome and reach public slaughter in different governorates during the day. This is like the famous proverb: “the magic trick backfired on the magician.”

“Again, I say, we don’t want to talk about food too much on TV. It is not right.” This was a part of the president’s speech during the same event (February 9, 2023). He also directed his speech to the Minister of Interior: “You don’t need to say how many you arrested every day, just arrest them, that’s it.” This raises the question: every once in a while, the president will cut off the list of topics covered by the security services’ media. What will the state look like, in which citizens do not know anything about what is happening with their direct lives?