Claims of bias and inaccurate reporting have dogged the Western press’s coverage of Egypt since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. A story in this week’s Washington Post entitled “In Egypt, many shrug as freedoms disappear” will do little to restore confidence.
The article eschews the classical news story format in favor of an impressions and perceptions style. Its lede states:
The charges are often vague. The evidence is elusive. Arrests occur swiftly, and the convictions follow. And there is little transparency in what analysts have called the harshest political crackdown in Egypt in decades.
But many Egyptians say they are all right with that.
There is a growing sense here in the Arab world’s largest country that the best path to stability — after three years of political turmoil — might be to do things the military’s way: crush the Islamists who made people angry enough to support a coup; silence dissent; and ask very few questions.
The article begins with an opinion as to the mood of the Egyptian people. Is this then a news analysis article or a news article?
If a news article facts and figures should follow to support the claims in the lede. What “evidence”? How many arrests and convictions? Who is being arrested and why? Which analysts claim the army’s rule has led to the “harshest political crackdown in Egypt in decades”? Who is being censored and why? These details are mostly absent.
A thematic diagram of this story suggests this is an opinion piece — a commentary offering the author’s view of the meaning of events, rather than a report on events. Following the lede we have a quote from a government spokesman defending the violent crackdown; a man in the street supporting the crackdown and a Washington-based expert explaining popular support for the crackdown.
This all leads to the central argument of the story.
The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties captured the lion’s share of the vote in Egypt’s first democratic elections two years ago. The Brotherhood had renounced violence decades earlier and gained popularity by establishing a vast network of charitable organizations.
These days, those images of benign Islamist leadership have been erased from many minds by the hyper-nationalist rhetoric promoted by the government, which has portrayed Brotherhood members as bloodthirsty terrorists bent on destroying the nation.
An assortment of disconnected facts are presented to support this argument, coupled with further pro-Brotherhood arguments from the Washington Post. Assertions are piled on assertions and dubious statements presented uncritically.
The government’s crackdown has been so pervasive — and the cult of support for military leader Abdel Fatah al-Sissi so far-reaching — that the Brotherhood has likened Egypt’s transgression to “fascism,” as have some liberal observers.
Is labeling support for al-Sissi a “cult” fair? Fascism? Is citing a foreign diplomat as a “liberal” observer appropriate? The US embassy and the former ambassador have been denounced for its pro-Brotherhood statements and have little credibility in Egypt — are Western diplomats an appropriate source on this point?
The article closes with a pessimistic quote from an Egypt expert at Harvard. Given six decades of military rule following the overthrow of King Farouk it was foolish to expect Egypt to take to democracy, he argues.