Tuesday, 26 October 2010


Egyptian televangelists debate the authorities' crackdown on Islamic sattelite channels: a political grievance or a sectarian one?

  • Tuesday, 26 October 2010
  • Fouad GM
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  • In the run-up to the parliamentary elections scheduled later this month and presidential elections in 2011, Egyptian authorities have started an all-out crack down on activists, journalists, pro-democracy groups as well as the media.
    In the immediate aftermath of the confrontation between Al-Dostor's new owners and its veteran editor-in-chief, Egyptian authorities issued strongly-worded warnings to almost forty sattelite channels broadcast from Egypt. The warnings came in tandem with a number of closures which targetted a number of these satellite channels - amongst them, ten Islamic sattelite channels.
    The question is: closing down the ten Islamic satellite channels in Egypt really motivated by the country's upcoming presidential elections and the regime's desire to orchestrate a peaceful transition from Mubarak Sr. to Mubarak Jr.? Is it an attempt to change the media landscape in Egypt in preparation for this unpopular transition (assuming it really is unpopular, and assuming popularity is a numerical figure, not a matter of informed decision)?
    Why has Alazhar issued a plethora of scholarly opinions in the recent past accusing these channels and Islamic televangelism of "unauthorised religious guidance", "misguidance", "religious mercantilism", "trading in faith and fatwas", "undermining the role of traditional and scholarly inquisition in Islam" amongst other things? Was it a genuine concern by the millenium-old community of scholars? Is it traditionalists' reaction to an age of postmodern learning, media, globalisation and transnationalisation? Or was it really Alazhar's contribution to the political transition from father to son?

    These are some of the issues discussed in a seminar entitled "Closure and Marginalisation" organised by the Freedoms' Committee at the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate.

    What caught my eye the most was the sectarian intonations of the grievances voiced by some of the more radical Sunni televangelists. Dr. Safwat Hegazy, an Egyptian televangelist, accused the Egyptian regime of "withdrawing Egypt from its traditional role" which, according to Hegazy's sectarian logic "leaves the Middle East open for Christian and Shi`a propaganda."
    Although Hegazy, like many Egyptian televangelists, is not known for hate-speech or violent rhetoric, Sunni televangelism has been behind an awakening of sectarianism throughout Egyptian society.
    Hegazy noted that, "issues pertaining to our Christian brothers and sisters and issues pertaining to the Shi`a are considered red lines which we may not cross, and their channels are guarded under the pretext of freedom of religion."
    So the question becomes, will the closure and crack on media and activists in Egypt in the run-up to the elections fall under the political grievances on an increasingly frustrated civil society? Or will it be appropriated by conservative and sectarian televangelists?

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