Arab Journalism and Egypt’s’ claimed control over UK’s mosques

First published Fri 1st Oct 2010The manipulated picture by the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram

Iqbal Tamimi

Anyone who reads the alarming title quoting the President of Al-Azhar University saying ‘We have put an end to the practices of some preachers in the Islamic centres of Britain’, published by Asharq Alawsat newspaper, Tuesday September 21 2010 would think that UK is one of Egypt’s provinces.


I was intrigued to find out how Egypt or its AlAzhar University officials have offered a helping hand to the politicians of UK, and how they have been able to fix something inside UK and in what capacity.

The first question that comes to mind is has the UK and its politicians became bankrupt of ideas that they resorted to the expertise of Middle Eastern officials to solve their country’s alleged internal problems? Does Egypt really have a say when it comes to local policies in the UK? And why would UK officials take advice from a source that proved not to be able to handle its own internal affairs? And most of all, if what Asharq alAwsat newspaper has reported was true and the UK needs advice or help from a Muslim source, why has it resorted to Egypt? Why not request the advice from Indonesia for example, since Indonesia is the largest Muslim country by population and home for 15.6 per cent of the world’s Muslims, or why not ask the advice of any other Asian country since around 62 per cent of the world’s Muslims live in Asia. The second line of the title for the same article came with smaller font and humbler rhetoric: ‘Dr. Abdullah Al-Husseini told «Asharq Alawsat»: Al-Azhar University is to open dialogue with the West’.


We are left confused by the two different tones of the headlines, and which one of them to consider. We wonder, whether the Asharq Alawsat newspaper is adopting sensationalism, or there has really been a formal request by the UK seeking Egypt’s rescue on this matter.

Reading down the article, the content says: during the interview with the President of Al-Azhar University, Dr. Abdallah Al-Husseini said that “his University has ‘put an end’ to the ‘wrong behaviour’ of some preachers in Islamic centres and some of the mosques in Britain”.

Wow, ‘put an end’?…This was interesting, I wanted to know like all eager readers how a Middle Eastern University has helped UK to ‘put an end’ to what seems to be a huge problem. The report claims that Dr. Husseini said that the Sheikh of Azhar, Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb, headed a delegation to visit the mosques in London, and the outcome was that Al-Azhar university has implemented a ‘rehabilitation’ course for ‘those Imams’ to correct their methods of preaching Islam. The butter of the long article is simply: 20 imams from UK, mostly Afghan, attended a course supervised by Al-Azhar University. That’s all.


One wonders, why amongst the millions of courses implemented in different fields and organized annually in the UK between mutually interested parties, none of them used such rhetoric to insinuate control or an upper hand but this one. For those who are not familiar with the Arab press, and who might not understand this example of language masculinity that insinuates being in charge, one should bear in mind that, everyone in the Arab world wants to be in charge or be the leader, no one wants to be led. Arabs like to be in the position of telling others what to do: being in charge and leading others makes them somehow feel good about themselves for playing the role of the shepherd and not the sheep. This attitude can also be noticed through their journalism practices.


Asharaq Al Awsat is a Saudi newspaper, and Saudi media has always done its best to reflect Saudi Arabia as the leader and the guardian of Arabs especially when the subject concerns Islam. It is a well known fact that both Egypt and Saudi Arabia stroke each others’ ego, since Egypt as well considers itself the leader of the Arab world politically, and has a record of media stunts to prove that. For example, its latest manipulation of the photo of the world leaders’ summit held in USA which was published by the leading national Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, doctored to bring the Egyptian President Hosni Mubark from the back in the original photo, positioning him right at the front. This manipulation of facts contradicts the ethics of journalism and basic common sense, since the host usually leads the way ahead of his guests in his own home, not the other way round. Having to shift Obama’s figure, the host, and all the other leaders, and placing them all behind Mubarak, who was the last in the original photo, became a source of a ridiculing carnival around media circles, embarrassing President Mubarak himself. The editor-in-chief of the Al-Ahram newspaper, Osama Saraya, has not apologised for his professional failure, nor did he have the guts to resign from his post and take responsibility for embarrassing all Egyptian journalists. His action was even more shocking when he resorted to the attack policy as a defence mechanism, saying in his official response: ‘The picture has been published in that manner to express and portray the exact important political position of President Mubarak in the Palestinian issue and his unique and leading role’.


Surely this reply reflects professional immaturity by insinuating that all the other leaders present at the event, including the American host himself, do not match Mubark’s importance. Saraya’s naïve reply reflects as well an ethical gap between the media in Egypt and any other progressive free transparent media in the world.


It seems that those who are in charge of Arabic press have the illusion that they are addressing an ignorant oppressed herd at home and no one outside their borders has access to their fabricated stories. They presume that there are no monitoring bodies over their amusing news, and the bloggers are as frightened as the journalists employed and paid by their governments. Some Arab editors-in-hief think that they can treat the readers around the world with the same contempt they treat their own readers at home by forcing them to swallow their fabricated news and their manipulated content. For those ‘churnalists’ I would say, wake up. You are living in the globalisation era, where a reader in a remote area of India can read the same news article at the same time as a reader at the outskirts of the Arabian Desert when they both strike their computer keyboards, besides, the Western world does not suffer a shortage of translators, nor your fellow citizens are as naïve or ignorant as you might hope they will be.

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