At a news conference after the Egyptian army’s not-quite-a-coup a few days ago, an Egyptian journalist stood up and demanded that reporters from Al Jazeera be excluded. The Al Jazeera team eventually left the meeting amid shouts of “out, out!”
Al Jazeera was celebrated during the early days of the Egyptian revolution in 2011, when thousands of protestors packed into Tahrir Square to demand the downfall of President Mubarak. The network, based in Qatar, covered “Arab Spring” uprisings across the region with acute attention. Since then, its coverage has been kind to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government of Qatar supported with billions of dollars in aid and loans. During the most recent protests and Morsi’s downfall, Al Jazeera described the events, unfairly in the eyes of many Egyptians, as a “coup” and “anti-democratic.” The network also devoted significant airtime to interviews with Morsi supporters.
From one angle, Egyptian anger at Al Jazeera reflects disgust with Qatar for backing the Muslim Brotherhood, as the FT reports. Qatar’s outsized foreign policy has hit one roadblock after another in the past few weeks.
From another angle, Al Jazeera’s downfall is part of Egyptians’ turn against outsiders in general. ”Syrians, Palestinians, Israelis, you can find them on every street corner. They’re here to exploit the chaos,” a waiter told a Reuters reporter in Cairo. ”All those aggressors interfering in the internal affairs of Egypt can go to hell. All those defending them can go to hell too,” a popular radio and television presenter said on Twitter. Egyptian citizens should organize a “defence army” to keep outsiders at bay, a media magnate said on television Thursday. The United States has also come under withering attack for supposedly backing President Morsi.
It’s not a good sign when a country in such turmoil starts succumbing to irrational fears about “outsiders,” blaming them for all the country’s problems. (Not that there aren’t some rational fears about foreign influence embedded in there too.) Egypt relies heavily on funds from foreign governments, and many of its citizens depend on foreign tourists for their livelihoods. Drumming up anti-foreigner hatred and fear won’t solve anyone’s problems.
[Al Jazeera English newsdesk photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]