Voices from the Arab Press: The Lessons we can Learn from Video Journalism

On Monday morning, while attending a conference in Cairo, I overheard a group of buffet workers arguing over what caused the horrific accident in front of the Nile Corniche Oncology Institute.

August 14, 2019 16:06
Voices from the Arab Press: The Lessons we can Learn from Video Journalism

A POLICE officer atop a camel talks to workers at the Giza pyramids, south of Cairo.. (photo credit: ASMAA WAGUIH/REUTERS)

Al-Shorouq, Egypt, August 9
On Monday morning, while attending a conference at a hotel in Cairo, I overheard a group of buffet workers arguing over what caused the horrific accident in front of the Nile Corniche Oncology Institute, which killed 19 people and wounded 30 others. The discussion was about whether the car explosion was caused by a leaking fuel tank in one of the vehicles, by an explosive device planted on site, or by a suicide attack. One of the workers settled the debate by telling his friends that he saw a YouTube video depicting part of the incident, and that he is therefore certain the explosion was caused by a terror attack. Mind you, this had all taken place at a time when the official investigation conducted by the Egyptian police pointed to an unfortunate collision between a group of cars that had nothing to do with explosives.
So, what can we learn from this story? The issue is simply that in our day and age, photos and videos reach people in milliseconds. There is an entire unofficial media apparatus out there that reaches people instantaneously and claims to deliver the truth. This happens even while various government agencies have still not discovered the truth themselves, let alone officially announced it to the public.
The buffet workers I am talking about are not an exception. They represent a large swath of the Egyptian public. They are not highly educated, they do not read newspapers, and they don’t care much for politics. They are mostly interested in which soccer team won the match tonight: Ahli and Zamalek? At the international level, they are more concerned about Liverpool and Mohamed Salah than with the current state of global affairs.
The real problem is that video journalism – the YouTube revolution – and the proliferation of mobile phones have turned youths into professional journalists. Any citizen riding on a bus, or even walking down the street, can open the camera of his very ordinary mobile phone and film an event happening in front of him. This will make it to Facebook, Twitter or YouTube within minutes. This simple citizen can then find himself with a new, treasured possession if the pictures happen to capture an important event. A few days ago, we saw people photographing the gunman who opened fired indiscriminately at the Ahmed Helmy railway station. This footage is what helped the police conduct its investigation. And the same is true, by the way, for the most recent attacks in the pyramids at Giza.
Sometimes, the videos that we view as ordinary can act as decisive factors that help unravel a mystery or a crime, thanks to the involvement of millions of ordinary citizens. Such videos are now the real press and media in most parts of the world. Indeed, the total circulation of all Egyptian daily newspapers does not exceed 300,000 copies! One way for the Egyptian press to emerge from its current crisis is to focus on this new genre. Only then will it be able to compete with the phenomenon of fake news and spread truthful reports to the public. –Emad Addin Hussein

Al-Etihad, UAE, August 9
To an outside observer of Tunisian politics, the country’s political environment resembles an old film. Some might argue that it is a comedy, others might view it as a horror film, and still some others might view it as a captivating drama. Regardless, the fact remains that the current political events in Tunis carry with them deep suspense and a great degree of confusion about what is going to happen.
The premature presidential elections, which will be held on September 15, will be a difficult test for Tunisians. There are several parties vying for the presidency in the post-Essebsi era. From the outset, we have to realize that there are candidates who have a massive base of voters, who are likely to win the race.
The first one is Nabil Al-Qarawi, the media and advertising mogul, who is also the chairman of the private television station “Nesma.”
Then there is Abeer Moussa, the leader of the Free Constitutional Party (FPP), who also commands a large constituency, especially among older Tunisians deeply critical of the 2011 Arab Spring revolution and the resulting Qatari-Turkish Muslim Brotherhood alliance.
There is also Moncef Marzouki, the former president, who enjoys the support from the revolutionaries and is politically linked to the Brotherhood axis.
The fourth candidate, who oversees a large electoral bloc, is Hama Hammami, leader of the Labor Party and a spokesman for the Popular Front Coalition.
Finally, we come to Ennahdha Party, which has 100,000 active members and about 400,000 supporters, most of whom are affiliated with the movement’s national and regional chapters. What we have witnessed there is an unprecedented coup against the party’s Shura Council, which sought to nominate the Ennahdha Party’s founder, Rached Ghannouchi, but ended up nominating Abdelfattah Mourou as its candidate.
Finally, yet another candidate up for election is Abdelkrim Zoubidi, the minister of national defense, who is supported by the Nidaa Tounes Movement, which believes that a more traditional candidate with experience in government is what Tunisia needs.
The upcoming presidential race will also have an impact on the parliamentary elections, which are set to take place in October. Some presidential candidates will undoubtedly use the election campaigns to enhance their electoral chances in a few months. All of this just adds more confusion into the Tunisian political scene. To those observers who think that the events in Tunisia resemble a movie, it is clear that there are several lead characters at the forefront of the film. The question is: Who will progress to become the most prominent star? –Habib al-Aswad

Asharq al-Awsat, London, August 10
There are no beautiful wars in the world – all are ugly. There are, however, wars of necessity, and Yemen is one of them. The militants there are directly on the Saudi border, equipped with ballistic missiles that can reach cities and towns even beyond Riyadh.
But why compare the wars in Yemen and Afghanistan? While the two conflicts have different historical roots and political motives, they share a similar geography, circumstances and ongoing challenges. Is the war in Yemen a prolonged one? Yes, but wars have no age limit. The United States launched the war in Afghanistan in 2001, and has been fighting there ever since.
Saudi Arabia has been in Yemen since 2015. Insurgents in both countries – the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Houthis in Yemen – are similar, with the exception that one consists of Sunni extremists and the other of Shi’ite extremists.
The two countries are also similar in terms of geography, as they both have rugged, mountainous terrains. The lives of both peoples are difficult, most mired in poverty, a situation that has made fighting in both countries difficult for soldiers.
What about alternative options for the two wars? Limited. Withdrawing from Afghanistan would lead to a takeover by the Taliban. But for the US, as a superpower located 11,000 kilometers from Afghanistan, a withdrawal would be less damaging. Withdrawing from Yemen would be even worse for Riyadh, because it would allow Iran to establish a base on Saudi Arabia’s southern border that would pose a direct threat while destroying the Yemeni republic.
The US-led coalition in Afghanistan has 16,000 troops, twice the number of Saudi forces in Yemen. The cost of the war in Afghanistan is estimated at $45 billion, four times more expensive than in Yemen. And the war in Afghanistan has lasted 18 years, compared to four in Yemen. Politically, Washington has engaged in rounds of direct and indirect talks with the Taliban but has not yet reached an acceptable solution.
Diplomacy in the Yemeni war, too, has not had the desired effect, although the door is still open to the Houthis to participate in a national government. But the Houthis are even more intransigent than the Taliban, since they follow the orders of the Iranian regime, which retains decision-making power. The war in Yemen is not an exceptional case. It is, like all wars, a result of internal politics and external intervention. These politics must be discussed when talking about the outbreak, continuation or call for withdrawal from this war. –Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed

Al-Arab, London, August 10
The US-China rivalry has recently entered a new strategic phase, following Beijing’s aggressive reaction to Washington’s plan to deploy medium-range missiles to the Asia-Pacific region, in addition to the trade war aggravated by the US designation of China as a currency manipulator. But the tensions between the two powers extend well beyond these issues. The rivalry is now extending into other political issues, ranging from Iran to Kashmir, from Hong Kong to the Korean Peninsula.
Clearly, the countries have somewhat diametric worldviews and ideological perspectives, including as pertains to the regulation of international markets and the reshaping of the international political system. Moreover, the world is now plagued by political instability, as arms races between major and regional powers have once again come to the fore, without any control mechanisms to prevent nuclear proliferation.
Last week, the United States formally withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Missile Treaty, which it signed with Russia in 1987, signaling the return to a Cold War-style scenario. But Washington is demanding that negotiations for a renewed treaty include both Moscow and Beijing, revealing that this new Cold War is viewed as one being waged not only against Moscow, but also Beijing. With former US president Barack Obama’s announcement in 2011 that the US is shifting its focus to the Asia-Pacific region, the Asian continent has become a battleground of sorts due to its wealth, resources and sensitive sites. This region is teetering on the edge of a delicate balance between economic dependence of China and the security provided by the United States to its allies.
Concern is mounting as there have been no serious breakthroughs in the Korean crisis; the widespread protests taking place in Hong Kong against the “Chinese authoritarian model”; frictions in the South China Sea; the future of Taiwan; India’s moves in Kashmir; and the intensification of the dispute over the Iran nuclear agreement. China recently did not hesitate to invoke the famous Cuban missile crisis, an implicit warning to the White House. It is no exaggeration to say that Beijing will not facilitate a settlement with Pyongyang if it does not get anything in return on Taiwan and the South China Sea. Similarly, China’s ongoing support of Iran, including its oil imports from the country, cannot be separated from the sudden escalation of tensions in Kashmir and the growing animosity between India and Pakistan.
In the past, US strategic theorist Zbigniew Brzezinski advised that Washington accept topical partnerships with Russia and China, a flexibility that would allow it to maintain its status as the world’s lone superpower. But the issues caused by globalization cast doubt on this positive scenario. Indeed, it seems more plausible that the restructuring of the world order will continue through proxy wars, economic warfare and digital disputes. –Khattar Abou Diab

Media Line.

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