Egyptian television hosts Sisi’s foaming mouthpieces
From the print edition The Economist
“THAT precision! Look at that car! Wait for the missile to come down! No one gets away.” Ahmed Moussa, an Egyptian television host, sounded like a kid playing a video game when he showed “satellite imagery” of Russia striking Islamic State in Syria last autumn. Perhaps that is because Mr Moussa was, in fact, showing clips from a video game. “We aren’t making anything up,” said Mr Moussa, as he made it all up.
Mr Moussa’s programme, called “Ala mas’uliyati” (“My Responsibility”), epitomises the absurdity of Egypt’s popular talk shows. In February a host called Khairy Ramadan was suspended after a guest claimed that women in Upper Egypt are generally unfaithful. Another host, Reham Saeed, was sentenced to six months in prison for airing the private photos of a sexual-harassment victim (whom she also blamed for the attack).
Most hosts not only support the government, but take direction from it. “I would say anything the military tells me to say out of duty and respect for the institution,” Mr Moussa told the Guardian. Others mix conspiracy and sycophancy, as when Amr Adeeb worried that “[foreign] intelligence officers who are trying to ruin our country” might kill Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the president.
Mr Sisi says back him or stay mum—but some have not. Egypt has locked up more journalists than any country save China. Media outlets that supported the Muslim Brotherhood have been closed down. Most network heads are anyway disposed to self-censor. Nearly all support the regime, which protects their business interests. So critics such as Bassem Youssef, the former host of a satirical news programme, have been taken off the air.
Egypt is “the target of many conspiracies”, claims Mr Sisi. Hosts detail the plots. In October Tamer Amin interviewed Hossam Sweilam, a former deputy defence minister, who claimed that America was behind the uprising in 2011 and now controls Egypt’s weather. Lyrics from an obscure American hip-hop group were cited as proof. The conspirators vary, but often include America, Iran and Israel, sometimes (oddly) working together. Mr Moussa says he would like to see Barack Obama “impaled”.
Though their ranting is often nonsensical, talk-show hosts sway opinion in Egypt, where over a quarter of people are illiterate. Fortunately, some hosts have stiffened their spines of late, criticising the government for a poor economy, among other things. The recent murder of a young Italian student prompted a few to ask, obliquely, whether the state was involved, as evidence suggests. Perhaps sensing a shift, Mr Sisi has warned Egyptians,
“Don’t listen to anyone but me. I am dead serious.”