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versity, wrote in the December 2011 edi-
tion of
Foreign Policy
.
As revolts gathered speed in early
2011, satellite TV and the multiplier ef-
fect of social media provided live cover-
age of the protests —and crackdowns —
from small towns like Sidi Bouzid in
Tunisia to Cairo’s teeming Tahrir Square.
One year later, television remains the
primary news source for most people in Egypt and Tunisia,
according to public opinion surveys. By the summer of
2011 at least 530 Arab-language channels were transmit-
ting, primarily fromArabsat, Nilesat and Noorsat. Dozens
of them emerged since last year’s revolts. Internet use,
while limited by infrastructure, has also grown sharply.
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, offers
a bazaar-like array of options in terms of TV programs, In-
ternet sites and newspapers. They include talk shows de-
bating topics ranging from religion to sex and regional
politics, sophisticated newspapers like
Al-Masry
and
Al-
Youm
that probe government policies, and the most vi-
brant blogosphere in the region.
“It’s more intense now, more diverse now,” says Ezzat
Ibrahim, Washington correspondent of the daily
Al-
Ahram
. “When you get people from the far-right Muslim
Brotherhood or Salafi parties appearing on shows with sec-
ularists, it gets interesting.”
Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign
Relations and author of
The Struggle for Egypt: From
Nasser to Tahrir Square
(Oxford University Press, 2011),
concurs, calling the media scene a “free for all.” Substan-
tive content is more readily available, he says, but so is
sketchier fare. “I can’t keep track of the number of televi-
sion channels and newspapers and magazines,” Cook says.
“It’s everywhere [in] a society that was supposedly not in-
terested in politics.”
Tunisia’s media evolution is a bit different, character-
ized by a greater focus on French-language coverage tar-
geted to elites. But it, too, has stirred up tensions, particu-
larly following electoral wins by Islamist political parties.
Signs of Alarm
Both Egypt and Tunisia conducted general elections
last year that were deemed mostly free and fair and re-
sulted in Islamic parties winning majorities. In Tunisia the
victorious Islamist party known as Ennahda (Renaissance)
formed a coalition with two leftist parties. And in Egypt,
the political wing of the Muslim Broth-
erhood and the fundamentalist Salafis
dominate both parliamentary chambers
after electoral gains. Coverage of the
process was deemed positive, but media
monitors have pointed to troubling de-
velopments, particularly in Egypt.
One of the most ominous moments in
recent Egyptian history was the Oct. 9,
2011, violence against Coptic Christians (10 percent of the
population) peacefully demonstrating outside theMaspero
broadcast building in Cairo, during which government
forces killed 22 Copts. Media monitoring groups said that
state outlets falsely reported the protesters were armed
and appeared to urge the public to support the military.
Tunisia generally gets good marks by watchdog groups
for democratic advances since the ouster of President Ben
Ali. In its most recent press freedom index, Reporters
Without Borders cited “the emergence of real pluralism
of opinion in the print media and, albeit possibly only for
the time being, the end of massive and systematic Internet
filtering.” But the group also noted troubling instances of
government efforts to suppress investigative reporting.
Two high-level court cases still unfolding have the po-
tential to further chill the climate for local media. The
owner of Nessma Television, Nebil Karoui, went on trial in
January for blasphemy for broadcasting the movie “Perse-
polis” last October. Members of the Salafist movement
angrily protested the animated film, which includes a de-
piction of God.
Separately, two journalists from the paper
Attounissia
,
Hadi Hedri and Habib Guizani, were arrested in Febru-
ary and charged with distributing printed material that cor-
rupts public morals — the photo of the topless girlfriend
of a Tunisian soccer star. In this case, prosecutors side-
stepped the country’s new press and audiovisual laws,
which protect journalists against detention and trial. Some
local journalists fear new efforts to revise the laws.
The Role of International Broadcasters
Satellite television has for years been the primary
source of news and information for publics in Egypt and
Tunisia. The unrivaled leading source of international news
remains Qatar-based Al-Jazeera. The station, started in
1996 and seeded with Western-trained journalists, has
gained credibility through its coverage of U.S.-led wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan and its willingness to interview Is-
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F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / M A Y 2 0 1 2
F
OCUS
Competition among
pan-Arab media
broadcasters is
growing intense.