Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Monday the launch of a new English blog to “enhance its communication with the world” and to address “inaccurate” reports about Egypt in foreign media.
Named “Egypt MFA Blog: Egypt Connects,” the new blog, according to Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, aims at creating an “informal platform” for those interested in Egypt’s foreign policy, such as officials, diplomats, scholars, academics, writers, and thinkers, to exchange their opinions on the country’s current affairs.
One more important function of the blog, according to Shoukry, is to correct alleged misconceptions about the situation in Egypt to the international community.
“It provides a tool to supplement formal channels of information and to circumvent the labyrinthine editorial policies of the mainstream international media. The aim is to provide a more objective narrative of events in Egypt for those who seek more than just the partial truth,” Shoukry said in welcoming note on the blog.
In a stronger tone, ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid said in the ministry’s statement in Arabic that the blog’s launch comes amid “smear media campaigns adopted by some foreign media outlets regarding political, economic and security issues in Egypt.” According to him, such reports prove that these outlets deliberately decline to publish reactions to criticism of their coverage. The new blog will provide a space for such reactions to be published, the statement said.
The ministry could be referring to recent CNN coverage of the abduction of a Croatian hostage by the IS affiliate in Egypt, Province of Sinai. In a recent statement, the ministry slammed CNN’s coverage.
“The report spoke of the spread of chaos and terrorism and the absence of the state’s power in Egypt in a way that is extremely sarcastic, and which is far removed from objectivity, professionalism and honesty,” the ministry said.
The ministry also lambasted the international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) this month for being “suspicious and politicized” following a report the organization released on August 14, the second anniversary of the violent dispersal of the Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in.
The blog contains a disclaimer that all contributions are an expression of the author’s personal viewpoint and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Egyptian government. Comments are disabled on the first two posts.
In a phone call with Mada Masr, the ministry declined to comment on questions about whether non-Egyptians would be allowed to contribute and whether a more critical view of Egypt’s foreign policy will be presented in the blog.
But the first blog post offers a deeper look into the kind of perspective the blog is offering.
The first contribution is on the New Suez Canal bypass, titled “International Perspectives on the Suez Canal Expansion Project.” The author is Assistant Professor of Law at the American University in Cairo Jasmine Moussa, who specializes in legal affairs concerning the Nile and marine navigation.
In the article, Moussa examined the economic impact of the new project and its political significance, seeking to “highlight its positive aspects.”
She responded to criticism projected at the New Suez Canal “expansion,” emphasizing positive responses to the project in the international media, including reports from the UK Chamber of Shipping and remarks by British Foreign Minister Michael Fallon, as well as other commentary.
Moussa then moved to criticize reports that were skeptical of the project, including a Foreign Policy article by journalist Sarah Carr on “President Sisi’s Canal Extravaganza,” in which the writer criticizes the “unnecessary infrastructure in a country that is falling to pieces.” Moussa described Carr’s analysis as “disturbing,” “lengthy” and “cynical” analysis. She was specifically outraged by Carr’s criticism of the opening ceremony, describing it as “cultural superiority” and “a smack of racism and contempt for the Egyptian people’s chosen form of cultural expression.”
Moussa said the celebration reflected “the way [Egyptians] know best: singing, dancing and chanting.”
“What Egypt needs now more than anything is some optimism that is grounded in sound, objective, fact-based scholarly analysis. No one seeks or expects complete consensus on the way forward, but what is definitely expected is professionalism, objectivity and some measure of respect,” Moussa added.
Research Assistant on the Middle East and North Africa for the Berlin-based SWP German Institute for International and Security Affairs Jannis Grimm explained to Mada Masr that any attempt at “critical exchange” is good for strengthening foreign relations. However, it is important that such a platform won’t “silence critical voices and only represents the government narrative.”
Grimm also doubted that the blog would have any notable effect unless its content is also available in Arabic. He explained, “The value of translating all texts into Arabic would be that critical comments would be accessible to the non-English speaking population, that could then corroborate the MFA’s comments or replies. However, I guess that is highly unlikely to happen since even in Egyptian bilingual newspapers, we find different stories and wordings for the different readerships (foreign and domestic).”
Grimm’s fears could have grounds. While the Arabic statement about the blog launch included strong criticism of foreign media, the English statement was very brief, serving only to introduce the blog as a forum for exchange of opinions and providing the URL.
Concerning the Foreign Ministry’s attempts to “correct misconceptions” about the situation in Egypt, Grimm believes that there aren’t actually many misconceptions. Grimm himself has authored a very critical review of the state of Egyptian civil society under new legislative restrictions published this month.
“Terrorism and the state inability to fight it is obvious, human rights violations are proven by countless HR organizations with an international reputation, death penalties are being executed, elections postponed — how can one make these right with words on a blog?” he wondered.