August 22, 2012 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 875

Muslim Brotherhood Efforts To Take Over Egyptian Media

August 22, 2012 | By L. Lavi*
Egypt | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 875


During the decades of President Hosni Mubarak's rule in Egypt, the media served as the official mouthpiece of the regime. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which ruled the country following Mubarak's ouster, sought to perpetuate this situation, and therefore continued to constrain the media, curbing its attempts to become free and independent.[1] Now a similar policy is being pursued by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which since coming to power has been acting to seize control of the media and use it as a tool of the movement. This has sparked intense criticism from media members wishing to defend free speech, their livelihood, and their ability to influence public opinion.

The tension between the MB and the media has been building since the presidential elections, during which many media outlets took a highly critical line against the MB. This was especially evident during the weeks prior to the first round of voting, when the media created the impression that Mursi was weak and that his chances of winning were slim. It was also manifested in statements and articles by minority groups and liberals, who expressed fears regarding the Islamization of the country in light of the MB's growing power.

The tension even reached the point of incitement and violence when Tawfiq 'Okasha, owner of the television channel Al-Faraeen, incited to kill Mursi, prompting a protest by MB supporters during which demonstrators assaulted another journalist known for his anti-MB positions. The authorities responded to the incitement by temporarily shutting the channel down.

Since the beginning of August, several additional developments have indicated an attempt by Mursi and the MB to control the media and curb its criticism against them:

1. Saleh 'Abd Al-Maqsoud, who is affiliated with the MB, has been appointed information minister in Hisham Qandil's government.

2. The Shura Council (upper house of parliament), which is dominated by the MB, has replaced some 50 chief editors and board directors of state-owned newspapers.

3. Copies of the independent daily Al-Dustour were seized after the daily criticized Mursi and the MB.

4. Lawsuits have been filed by the president's office and the office of the MB General Guide against journalists who allegedly published false reports about the MB.

These moves are seen in Egypt as an attempt by the MB to seize yet another center of power, along with their campaign to regain control of the legislative branch; to maintain their majority in the Constituent Assembly, charged with drafting the new constitution; and to consolidate Mursi's position as the country's top decision maker.[2] The wave of dismissals in the media and the tightening of censorship may have been meant to pave the way for Mursi's major reshuffle in the top echelons in the army, which occurred several days later, and for further moves meant to take the reigns of government away from the military.

The anti-media measures sparked demonstrations and sit-down strikes by hundreds of journalists in Cairo, and the media published innumerable articles about the MB's attack on free speech and freedom of the press. On August 9, journalists in daily papers left their columns blank to protest the Shura Council's dismissal of the editors, and called on the country's TV channels to make a daily break in their broadcasts in order to raise public awareness of the issue. These journalists are protesting the state's ownership of numerous media outlets, as well as the Shura Council's exclusive authority to appoint the heads of the media, and calling to establish a politically independent council to fulfill this role.[3] They are also calling to anchor the freedom of the media and press in the new Egyptian constitution, though reports leaked about the Constituent Assembly's deliberations suggest that its amendments are unlikely to satisfy them.[4]

Columns left blank in Egyptian dailies to protest authorities' intervention in the media[5]

Salafis and MB supporters held counterdemonstrations, demanding that the media be purged of loyalists of the previous regime and that new faces be brought in.[6] The MB explained that the reshuffle had been necessary because the media was still serving the agenda of the old regime and did not identify with the goals of the revolution or reflect Egypt's Islamic character.

This report reviews the MB's efforts to take control of the media, the criticism this has evoked, and the MB's responses to the criticism.

The MB Campaign To Gain Control Of The Media

1. Appointment Of MB-Affiliated Saleh 'Abd Al-Maqsoud As Information Minister

In the negotiations to establish Hisham Qandil's government, the MB particularly insisted on appointing the information minister. This position went to MB nominee Saleh 'Abd Al-Maqsoud, a senior media consultant for Mursi's election campaign and previously head of the Journalists Union and editor of several newspapers with an Islamist orientation.[7]

Seeing this appointment as indicating the MB's intentions to make changes in the media, a columnist on the government daily Al-Ahram, 'Abdou Mubashir, wrote: "The MB is acting to take control of the official media, to transform it into a platform for its ideas, and to prevent 'Pharaoh's sorcerers' [a derogatory term used by the MB to refer to journalists associated with the Mubarak regime[8]] from writing and fulfilling their duty of monitoring and criticizing [the authorities]. [The MB] wants a recruited media that overlooks its faults, justifies its actions... and defends its mistakes..."[9]

Conversely, Islamist journalist Hilmi Al-Qa'oud congratulated Al-Maqsoud on his appointment, adding: "...I ask Allah to help [Al-Maqsoud] fulfill the difficult task he has undertaken amid an atmosphere of skepticism, disinformation and hostility towards anything Islamic or associated with Islam. The new minister is properly educated in [the field of] Islam, and lived through the period of jihad and struggle against the servants of Satan [i.e. the members of the old regime]. He was arrested unjustly on several occasions, and tasted the bitterness of prison for no crime other than saying that Allah was his Lord. Several of the papers he published were censored or shut down, not to mention the papers he worked on in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s...

"The weight of the task he is facing must not be [underestimated], for he must deal with one of the oldest and most corrupt of Egypt's institutions: the ministry of information. This ministry was the tongue of the tyrannical, fascist regime and its lying, deceptive and hypocritical voice. [This ministry] is an emblem... of Westernization and of maligning Islam and sowing fear of [Islamic] values, standards and laws... [Undertaking] the role of new information minister seems like suicide, especially if [Al-Maqsoud] wants to realize the goal he has set for himself, [namely] to transform the ministry of information from a servant of the regime into a servant of the state...

"Some have already started to attack the minister... saying he [means to] 'Brotherize' the media [i.e. mold it in the shape of the MB]. I do not know what they mean by that. Will the thousands of employees in the Maspero [television building in Cairo] join the MB or its Freedom and Justice party?..."[10]

The Islamization of the media[11]

2. Shura Council Replaces Dozens Of Newspaper Editors

According to the Egyptian law, which was not changed following the revolution, the authority to appoint the editors and board directors of government newspapers rests with the Shura Council. In Mubarak's era, the Council performed this task in consultation with the president and ruling party. The current Shura Council, comprising mainly MB members, has not given up the exclusive right to appoint the heads of the media, though it has changed the procedure somewhat by allowing journalists to submit their candidacy and then selecting from among these candidates.

The Shura Council has also set out the following criteria for candidates: they must be under 60 years of age, with at least 15 years' tenure in the media – 10 of those years at the same institution but not in advertising – and they must have no record of corruption or of advocating normalization with Israel. Each candidate was asked to submit a portfolio of publications and a list of proposals for reforms in the media.[12]

Despite the uproar in media circles over the decision to leave the appointment of editors in the hands of the Shura Council, and over the Council's criteria, on August 9 the Council replaced some 80% of the newspaper editors and board directors.[13] Most of the new editors were promoted from within the newspapers themselves, or else transferred from one paper to another. Though they are not necessarily MB members, most of them are considered close to this movement and its ideology. For example, the new editor of the Akhbar Al-Yawm daily is Suleiman Qinawi, who is not officially a member of the MB or its party, but writes for the party newspaper; the new editor of Al-Ahram Al-Masai is Muhammad Kharaja, who was the MB's candidate for the Journalists Union in 2004; and the editor of Al-Gumhouriyya is Gamal 'Abd Al-Rahim, who is not an MB member, but was opposed to holding a press conference on the Bahai issue, which angered secular and left-wing circles.[14] It is therefore felt that the new editors are likely to defend the MB and will not be averse to censoring anti-MB articles. Indeed, there have already been reports of censorship by them. A representative of the Journalists Union said on TV that the new editor of Al-Ahram, 'Abd Al-Nasser Salama, has prevented the publication of articles criticizing the MB.[15] In addition, the new editor of the government weekly Akhbar Al-Yawm rejected an article by the outgoing editor of the weekly's literary magazine, 'Abla Al-Ruweini, after she refused to tone down the article's harsh condemnation of the MB's attempts to take over the media.[16] Journalist Yousuf Al-Sa'id has reported that an article he wrote, titled "We Will Not Hear And Obey," was refused by the daily Al-Akhbar, though the daily's editor has denied this.[17] The article, eventually published in the independent daily Al-Watan, accused the MB of being behind physical attacks on media figures who criticize it.[18]

Egyptian intellectual Muhammad Salmawi wrote sarcastically: "I can only congratulate the MB for its unflinching commitment to democracy and the great care it takes to teach its members the ideal democratic ways to deal with differing opinions – that is, by silencing them or even attacking [their proponents], while using the notorious methods of the Mubarak regime... The MB-dominated Shura Council... has perpetrated a terrible 'massacre' in the government press, the likes of which we never saw [even] in the days of the previous regime. Its victims were 50 editors, some of them appointed only a few months ago, [who were dismissed] at a single stroke and replaced with 50 [others who are] MB members or at least willing to comply with the MB's demands.

The MB, who started the revolution, rushed to [adopt] the laws of the previous regime in order to take control of the media and gag it. I would have thought... that their first move would be to cancel these laws, which turn the government press into property of the regime [by allowing it] to appoint editors at its own discretion – a mechanism that does not exist in any democracy in the world... The MB has declared war on the press and the media, which is only starting, and nobody knows how it will end..."[19]

3. Censoring The Press

On August 11, 2012, with the approval of an Egyptian court, copies of the independent Egyptian daily Al-Dustour were confiscated after the paper allegedly insulted the president and incited anarchy and fitna. The daily had published an article dealing with the MB takeover of state institutions and its attack on free speech.[20]

Osama Al-Ghazali Harb, a columnist for Al-Ahram, wrote in response: "I was very concerned by the reports on the closure of Al-Faraeen [TV] and the confiscation of [copies of] Al-Dustour. This is a blatant violation of freedom of expression, which is an integral part of democratic rule. Indeed, there is extremism in the discourse on both parties [i.e., Al-Faraeen and Al-Dustour], and inappropriate tones in statements regarding the president and the ruling Freedom and Justice party – but ultimately, this is the price of democracy. These phenomena exist in the proudest democratic regimes, and they do not affect the basic progress of the democratic process..."[21]

The Egyptian press constrained[22]

4. Violence Aimed At Media Figures Known For Criticizing The MB

During a MB protest outside the premises of Al-Faraeen TV at which demonstrators demanded that the channel be shut down, after its owner, Tawfiq 'Okasha, had said on live TV that killing Mursi was permitted,[23] bearded men attempted to storm the studio and attack 'Okasha and the editor of the independent Egyptian daily Al-Yawm Al-Sabi', Khaled Salah, both of whom are known for their criticism of the MB. The two were unharmed, but Salah's car was damaged.[24] Many in the Egyptian media criticized the incident and claimed that Mursi and the MB were following in the footsteps of Mubarak and his party, the NDP, who used to dispatch thugs to deal with their opponents.

"Militias besieging presenters in studios"
News presenter: "There are no power outages, the streets are safe and clean, the water is running!!"[25]

Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' columnist Akram Al-Qassas wrote: "The MB leaders are responsible for the [protestors'] surrounding the television studio, assaulting journalists, [targeting] Khaled Salah and damaging his car... Whether it was MB members who attacked Khaled Salah or their thugs, it was the MB movement that led the protests... Some are comparing [the MB's] conduct to that of the NDP, and pointing out that it took the ousted party 25 years to begin recruiting thugs to persecute its rivals, whereas the MB adopted militia behavior straight away... Anyone who disagrees with the MB, its party, or the president is considered a remnant [of the old regime] who is fighting the revolution, which has become the sole property of the MB..."[26]

Following this incident, Al-Faraeen was temporarily removed from the NileSat network by government order.[27] Subsequently, 'Okasha and the editor of Al-Dustour, Islam 'Afifi, were barred from leaving the country. The two will stand trial on September 3, 2012 on charges of insulting the president, inciting fitna, and publishing slander against acting MB party head Dr. 'Issam Al-'Arian. According to the prosecution, Al-Dustour slandered Al-'Arian when it claimed that he and MB Deputy General Guide Khairat Al-Shater had planned violent actions to take place if Mursi lost the presidential election, and had also planned to assassinate Mubarak and his sons, to disband the police force, and to launch a rocket attack on the Rafah border crossing. The daily also allegedly accused Al-'Arian of hiring criminals to torch the homes of police officials.[28]

The MB's Arguments In Its Defense

In response to claims that it is taking over the Egyptian media, the MB justified its moves with several main arguments:

1. Members Of The Media Have Violated Journalistic Ethics

The MB focuses on mistakes made by certain journalists who published falsehoods and made inciting and libelous comments against the president or the MB. The president's spokesman confirmed that Mursi has initiated legal proceedings against journalists who allegedly harmed his good name. Concurrently, MB General Guide Dr. Muhammad Badi' filed a lawsuit against the former information minister, the broadcast authority, and the former board director of the government Egyptian daily Roz Al-Yousuf for defaming the MB and its head and reporting false information on TV and in print. Badi' is referring to reports made in Roz Al-Yousuf and subsequently quoted on TV, in which it was claimed that Badi' had told Hamas Prime Minister Isma'il Haniya that he wanted him to become prime minister of Hamas and Egypt, that he wanted Hamas members to be granted Egyptian citizenship, and that the global MB movement had provided one billion Egyptian lira to fund the smuggling of weapons from Libya to Hamas. The complaint was filed by the MB attorney, who is the brother of the new information minister.[29]

Dr. 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Barr, a member of the MB General Guide office, wrote: "Every time you criticize a journalist or media figure for the way they present the news or portray and interpret facts and events, or for harming leaders, personalities and [state] institutions – you immediately find yourself facing the ready-made accusations of harming free speech, restricting public liberties, supporting tyranny, etc... If a journalist curses or slanders you, or incites against you, you had better not ask the court to enforce the law, because in the minds of some people, that is an abuse of legal rights and an attempt to silence people by means of the law. It's as though the most important thing is for the journalist to say whatever he wants; as though media figures wear [a cloak of immunity] that prevents people from criticizing them or mentioning their errors... We oppose the assault on Khaled Salah... but we also oppose exploiting it to harm the MB and the Freedom and Justice party, which are innocent of such [violent] behavior..."[30]

2. The Media Must Be Purged Of Members Of The Old Regime, Who Fight The Islamists

The MB presents the replacement of the editors as a necessary move aimed at purging the media of Mubarak loyalists who do not sympathize with the goals of the revolution, and might even spark a counterrevolution. Islamist journalist Dr. Hilmi Al-Qa'oud wrote on the MB website: "The entire official media is a creation of the security [apparatuses], which was grown and educated in their lap with the patronage of the fascist, tyrannical regime. The members of the media imbibed its teachings and its method of hostility towards the freedom, honor and identity of the people. Using jobs and benefits, [the regime] managed to cultivate generations of media members who care only for fame and fortune, even at the expense of Islam, virtue, freedom and honor..."[31]

Rabi' Abu Baker 'Abd Al-Baqi wrote on the MB website that the current media system not only continues to serve the old regime, but also harms political Islam: "[The media] directs slander at the Islamic stream, instead of constructive criticism, advice and guidance. The [non-Islamic] streams, who carry no weight on the street, and whose power is measured by their ability to make noise and scream on satellite TV channels, and to hire pens and ask them to forge facts... are fighting and defaming anything that is Islamic... If you use your pens to mock, curse, make up lies and spread them, I say to you: 'If you ridicule us, surely we too ridicule you as you ridicule (us) [Koran 11:38].'"[32]

"The people wants to cleanse the media! The problem is that there isn't enough cleaning product in the country"[33]

3. Establishing A Media Consistent With Egypt's Islamic Character

Al-Qa'oud wrote further that the media is dominated by non-Islamic streams, and therefore there is no one to defend Islam and the Muslims. According to him, post-revolution Egypt needs a media consistent with its Islamic character: "The board directors, chief editors and newsroom managers [in the Egyptian media], and even some of the journalists, were always required to be loyal to the regime and its wishes. Perhaps this explains the barbaric Mongol raid against everything that is Islamic or related to Islam, while Islam and the Muslims do not have anyone to defend them, aside from weak, muted voices...

"Most of those who control the media – press, television, radio and websites – belong to streams that maintain delicate relations with Islam and the Muslims. That is why an Islamist cannot grace the pages of official, private, sectarian or partisan papers, or appear on television or radio, except under certain conditions. And if he does appear, he is subjected to censorship, restriction and a takeover by opposing views... His words can even be used against Islam and Muslims.

"The Islamic media that currently exists is weak and restricted. Islamists have no radio [stations] and only a few TV stations. Most are occupied with trivial matters or have educational goals [such as] teaching the Koran and hadith, but do not deal with the real problems and suffering of the Muslims. Islamic channels that belong to certain movements... lack means and professional experience, and some have been forced to close due to debt...

"The state of the [Islamic] press is not much different from that of radio and TV. Following the January revolution, some newspapers that are Islamic or are considered Islamic were established, but they can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and are mostly weak and uncompetitive in terms of their professional standards and distribution. Their human and technical abilities are generally limited, their material means are small, and their pages are nearly devoid of ads, which newspapers usually rely on for funding and growth.[34]

"The [current] reality requires a comprehensive media system – press, radio and TV – that is consistent with the character of Egypt and of the Arab and Islamic ummah. It is inconceivable for Egypt to be represented by the official, private or sectarian media of Sawfat Al-Sharif [NDP secretary-general and information minister during the Mubarak era]. Islamic Egypt is larger than this media, which [only] perpetuates tyranny and lies... and whose stars are individuals... who have always spoken against Islam and Muslims and silenced the Islamic voice...

"Following the revolution, it was expected that the Muslims would awaken and establish a media apparatus worthy of Islamic Egypt, with the help of tycoons or stockholding companies. But, unfortunately, they make do with delivering sermons from pulpits on various occasions, while the remnants of the [old] regime, which are hostile to Islam... establish dozens of newspapers and [TV] channels..."[35]

"Brotherizing the Press," with the three pyramids of Al-Ahram's logo clad in veils[36]

* L. Lavi is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] On the changes in the Egyptian media under the SCAF, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 726, The Egyptian Press – From the Mouthpiece of the Mubarak Regime to the Mouthpiece of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), August 18, 2011.

[2] On Mursi's and the MB's struggle to consolidate their ruling power, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 865, The Egyptian Revolution Is Only Starting: Will Power Be Transferred From The SCAF To The Elected President And Parliament?, July 30, 2012.

[3] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), August 8, 2012. The Administrative Court recently upheld the Shura Council's right to determine the criteria for appointing newspaper editors, ruling this compatible with Egypt's laws and constitution. Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), July 11, 2012.

[4] Journalist Saleh 'Issa reports that the Assembly has ignored most of the proposals submitted to it by the Journalists Union and Supreme Press Council. According to him, the new draft constitution leaves the ownership of the government press in the hands of the state, and even tightens some of the constraints eased by Mubarak in 2006, such as the state's right to shut down papers by court order and to imprison journalists for their publications. Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 23, 2012.

[5] Image source: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 10, 2012.

[6] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), July 8, 2012.

[7], August 2, 2012.

[8] MB General Guide coined this term in March 2012 when he said that the media were "sorcerers of Pharaoh" who were ordered by Satan to portray the MB as a new NDP attempting to destroy the country. Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), March 28, 2012.

[9] Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 1, 2012.

[10], August 10, 2012.

[11] Al-Fajr (Egypt), August 16, 2012.

[12], July 5, 2012.

[13] Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 9, 2012.

[14] Some other appointees are: 'Abd Al-Nasser Salama, the new editor of Al-Ahram, whose nomination sparked criticism among some of the daily's employees on the grounds that he does not meet the Shura Council's criteria since he is a Mubarak loyalist and does not identify with the goals of the revolution; Ashraf Bader, formerly the deputy editor of Al-Ahram and now the editor of Al-Ahram Al-Arabi; Salem Wahhabi, who was also deputy editor of Al-Ahram, is now editor of Al-Ahram Al-Iqtisadi; Muhammad Hassan Al-Bana, the new editor of Akhbar Al-Yawm, previously the deputy editor of Al-Akhbar; Shaker 'Abd Al-Fattah, a former board member of the Egyptian news agency Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, who is now the agency's editor and board director; and 'Izzat Badawi, who was promoted from deputy editor of the magazine Al-Musawwar to its editor. Al-Wafd (Egypt), August 14, 2012;, August 1, 2012.

[15] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 12, 2012.

[16] Al-Tahrir (Egypt), August 11, 2012.

[17] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 15, 2012.

[18] Al-Watan (Egypt), August 14, 2012.

[19] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 9, 2012.

[20], August 11, 2012.

[21] Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 12, 2012.

[22] Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 8, 2012.

[23] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 8, 2012.

[24] Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 10, 2012.

[25] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 11, 2012.

[26] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), August 10, 2012.

[27], August 10, 2012.

[28] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 13, 2012.

[29] Al-Ahram; Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 1, 2012.

[30], August 12, 2012.

[31], July 11, 2012.

[32], July 31, 2012.

[33], August 2, 2012.

[34] It should be mentioned that after the January 25 revolution, the MB party established the Freedom and Justice daily. In February 2011 it was reported that the MB was also considering establishing a satellite channel. Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 21, 2011.

[35], July 11, 2012.

[36] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), August 2, 2012.

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