Foreign press comes under fire in run-up to Egypt’s election

The story of Younis is the most prominent among several cases that rocked Egypt late last month.

Zubeida Ibrahim Younis (photo credit: YOUTUBE)
Zubeida Ibrahim Younis
(photo credit: YOUTUBE)
It’s not every day that a woman who has supposedly been “forcibly disappeared” suddenly turns up on TV. But that’s what happened on Egypt’s ONTV Live last week.
Zubeida Ibrahim Younis, who the BBC had reported was “disappeared” on April 8, 2017, spoke at length to an interviewer, sitting with her husband and newborn baby. She’s married and living in Giza, near Cairo, she said.
Now her story is the heart of a campaign of anger directed at what activists say is “media warfare” directed against the Egyptian state by foreign press in the run-up to the election later this month.
The story of Younis is the most prominent among several cases that rocked Egypt late last month. BBC published “The Shadow over Egypt: Looking for the disappeared” on February 23. It was a major report claiming “opponents have been rounded up, many have been jailed tortured or disappeared.”
Younis’s story furnished one of the major items in the article, and its opener. “Neighbors told us that armed and masked men came in a police vehicle and took her away in a minibus,” the BBC reported. Within days Younis had been found and interviewed. Egyptian media claimed BBC had produced a “hoax.”
Twitter exploded with accusations. Raghdaa El Saeed, who has 90,000 followers, tweeted that “BBC lost all credibility after being exposed that it faked reports and stories against Egypt.” Hashtags with words like “BBC_Fake_News” became popular.
The day after ONTV ran its report, parliamentarians in Egypt praised efforts to “suspend media cooperation with BBC until further notice,” reported Egyptian online media outlet El-Balad.
The campaign in Egypt had not only targeted the BBC for its report but also BBC journalist Orla Guerin who authored the report.
The controversy comes as Egypt is in the middle of an election cycle. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was elected in 2014 with 96% of the vote, is seeking a second term. He is being challenged by Moussa Mostafa Moussa, a leader of the Ghad party, who is not expected to poll well, and authorities have been dealing with calls by some to boycott the election.
In January Sisi warned those calling for a boycott of elections. “Whoever wants to mess with Egypt and ruin it, has to do away with me first,” Reuters reported the president saying. Sisi has sought to court different sectors in the country in the run-up to the election. A Salafi preacher named Yasser Borhamy said he would support the president and called election boycotters “enemies of the state.” Sisi held a major rally for women supporters at Cairo Stadium on Friday.
Anger at foreign media portrayals of Egypt have been common in Cairo in the last month. Shorouk News reported on February 21 that the head of the State Information Service had claimed Egypt is “facing one of the most severe media campaigns carried out from abroad.”
According to the report, Egypt had 1,200 accredited foreign correspondents from 280 international media. Diaa Rashwan, the head of the State Information Service, said that while the government does not “aspire to change the political views” of the reporters that he wanted journalists to “aspire to play their professional roles in an acceptable and international recognizable profession.” He said the SIS was tasked with dealing with false information published in foreign media.
The controversy will likely not go away until the election. On Thursday, Vice News accused Egypt of a “social media crackdown” ahead of the vote.