What lays behind the Anglo-American press's failure to report on the chaos in Egypt? While there have been bright spots here and there in the coverage, the mainstream press appears to have dropped the ball, giving a stilted view of the "people's coup" that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of Pres. Mohammad Mursi. The claims coming from the liberal media in Egypt and pro-democracy activists is that the BBC and other major Western news agencies are pro-Muslim Brotherhood. Arab newspapers and blogs are full of reports of the crimes of the Muslim Brotherhood supporters -- murder, arson, rape -- yet the sympathy of the Western press is with the perpetrators of the violence.
Not all of the writing on Egypt is biased or ignorant. Look no further than Samuel Tadros' article in The Wall Street Journal entitled "A Coptic Monument to Survival, Destroyed" to find a superior example of quality writing. This news analysis story printed on 22 August 2013 on page D4 in the U.S. edition of the WSJ opens with a strong lede:
The Egyptian army's crackdown on Mohamed Morsi's Cairo supporters unleashed the largest attack on Coptic houses of worship since 1321.
And defends the assertion, telling the story of the destruction of the fourth century Virgin Mary Church by Muslim Brotherhood supporters. In relating this tale, Tadros helps the reader understand the destruction of this church is analogous to the situation facing Egypt's Christians.
A Coptic exodus has been under way for two years now in Egypt. The hopes unleashed by the 2011 revolution soon gave way to the realities of continued and intensified persecution. Decades earlier, a similar fate had befallen the country's once-thriving Jewish community. The departure of the people is echoed in the decay of the buildings. The landscape of the country is changing along with its demography. A few synagogues stand today as the only reminder of the country's Jews. Which churches will remain standing is an open question.
But this WSJ story is the exception. Writing in Al-Arabiya, Joyce Karam criticized the parochial mindset of the American press.
For reasons related to the security crackdown inside Cairo and the nature of the debate in Washington, the media coverage of the Egyptian crisis in major American news outlets has been lagging behind other parts of the world. The focus has been more on the policy of the Obama administration and less on the Egyptian dynamics and events outside Cairo. The overriding theme in the U.S. media since the crisis broke out last July has been centered around the question: “What should the U.S. do in Egypt?” rather than “what is going on in Egypt?”
The BBC did report on the anti-Christian pogrom of Aug 15. But its initial story was short on details and context. There does not appear to have been any follow up or mention of the chains of Muslim men protecting Christian churches from the Muslim Brotherhood in some sections of Cairo. The clipped account of the church burnings gave this explanation.
The Muslim Brotherhood has accused Christians, particularly the Copts, of supporting the toppling of Mr Morsi. The Coptic Pope Tawadros II appeared to back the military after it deposed Mr Morsi on 3 July following mass protests. In turn, many Christians say Mr Morsi's government was deliberately squeezing religious pluralism.
The head of the army, Gen Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, has described the attacks as a "red line" and promised to respond forcefully. Yet much of the violence has taken place outside urban areas, where there are few security personnel to intervene.
It may well be the BBC was unable to get out into the countryside to report on the violence -- but this black/white view of the riots is woefully incomplete.
The story the BBC has missed -- or ignored -- is the widespread support the military ouster has in Egypt. The Egypt Independent reports that polling within Egypt reports two thirds of the country believe the army did not use excessive force in breaking up the Muslim Brotherhood camps.
The poll, conducted by The Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research ‘Baseera,’ showed that 17 percent of Egyptians believed the sit-ins were peaceful, while 67 percent said they were not peaceful. Regarding satisfaction about the way of dispersal, the poll showed that 67 percent were satisfied, while 24 percent were unsatisfied. Nine percent said they were unable to decide.
The Guardian might well have been the only major Western outlet to report the “military-backed government in Cairo appears to be enjoying widespread domestic support for its bloody crackdown.”
However, the BBC has not completely withdrawn from the Cairo coverage. It ran a human interest story about one family caught up in the violence on 18 August, two days after it ran its story on the church burnings.
Relatives of four Irish citizens caught up in a stand-off at a Cairo mosque have said they fear for their safety. The three young women and teenage boy are children of Hussein Halawa, the Imam at Ireland's largest mosque in Clonskeagh in Dublin. All four were in the al-Fath mosque which was barricaded by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi on Friday. It was cleared by Egyptian security forces on Saturday.
The story continues with reports about the family in Ireland's fears for their relatives in Cairo. But while we know the four children of Hussein Halawa were in Cairo, the BBC does not seem curious to ask why they were there, and what they were doing inside the Muslim Brotherhood compound.
However a little searching on the internet will lead you to research conducted by Mark Humphrys on the Clonskeagh mosque -- and there you will learn it is a Muslim Brotherhood operation. Watch the videos should you have any doubt as to where they stand.
Should the BBC have left its readers with the impression that these "three young women and teenage boy" were Irish tourists caught up in the turmoil, or foreign jihadists come to Egypt to lend their support to the cause?
All of which leads me back to my opening question? What reasons can there be for the dreadful coverage out of Egypt? Reports on the on-going destruction of a civilization are given short shrift, while the travails of Irish jihadists get the full on treatment. Why?