January 31, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 3548

The Middle East Crisis Part V - Egyptian Playwright Ali Salem: The 'Culture of Denial' in Egypt's Government Press – The Root Cause of the Demonstrations

January 31, 2011
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 3548

In a recent article, liberal Egyptian playwright Ali Salem[1] slammed the Egyptian media and intellectuals for serving the regime and expressing its views instead of presenting the real situation in the country. This "culture of total denial," he says, is the root cause of the mass protests in Egypt. Noting that this mentality is obsolete and out of tune with the modern information age, in which all news is available to the public in real time, he warned that Egypt must acquire a mature media and cultural leadership, otherwise the country is lost.

The following are excerpts from the article, which appeared in the London-based Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat:[2]

The Newspaper Editor Betrayed His Duty to the Readers

[On January 25, 2011] Egypt saw [the outbreak of] demonstrations that were sometimes characterized by restraint on the part of both sides (the demonstrators and the security apparatuses), and at other times were marked by violence, with injuries and fatalities on both sides. Yet the morning after, a certain leading paper – or should I say the leading paper [in the country] – came out with a huge headline saying 'Demonstrations in Lebanon.'[3] Somewhere in the middle, between the demonstrations in the Egyptian cities and the headline of our leading paper, which spoke of demonstrations in Lebanon, was the truth – the truth about what is happening in the [Egyptian] media, and perhaps in the entire cultural sphere...

"Perhaps the truth is fully encapsulated in that headline. Demonstrations are raging in Egypt, yet the [newspaper] editor sees only the demonstrations taking place elsewhere, in Beirut. There is a popular Egyptian proverb that says, 'look with your eyes and see with your heart.' That is, it is not enough to look with the eyes alone, one must also engage the heart in the act of looking – the heart in the sense of compassion and all human values. Your eyes are not just a pair of lenses installed in your face, [Mr. editor], they are also connected to your heart. When you fail to see what is happening in the Egyptian cities, but see only what is happening in Beirut, you are at the very least betraying your duty to provide your readers with the facts as they really are and as you witness them with your [own] eyes...

"This headline, [and others like it] were the reason and the cause of the demonstrations... That headline is not just printed words. It [reflects] the mentality and general culture prevailing among most of our media and cultural players, which can be called [a culture of] 'total denial.' [This culture] is encapsulated in the following [statement]: 'They [i.e. the public] are talking?... Let them talk'... But [even] without a knowledge of history, the theoreticians and chief [advocates] of this school of thought should have known that when the public speaks, it does not go on talking forever – [for] the day must inevitably come when the public takes to the streets..."

The Regime Appointed the Media to Deceive the Public

"One of the wrongheaded ideas [of our regime] was to appoint the heads of the media and the political systems and charge them with one single mission: to deceive the public. In their oath of office, they apparently swore to disregard any fact that might annoy the political leaders, to bring them and the public only good and pleasing news, and to tell the protesters on the streets of Cairo, 'your demonstration never happened, the demonstrations were in Beirut. May Allah help Lebanon.'

"This [mentality] stems from the fact that we are trying to use the tools of the old generation in handling the new generation, whose tools and methods are completely different. The leaders of the July [1952] revolution are still ruling us from the grave – for in those days, the truth was what they [chose to] tell us in our three newspapers, which had a monopoly [on the news], and in our television programs, which were likewise the only ones available...

"[But today, when] modern technology has turned the world into a global village, it is only natural that young people in Egypt feel in tune with young people all over the world, and believe they have a right to live in an advanced world that gives them a chance to move forward. Today it is no longer possible to conceal information, or even keep it from reaching [the public] for a while. Even state secrets, and the secrets of top officials, thought to be immune from leaks and infiltration, have found their way to the television and Internet screens. This is the age of clarity and transparency...

"Lacking mature [leaders] in the domains of media and culture, we are [doomed] to wander in darkness in this world. With media and cultural leaders characterized by narcissism so intense that it has caused them to forget their duties, we will end up driving Egypt into a wall."


[1] For more on Ali Salem, visit .

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), January 30, 2011.

[3] This refers to the January 26, 2011 issue of the government daily Al-Ahram.

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