Claims of bias and inaccurate reporting have dogged the Western press's coverage of Egypt since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. A story in this week's Washington Post entitled "In Egypt, many shrug as freedoms disappear" will do little to restore confidence.
The article eschews the classical news story format in favor of an impressions and perceptions style. Its lede states:
The charges are often vague. The evidence is elusive. Arrests occur swiftly, and the convictions follow. And there is little transparency in what analysts have called the harshest political crackdown in Egypt in decades.
But many Egyptians say they are all right with that.
There is a growing sense here in the Arab world’s largest country that the best path to stability -- after three years of political turmoil -- might be to do things the military’s way: crush the Islamists who made people angry enough to support a coup; silence dissent; and ask very few questions.
The article begins with an opinion as to the mood of the Egyptian people. Is this then a news analysis article or a news article?
If a news article facts and figures should follow to support the claims in the lede. What "evidence"? How many arrests and convictions? Who is being arrested and why? Which analysts claim the army's rule has led to the "harshest political crackdown in Egypt in decades"? Who is being censored and why? These details are mostly absent.
A thematic diagram of this story suggests this is an opinion piece -- a commentary offering the author's view of the meaning of events, rather than a report on events. Following the lede we have a quote from a government spokesman defending the violent crackdown; a man in the street supporting the crackdown and a Washington-based expert explaining popular support for the crackdown.
This all leads to the central argument of the story.
The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties captured the lion’s share of the vote in Egypt’s first democratic elections two years ago. The Brotherhood had renounced violence decades earlier and gained popularity by establishing a vast network of charitable organizations.
These days, those images of benign Islamist leadership have been erased from many minds by the hyper-nationalist rhetoric promoted by the government, which has portrayed Brotherhood members as bloodthirsty terrorists bent on destroying the nation.
An assortment of disconnected facts are presented to support this argument, coupled with further pro-Brotherhood arguments from the Washington Post. Assertions are piled on assertions and dubious statements presented uncritically.
The government’s crackdown has been so pervasive — and the cult of support for military leader Abdel Fatah al-Sissi so far-reaching — that the Brotherhood has likened Egypt’s transgression to “fascism,” as have some liberal observers.
Is labeling support for al-Sissi a "cult" fair? Fascism? Is citing a foreign diplomat as a "liberal" observer appropriate? The US embassy and the former ambassador have been denounced for its pro-Brotherhood statements and have little credibility in Egypt -- are Western diplomats an appropriate source on this point?
The article closes with a pessimistic quote from an Egypt expert at Harvard. Given six decades of military rule following the overthrow of King Farouk it was foolish to expect Egypt to take to democracy, he argues.
No mention of the reasons for the popular revolt against the Brotherhood are given in this story. Not only does the Washington Post not "get politics" in Egypt, it does not "get religion".
There is no sense of context or balance in this Washington Post piece.It is ill-informed, in-curious and overtly partisan. As a news story it is an embarrassment to the Post. Not quite Walter Duranty material -- but it does come close in that it too places ideology above reality.
Comparing the tone, style and use of facts in this story to a similar item published by the avowedly pro-Muslim Brotherhood Al Jazeera network will not dispel concerns the Western press are flacks who believe the Muslim Brotherhood is a force for good in Egypt.
Thirty million Egyptians would tend to disagree with this sentiment -- that is how many people took to the streets to demand the army step in and remove the Muslim Brotherhood government. Egypt's Christians along with the other religious minorities who were persecuted by the Muslim Brotherhood -- e.g., murdered, churches burnt, schools ransacked -- are also likely to take issue with this whitewash.
Arab commentators have also denounced the American press for offering what they see as a false narrative. Writing in the Egypt's largest circulation daily newspaper, the pro-government al-Ahram, Abdel-Moneim Said wrote:
The one-sided version of post-30 June realities in Egypt that The New York Times presents is nothing short of a travesty.
Al-Ahram accused the Times of ignorance and deliberate bias. It viewed the unfolding political scene in Egypt through ideological lenses.
The NYT’s original sin is that it refuses to recognize the mass uprising on 30 June 2013 as a revolution whereas it does recognize as such the January 2011 uprising, which succeeded in overthrowing a tyrannical regime, even though the number of people who participated in that revolution were about half as many as those who took part in the 30 June demonstrations. In both cases, it was the military that shifted the balances on the ground and that channeled a massive grassroots movement into political processes that brought the country back from the brink of conflict and civil war. But the NYT doesn’t see it that way. In its opinion, the military’s intervention in the first case was not a coup because it eventually brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power whereas its intervention in the second case was a coup because it ushered the Muslim Brotherhood out of power and into forms of “resistance.” Not only do such double standards obscure the truth, they also give way to a number of historical misconceptions regarding the idea of “revolution” or mass uprising in general, and what has happened in Egypt in particular.
No mention of religion appears in this piece save as a descriptor for the Brotherhood. Perhaps the cult like support from the Copts for al-Sissi may have something to do with the Brotherhood's persecution and pogroms against Egypt's Christians? Failing to discuss religion when writing about political Islam is an oversight. Is the Washington Post guilty too of propounding a revisionist history of the Arab Spring? Is it a shill for the Muslim Brotherhood's view of Egypt's recent history? If this article is an example of the Post's reporting from Egypt, then it is guilty as charged.