December 3, 2009 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 570

Iranian Lobby in the Egyptian Press

December 3, 2009 | By L. Azuri*
Iran, Egypt | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 570

In the past months, articles have appeared in the Egyptian press contending that Iran has infiltrated the Egyptian media, and that in an attempt to influence public opinion in the country, it has enlisted certain Egyptian papers and journalists to promote the interests of Iran and its allies at the expense of those of Egypt. It was claimed that this is being done by providing biased coverage of events related to Iran and Iranian-Egyptian relations, and by publishing pro-Iranian articles that present Egypt and its policy in a negative light – as was the case, for example, when an active Hizbullah cell was exposed in Egypt or during Iran's recent presidential elections.

The blame is usually placed on Egyptian non-government papers, primarily the daily Al-Dustour – thus, its columnist Faraj Isma'il asserts that the daily, which is famous for its scathing censure of the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, prohibits any criticism of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Rumors have even been circulated that Al-Dustour editor Ibrahim 'Issa is a Shi'ite, since his articles and the television program which he hosts are clearly pro-Iranian. Yet 'Issa is critical of the Egyptian regime, and was sentenced to prison for publishing a report on Mubarak's health.[1]

Opinion articles in the Egyptian press have repeatedly warned that the Iranian lobby has managed to infiltrate the Egyptian parliament and gain influence over the Egyptian government, which endangers Egyptian society. Recently, some also suggested that the Iranian lobby had possibly instigated the attacks on Egyptian nationals in Algeria and Sudan following the November 18, 2009 soccer match.

Following are excerpts from relevant articles in the Egyptian press:

Egyptian Columnist: Criticizing Mubarak Is Permitted, Criticizing Khamenei Is Not

In an article posted on the Al-Arabiya website, columnist for the Egyptian oppositionist paper Al-Dustour Faraj Isma'il contended that the paper's editorial board did not let him publish an article criticizing Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and that this is an indication that Iranian Shi'ites have managed to infiltrate the Egyptian press: "After working for Al-Dustour, an independent Egyptian paper that... [spearheaded] the struggle against inherited [power],[2] I realized that its headlines – [such as] 'Enough!' and 'Mubarak Must Not Continue as President' – are nothing but an attempt to convince the public that [Al-Dustour engages in] daring journalism, that it defies [the dangers of] arrest and imprisonment by publishing whatever it wants against the president and his family, and [is even] coldblooded enough to publish rumors about the president's health, [presenting them] as an official medical report in violation of the most basic professional standards…

"[However,] this courage [manifests itself] only in criticizing the [Egyptian] president, while it is strictly forbidden to write anything at all against Iran. In fact, the editor of one of the papers belonging to the Iranian axis in Egypt regards this as a line that must not be crossed. And whenever [Hizbullah Secretary General Hassan] Nasrallah gives a speech, some editors call his office directly and ask for instructions…

"The Iranian axis has taken over some of the independent press in Cairo, and with its help, has managed to harm Egypt's image – which it hitherto failed to do [through other means]… – by taking advantage of the freedom granted to some Egyptian journalists to write whatever they want against their president, which they sometimes do in an insulting and obnoxious [manner], unparalleled [even] in the Western and U.S. press…

"It is distressing that some Egyptian journalists sanctify Iran to such an extent. [It is distressing] that, in their ignorance, they believe Iran to be heaven on earth, and that they implement on Iran's behalf the mission of exporting Khomeini's revolution to the Egyptian people. This is done, [for example, by Al-Dustour editor] Mr. Ibrahim 'Issa in his extraordinary [television] program called 'The Road to Karbala,' which he hosts on one of the channels of the [Egyptian] satellite company Nilesat…

"These papers, including [the non-government papers] Al-'Arabi, Al-Nasri, Al-Badil and others... are exploiting Obama's inclination towards dialogue with Iran and require Egypt to follow suit and recognize Iran as a rising power that has hegemony over the Muslims… These newspapers are pouring fire and brimstone on Egyptian-Saudi relations and accusing Egypt of losing its primacy in the Arab world and subordinating itself to Saudi Arabia…"[3]

Al-Dustour's Editor: I Will Not Criticize the Shi'ites

The Iranian news agency IRNA responded to Ismail's article by criticizing the author and defending Al-Dustour and its editor Ibrahim 'Issa.[4] This created the impression that 'Issa was acting on Iran's behalf, and gave rise to the rumor that he is a Shi'ite. In an article he published in Al-Dustour, 'Issa denied these allegations: "Even if all the Muslims in the world were to become Shi'ites, I would remain a Sunni of the school of Abu Hanifa Al-Nu'man. However, I do have great and sincere love and respect for our Shi'ite brothers. I will neither deny their rights, nor criticize or attack them, since there are entitled to respect. [A human being] – of any religion or school of thought, even an atheist [who does not belong to] any religion or school of thought – is a free man. God alone knows what is in his heart, and will judge him on the Day of Judgment… The love of Aal Al-Beit [i.e. the Prophet's family] is neither the prerogative of the Shi'ites nor an allegation that we must deny; rather, it is a privilege…"[5]

Egyptian Columnist: The Iranian Lobby Is Ignoring the Elections in Iran

Gamal Sultan, a columnist for the independent Egyptian daily Al-Misriyoun and a leading proponent of the claim that Iran has infiltrated the Egyptian press, responded to 'Issa's article as follows: "Ibrahim 'Issa fervently defended the agents of the American occupation in Iraq and the actions of [former Iraq] governor on behalf of the occupation [Paul] Bremer. He wrote a famous article titled 'The Iraqi Constitution Preserves the Muslim Identity of Sunnis and Shi'ites Alike," and another in defense of [prominent Shi'ite leader in Iraq 'Ali] Sistani and the Iranian gang in Iraq, which are allied with the U.S. army, titled 'The Media Are Trying to Deceive the Public regarding the Link between Shi'ites and Americans.' At the same time, ['Issa] has also been publishing articles attacking, deriding, and ridiculing the Sunnis in Iraq, such as his article titled '[The Claim that] the Sunnis Preserve Iraq's Arab [Essence] Is a Lie Rooted in Saddam's Heritage'…

"My brother [Ibrahim 'Issa, you can] venerate them [i.e. the Shi'ites] as much as you please, and [even] join thembut why are you afraid to criticize them?... Are they angels, prophets or saints? How can a free writer and critic who respects himself, his vocation, his readers, the rights, and the truth say that he would never criticize Shi'ites or their ideas… and then [expect us to believe] that he is not a Shi'ite?..."[6]

In another article in response to 'Issa, Sultan wrote: "The Iranian lobby in Egypt is trying [to convince] the Egyptians of its false claim that Twelver Shi'a is no different from the Sunna, and that it is all a misunderstanding on the part of the Sunnis, while disregarding the theological contradictions that have existed between these [two] schools of thought for over 1,000 years… [The Iranian lobby in Cairo] defends Iran, its religious and sectarian policy, and its expansion plan… under the pretext of a rapprochement between Sunnis and Shi'ites…"[7]

According to Sultan, the Iranian lobby also influenced the Egyptian media's coverage of the demonstrations in Iran in the wake of the June 2009 presidential elections there. On June 20, 2009, he wrote: "While the whole world is talking about the riots in Iran, and while Arab and foreign satellite channels show live images of the demonstrations, the violence, and the fraud allegations, the [hired] pens of the Iranian lobby in Cairo are keeping silent… It is as if the map of Iran had been temporarily erased from the radar of their conscience…

"Frankly, I forgive them, since it is hard for them to comment on [the fact that] Ahmadinejad schemed to rig the vote and [then] threatened his opponents with slaughter should they continue [their attempts] to oust him or to hold a second round of elections. Indeed, until a few weeks ago, [the columnists of the pro-Iranian lobby] tried to market this man as a recluse and a Spartan who wears a jacket that cost four dollars – as part of their brainwashing [campaign for] Iran's revolutionary leaders in the Egyptian press. What can we expect them to say now about this Spartan who is fighting tooth and nail to remain in power?..."[8]

Egyptian Commentator: Beware of Iranian Newspapers in Egyptian Guise

Egyptian commentator Al-Sayyid Al-Naggar warned that Iran is planning to launch an Iranian newspaper in Egyptian guise to defend its positions and boost its image in the eyes of the Egyptians: "Beware! Iran is planning to publish a newspaper in Egypt that will serve as its mouthpiece, promote its policy, defend its positions, and boost its image, which is in bad shape in Egypt and the [rest of the] Arab world. Naturally, this paper will not bear a [Persian name like] Ayatollah, Fars, or any other that might expose its affiliation and indicate who finances it and who is behind it.

"This Iranian paper will [appear to] champion purely Egyptian causes, [such as] upholding freedoms, [defending] the abused Egyptians, and promoting Palestinian, Arab, and Islamic causes vis-à-vis the Zionist enemy. [However,] once the reader has swallowed the bait, the poison will take effect…

"Iran conceived this diabolical idea when [it] managed to buy over several Egyptian and Arab columnists and have them carry out pro-Iranian propaganda… This new media cell, or [rather] this fifth column in the media, is more dangerous than the Hizbullah terrorist cell [that was recently uncovered in Egypt]…"[9]

Egyptian Intellectual: The Iranian Lobby Has Infiltrated Government Circles

Egyptian intellectual Dr. Mamoun Fandy repeatedly warned about the existence in Egypt of an Iranian lobby, and even contended that it has influence over the Egyptian government. In response to the speech by Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in which he admitted that a Hizbullah cell was operating in Egypt,[10] Fandy wrote: "Why hasn't any senior Egyptian official come up with a clear response to Nasrallah's speech? What is the meaning of this shameful [behavior]?... The answer lies in the power [wielded by] the Iranian lobby in Cairo, since it has precluded the government… from criticizing Hizbullah or its leader, on the grounds that any harm caused to this organization or its leader would play into the hands of Israel… Egypt's Iranian lobby has managed to infiltrate society, and this has caused even the government to be wary of criticizing Hassan Nasrallah's policy. It is not the Hizbullah leader's plans that are disgraceful, but the lack of an appropriate official reaction on the part of Egypt…

"Egypt's Iranian lobby has become so close to the government and parliament that the government and its apparatuses can no longer see it… When someone moves [too] close and stands right next to you, it is hard to see him – and this is what has transpired in Egypt. Years ago, the Egyptian press rallied the public in support of Nasrallah and Iran, and as a consequence, today, many Egyptian newspapers employ columnists who are in the service of [Iran's Islamic] Revolutionary Guards Corps; [in fact], some of these newspapers are financed entirely by the Revolutionary Guards… If Egypt does not combat this dangerous infiltration of society by Iran, there will be a high price to pay…

"How can Egypt withstand the humiliating [blow] dealt to it by Nasrallah, when Al-Manar and newspapers affiliated with and financed by Tehran enjoy unlimited freedom? How can Egypt fight Tehran, when Iran has powerful supporters in the People's Council and Shura Council, [the two houses of the] Egyptian [parliament]?... If Egypt does not dismantle all the Iranian networks [operating] in its [territory], including the Iranian lobby in the Egyptian media and in the People's Council, we will have to say good bye to Egyptian security for ever…"[11]

In another article, Fandy further elaborated on the issue of Iran's infiltration of the Egyptian parliament: "Some of our friends in the People's Council have been bought over by Iran, Qatar, and Libya. If such a thing happened in any other country, its people would demand that they be brought to public trial... I believe that the reputation of Egyptian journalism, the long history of the Egyptian press, and the history of the Egyptian parliament should be placed above narrow interests. It is strange that, in our press, there are some who dare to revile the Egyptian president, but will say not a word against Hassan Nasrallah…"[12]

Egyptian MP and Editor of Government Daily: Iran Is Vulnerable from Within

Egyptian MP Muhammad 'Ali Ibrahim, editor of the government daily Al-Gomhouriyya, wrote: "If Iran wants to export the revolution, it needs the support of a powerful press. [Iran's] media is anchored in two countries – Egypt and Lebanon… It seems that the Iranians have played it right. After the 2006 Lebanon war, [they] began to glorify Hizbullah and its valor. After this, Egypt's independent and party press began to publish panegyrics glorifying the 'pure money' that Iran had been spending on the Resistance movement, and about how the military genius of the Iranian experts had enabled the small [Hizbullah militia] to triumph over the entire Israeli army…

"Ahmadinejad's advisors told him that three [media] elements would best serve the Iranian plan: Al-Jazeera TV, the Lebanese press, and the Egyptian press. The Iranians noticed, however, that there are Shi'ites in the Gulf states' press [as well], especially in Bahrain and Kuwait… Let us see if [any of] these courageous press [outlets] dare to publish articles against Iran and its policy in the Gulf or to criticize Hizbullah's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah or Hamas leader Khaled Mash'al, both of whom enjoy immunity [befitting] prophets…"[13]

In another article, Ibrahim wrote: "The media produced and financed by Iran – newspapers as well as satellite channels – keep on piping about freedom and democracy in Iran and about the power of its regime… Iran's [representatives] in the Arab and Egyptian press accuse all their opponents of being Israeli and U.S. agents. These [representatives] can be found in Arab capitals as well as in London and Paris, and even in capitals of the Asian continent. They all claim that Iran is a heaven on earth, and present it in [the best possible] light… However, the failure of this pro-Iranian media was demonstrated clearly when the recent presidential elections precipitated a schism in Iranian [society]…

"The Iranian press and [its representatives] do not accept any opinion different from their own, just like the Communist press in the Soviet Union. But Tehran is even worse [in this respect] than Russia used to be, since Hassan Nasrallah and his supporters or defenders have murdered journalists who opposed Iran and Hizbullah in Lebanon… The pro-Iranian press took liberties with the affairs of other countries and had the audacity to criticize their rulers. They interfered in all matters, big and small, in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq… Tehran and Nasrallah can pollute the entire Arab world with their poison, but no one must say a word against Tehran…

"Iran cannot tolerate criticism because it is vulnerable from within. Criticism has removed the [halo of] sanctity from its Supreme Leader, from Ahmadinejad, and from the Revolutionary Guards. Criticism has revealed an important thing, namely, that although the Iranian regime has managed to isolate its people from the [outside] world and to make the media, the press, and the television [speak] in unison, it forgot that technology can seep through [any] crack, and that it is immune to censorship. The Iranians have realized that the Internet is their weapon against the government, which is forcing upon them a monolithic opinion… The Islamic Revolution will [perish] through the Internet, which will bring forth a press that opposes Iran – a press that will find its way into each and every home, that [can be accessed] for free and that is stronger than [the Iranian and pro-Iranian] channels Al-Manar, Al-'Alam, and Tehran…"[14]

Al-Ahram Editor: Iran Hires Not Only Papers but [Entire] Sects and Countries

The editor of the government Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, Osama Saraya, even suggested that the Iranian lobby in the Algerian press had played a role in instigating the crisis between Egypt and Algeria that erupted in the wake of Algeria's win in the November 18, 2009 soccer match between the two countries, which was followed by clashes between Egyptian and Algerian soccer fans in Algeria and in Sudan (where the match was held). Saraya wrote: "I do not rule out the possibility that the rift that recently emerged between Egypt and Algeria following the soccer match was the creation of Iran's long and loathsome fingers, [and that Iran] made use of Arab circles in the Gulf that are competing [with Egypt] over economic projects and want to impact its political, cultural, economic and social status in the entire Arab region. Otherwise, how can we explain [the fact that] many of the Algerian voices and papers used in the soccer battle between the two countries repeatedly published headlines referring to the Camp David [Accords]...? These papers were hired by Iran.

"[And] we must not forget that Iran uses not only newspapers but [entire] Arab countries and sects in [its] long, large-scale battle whose goal is to [promote Iran's] regional interests, role and future at the expense of all the Arabs, their future and their problems... The Iranian lobby is infiltrating all the Arab countries..."[15]

*L. Azuri is a Research Fellow at MEMRI


[1]This is a reference to an August 30, 2007, article by Al-Dustour's editor Ibrahim 'Issa, in which he claimed that Mubarak was ill and that the Egyptian regime was hiding this fact from the public. As a consequence, 'Issa was sentenced to a term in prison, but Mubarak pardoned him. See MEMRI Special Dispatch Series No. 1733, "Egyptian Opposition Paper Editor Stands Trial for Article on Mubarak's Failing Health," October 4, 2007,

[2] A reference to the fight against Mubarak's bequeathing the presidency to his son Gamal.

[3], February 15, 2009.

[4] IRNA (Iran), February 17, 2009.

[5] Al-Dustour (Egypt), April 1, 2009.

[6] Al-Misriyoun (Egypt), April 15, 2009.

[7] Al-Misriyoun (Egypt), April 19, 2009.

[8] Al-Misriyoun (Egypt), June 20, 2009.

[9] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), May 7, 2009.

[10] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 512, "Egypt: The Hizbullah Cell in Egypt – A Joint Conspiracy by Iran, Syria, Qatar, Hizbullah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood," April 27, 2009,

[11] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 13, 2009.

[12] Al-Gomhouriyya (Egypt), April 30, 2009.

[13] Al-Gomhouriyya (Egypt), April 3, 2009.

[14] Al-Gomhouriyya (Egypt), July 9, 2009.

[15] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 27, 2009.

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