Navigating a Multifaceted Predicament: Egypt’s Media Discourse in the Face of Gaza Conflict, Presidential Elections, and Public Anger

By Dounia Mahlouly|March 30, 2024|Media spectacle and crisis, Students, The Middle East, Uncategorized|0 comments

Author: Nada Kabbary, Media Researcher and Chevening Scholar @ King’s College, Digital Humanities

Amidst a substantial economic crisis and preparations for a presidential election scheduled for December 2023, the Egyptian state was primarily focused on cultivating a favourable image of its primary candidate while suppressing potential contenders that posed a threat to its power. This strategic manoeuvre aimed to facilitate President El-Sisi’s pursuit of a third term in office. However, the sudden events that unfolded in the Middle East on October 7, 2023, particularly due to Egypt’s geographical proximity to Gaza and the complex political dynamics with Hamas since 2013, thrust the country into a multifaceted predicament. Consequently, Egypt found itself grappling with conflicting pressures. On one hand, certain international proposals suggested the displacement of Palestinians from Gaza to Sinai, while public sentiment demanded political and humanitarian support for the Palestinian cause.

The unexpected circumstances in Gaza placed significant strain on the Egyptian regime, profoundly affecting both its domestic and international media communications. This article delves into the scrutiny and analysis of the media discourse of the Egyptian state, as exemplified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Presidency, and state-owned media. It specifically explores the regime’s opportunity to construct a narrative that would ensure its continuity merely two months prior to the presidential elections. Additionally, this essay examines the influence exerted by regional and international media coverage on the official discourse of the state, along with its impact on Egyptian public sentiment.

Presidential elections, War on Gaza, and State media discourse

Amidst escalating Israeli assaults on Gaza, Egypt’s response reflects a critical stance amid mounting public outrage, navigating a delicate communication strategy amid the imminent presidential elections, highlighting the complexity and sensitivity of the situation. This multifaceted response, channelled through various platforms including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and state-owned media, is tailored to cater to distinct stakeholders, showcasing a nuanced approach to addressing local and regional circumstances.

The MFA press statement on October 7, 2023, was perceived as inadequate by the Egyptian public, as it failed to meet their expectations. However, during his address to the UN Security Council on October 24, 2023, the Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, reiterated previously held positions with a stronger emphasis. Shoukry underscored that the current situation is a result of continuous attempts to seize land and alter geography, emphasising that Palestinians will stay on their land while Egypt opposes any displacement efforts. Additionally, he demanded international protection for Palestinians, the prompt delivery of humanitarian aid, and the establishment of a binding framework based on international legitimacy to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The statements delivered at the United Nations on October 27, 2023, by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry representative, Osama Abd El-Khalek, resembled a decisive penalty against the adversary, marking the first instance in a decade where such unequivocal language was employed. The representative emphatically declared, “Enough is enough, what is happening to the people of Palestine is too much to bear“, while criticising those who vociferously champion human rights while neglecting the fundamental right to life. Furthermore, he insinuated that their justifications for the continuation of the war made them complicit in the witnessed atrocities.

In contrast, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s statements were evidently directed towards the international community, with the aim of clarifying Egypt’s stance on both the Palestinian resistance and proposals advocating the displacement of Palestinians from Gaza. During his speech at the Cairo summit on October 21, 2023, President Al-Sisi emphasised that the Palestinian cause cannot be resolved without a just solution, underscoring that this resolution should not come at Egypt’s expense. While in his meeting with the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, he proposed the relocation of Palestinians to the Negev Desert until Israel had effectively neutralised resistance forces. Notably, he took a firm stance by categorising the resistance as terrorism, contending that relocating Palestinians to Sinai would transform the peninsula into a terrorist base for attacks against Israel. This position aligns with the perspective of the occupying state and garners support from various Western countries like the US, UK, and Germany. 

Moreover, it is consistent with Egypt’s approach towards Hamas since 2013, even after May 2017 when Hamas announced its detachment from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and defined itself as a liberation and resistance movement. Al-Sisi regime continues to consider Hamas as a threat to Egypt’s national security and this stance has been consistently propagated through state media.

As a result, Al-Sisi’s characterisation of the resistance as terrorism and his proposal that indirectly accepts an unjust resolution of the Palestinian cause raises questions about Egypt’s commitment to upholding justice and the rights of the Palestinian people. This stance also underscores the significant influence of geopolitical considerations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as it plays a pivotal role in shaping and prioritising Egypt’s international political and economic interests.

On the other hand, Al-Sisi appeared to leverage the regional situation to bolster his diminishing domestic popularity, particularly in the wake of economic inflation that impacts Egyptians across various social classes. On October 20, 2023, Al-Sisi orchestrated a comprehensive media campaign to rally support for Gaza and urged the Egyptian population to participate in demonstrations, granting him the authority to take necessary measures to safeguard Egyptian national security. However, this strategy primarily aimed not to exert diplomatic pressure on behalf of the Palestinian cause but rather to regain waning popularity by employing a familiar strategy previously used in 2014. Its purpose was to amplify the feelings of fear among the Egyptian populace while projecting Al-Sisi as their sole saviour. Nevertheless, it became evident that the Egyptian people’s anger towards the unfolding events in Gaza and their diminishing confidence in the decision-making processes and regional orientations of the Egyptian state led the demonstrations on October 20 to deviate from Al-Sisi’s intended purpose. Once the protesters incorporated chants reminiscent of the January Revolution and made it clear that the protests did not confer a mandate to any specific entity, swift measures were taken to disband the demonstrations and promptly evacuate the squares. This effectively prevented a recurrence of such scenes to date.

When examining state discourse, it is essential to analyse the interplay between the regime’s orientations and their influence on state-owned media. In the case of Egypt, the coverage provided by local media outlets served as a convergence point for the narratives presented by both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the President. However, the predominant focus of the media was on Egypt’s role, as well as that of the President, within the regional and international dimensions of the Gaza conflict. Moreover, the media strategically emphasised the perceived threats facing Egypt while employing rhetoric to advocate for the re-election of President Sisi as a means of safeguarding the country’s stability.

To provide an overview, United Media Service (UMS), under the control of Egyptian intelligence, wields significant influence over television channels, press institutions, and artistic productions. Since its establishment, United Media Services has exercised complete control over visual, audio, and print media discourse and content, ensuring alignment with the regime’s approach and interests. Furthermore, independent media entities like Mada Masr, as well as international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have faced website blockades in Egypt since 2017. Additionally, systematic media campaigns have been employed to distort the image of these institutions, reflecting the regime’s ongoing efforts to control information and shape the discourse directed at the majority of Egyptians.

During the Gaza conflict, which coincided with the Egyptian presidential elections, state-owned media outlets, represented by prominent figures such as Ahmed Moussa, Nashat Al-Daihi, and Muhammad Al-Baz, were diligent in adopting the discourse of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, condemning the violence against civilians in Gaza. Some of these figures employed strong language in their condemnation and Cairo News Channel also expressed clear support for the Palestinian cause. However, these state-owned entities simultaneously highlighted the role of the President in conducting regional and international negotiations and mediations to resolve the crisis in Gaza. They employed various means to instil fear among Egyptians, discussing international attempts to pressure Egypt into accepting Palestinians in Sinai. These efforts aimed to portray the President as a supporter of the Palestinian cause by emphasising his refusal to displace Palestinians from their land. Concurrently, they sought to depict him as the saviour and primary protector of Egypt against any danger. Media and journalists echoed sentiments, underlining the Egyptian state’s rejection, as articulated by the President, of offers and international pressure, frequently employing phrases like “Sinai as a red line” to reinforce this stance. 

As such, state-media narratives, influential figures, and renowned media outlets adeptly balanced the absorption and occasional exploitation of Egyptian anger while appeasing the international community’s pro-Israel stance. Although initially a complex equation, this approach proved to be an effective strategy for successfully navigating the presidential elections.

Geopolitics and International and regional media influence

Moreover, it is crucial to consider the influence of Gulf media on the media discourse directed towards Egyptians, as it reveals notable discrepancies and varying popular responses to these discourses. On one hand, we observe the Saudi-Emirati wing’s speech, which condemned Hamas’ attack on the occupying state on October 7, 2023, and primarily focused on providing material support for humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. On the other hand, Qatar exhibited clear support for the Palestinian cause, actively engaging in political and humanitarian efforts to resolve the crisis.

The impact of Saudi media on Egyptian public opinion is exemplified by MBC Egypt, particularly through the Al-Hekaya program hosted by Egyptian journalist Amr Adib. Amr Adib is a prominent and widely viewed media figure in Egypt and the Arab world. He is known for his accessible language, catering to a broad audience. During his coverage of the Gaza war, Amr Adib adopted a strategy similar to other Egyptian media professionals associated with state media. Initially, he expressed enthusiastic support for the Palestinian cause, strongly condemning the occupying state’s violence against civilians. However, his media coverage oscillated between emotional and pragmatic tones, consistently highlighting both the Egyptian and Saudi roles in political negotiations and material support aimed at resolving the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. A comparison can be drawn to Amr Adib’s previous involvement during the 2008 Gaza War when he hosted the Al-Qahera Al-Youm program on the Orbit Channels Network. At that time, he actively collected live humanitarian donations from viewers across the Arab world to support Gaza’s humanitarian situation. It is worth noting that this effort was politically accepted by Mubarak’s regime and other Arab regimes at the time. This illustrates the consistency of Amr Adib’s approach and alignment with governmental and regional discourses during times of crisis. Consequently, he remains the most frequently employed media figure in shaping media messages concerning the domestic and regional political landscape.

During the ongoing conflict in Gaza, Al Jazeera has once again emerged as a prominent media source influencing the Egyptian population, becoming a significant news outlet after October 7, 2023. Undoubtedly, the Al Jazeera network represents the Qatari stance in supporting the Palestinian cause. Despite concerted efforts by the Egyptian regime to undermine Al Jazeera through systematic media campaigns, restrictions on their operations within Egypt, website blocking, and broadcast interruptions since the rise of the Sisi regime in 2013, the war in Gaza has reinstated Al Jazeera as the most influential media coverage in Egypt. They perceived their correspondents as true heroes who fearlessly conveyed the painful reality, while finding their interviewees holding opinions and positions detached from political balances or the influence of specific states or leaders. The coverage solely focused on highlighting the suffering of the Palestinian people.

On an international level, it is noteworthy that the American-British-European media axis exerts significant influence on the media discourse of the Egyptian state. Although the Egyptian media does not adopt a discourse that explicitly supports or promotes the narratives of the occupying state, it tends to align with a discourse that perceives the Palestinian resistance as a key factor in the current situation in Gaza. This discourse signifies a novel development in the Egyptian political stance on the Palestinian issue since the 1948 Nakba. Popularly, the media coverage of BBC and CNN has been provocative to Egyptians. This sentiment was clearly demonstrated when Egyptian activist Rahma Zein confronted a CNN correspondent at the Rafah crossing, accusing their coverage of bias and unprofessionalism.

On the other hand, the Russian axis has expressed its support for the Palestinian cause since the outbreak of the war, calling for a ceasefire and the establishment of humanitarian corridors for the people of Gaza. The Arabic coverage provided by the Russia Today network represented the Russian position, which condemned the occupying state. However, despite its alignment with popular discourse, the coverage of Russia Today channels did not receive significant attention from the Egyptian public, and the Russian political and media position did not exert any notable influence on the Egyptian media discourse.

In summary, the Egyptian presidential elections concluded successfully, resulting in the re-election of President Sisi for a third term. Despite the challenging economic and regional circumstances surrounding Egypt, the state’s media discourses effectively managed this sensitive situation, particularly on an international scale. However, at the local level, the situation in Gaza continues to impact the sentiments of Egyptians and may contribute to their lack of interest or abstention from the presidential elections. Despite attempts to appease the Egyptian population through emotional speeches and strong condemnations of the events in Gaza, the official political and humanitarian positions did not satisfy the Egyptian public. Instead, there was a more enthusiastic response from the people, manifested through their prompt financial support for delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza and their widespread boycott campaign against foreign products supporting the occupying state or Western countries involved in financing the war on Gaza.

It is important to note that since 2011, the Palestinian issue has been largely absent from the minds of Egyptians. The offensive discourse on Hamas propagated by the local media has played a significant role in diminishing Egyptians’ engagement with the situation in Gaza and may have impacted their level of sympathy for the Palestinians. However, the current situation represents a notable shift, as no direct media discourse has been able to influence the Egyptians’ sympathy, which could be a concerning matter for the Egyptian regime in its present state.

In conclusion, the Palestinian cause remains an enduring aspect of Egypt’s challenges, encompassing both the state’s policies. Throughout different political regimes and over time, the Palestinian cause has been utilised to disseminate nationalist messages, as well as to emphasise Egypt’s regional and international role.

Share this Post:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>