Western media coverage of the massive waves of protests in Egypt over the past two days is revealing of a number of problems that plague knowledge production about the Arab world.

As crowds across the country were just warming up for the historic protests, around midday on June 30, reports from Cairo appearing on Western broadcast and online news outlets focused on projecting an image of “polarization.” Rallies opposing the Muslim Brotherhood were represented as being balanced out, and in some cases even outnumbered, by the demonstration in favor of President Mohamed Morsi. The likelihood of violent clashes were carefully embedded within the news as a main characteristic of the current political situation in Egypt.

As the day went by, the June 30 anti-Morsi demonstrations turned out to probably be the largest ever in Egyptian history, with Egyptians from all walks of life peacefully, yet audaciously, denouncing the Brotherhood’s rule. In time for the evening news cycle in Europe and morning newscasts in the US, editors of printed and online news outlets in the West started playing down their initial “polarization” message and began to recognize the size of dissidents as being truly unprecedented and in the millions.

The Egyptian people’s defiance of Brotherhood rule is a serious popular challenge to the most significant strategic reordering of the region perhaps since the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916.

Still, there was a clear conservatism when it came to  projecting the threat of such show of force on Morsi’s own legitimacy. The June 30  demonstrations were depicted merely as a significant sign of social discontent that would bear few consequences on the Washington-sponsored ruling coalition between the military and the Brotherhood. In other words, media sent a message to Western audiences that whereas the historical protests might look noble and impressive, the only real political players in Egypt (and probably in the Arab world as whole) are military generals and Islamists.

This paradigm, forced through journalistic accounts, has been sponsored by so-called Middle East “experts.” Those experts mold the Western perceptions of the Middle East from the comfort of their heftily funded think tanks, and at times of trouble, like June 30, they embed themselves in London and Washington news studios, where they broadcast their representation of the Middle East. As the Egyptian army stepped up its game midday on Monday and checkmated Morsi by issuing a 48-hour ultimatum to respond to the people’s demands, these same media circuits started a concerted effort to bring the “coup d’état” discourse, sometimes forcefully, to the forefront of the discussion about events in Egypt.

The failure of Western media and pundits to both recognize and project the nuances of the current conflict in Egypt through their negligence of  people’s agency in shaping the political outcomes is both pathetic and shameful. It is pathetic because it indicates the degree to which Western intellectual circles — especially those profiteering from Western policymaking bodies — remain willfully entrapped in an outdated and out-of-touch Orientalist worldview of the region. 

It is both ironic and sad that while mediocre analysts, to say the least of their understanding of the changing Middle East, make frequent appearances in two-minute on-air interviews in newsrooms, the voices of other academics and experts with serious research backgrounds and true expertise of the region remain largely unheard.  Serious analysts are not in demand, not only because they have long overcome this Orientalist paradigm in analyzing the politics of change in the Middle East, but also because they don’t have the talent of crafting those superficial, short, studio-made answers to questions of news anchors.   

The attempt to contain the news discourse about the politics of change in the Middle East over the past two and a half years in general and the unfolding events of the past hours in Egypt specifically, within the ready-made paradigm of military-Islamist turf wars, is also very shameful.

The insistence on ignoring the possibility of there being other factors at play, quite frankly, conceals a deeply embedded fear by Western powers, especially the US and Britain, of the emergence of a true grassroots democratic alternative in the Arab world’s largest country. Such an alternative would most certainly challenge the US hegemony in the region, even if only by beginning to address different possibilities regarding the future of Egypt, its people and its regional state of affairs.

The US, Britain and many other counterparts have heavily invested in the empowerment of a tamed Islamist rule — spearheaded, of course, by the Muslim Brotherhood — to take over the Middle East from post-colonial populist regimes living long past their expiry dates. American and British ambassadors to the region have been carefully weaving this vision and reporting back home that this is simply the best formula for the protection of their interests in the region.

That such a formula would lend itself to the protraction of another cycle of vicious human rights abuses and continued economic injustices is, naturally, of little concern to them.

The major turn of events that a defiant Egyptian populace led over the past two days interrupts many plans, most especially the Western road map of the region. The Egyptian people’s defiance of Brotherhood rule is  a serious popular challenge to the most significant strategic reordering of the region perhaps since the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916.

This is precisely why Western audiences are not being allowed to sympathize with the demonstrations in Egypt demanding Morsi’s ouster in the way they did with protests against former President Hosni Mubarak in January 2011. Amid this grave misrepresentation of the Egyptian revolution, the credibility and true independence of mainstream Western media is being seriously put to question.


Of course Western media

Of course Western media coverage of the situation in Egypt is oversimplified -- it's not even easy for people on the ground to know exactly what is going on from one hour to the next, much less for non- or superficial experts thousands of miles away.

Ultimately, while this article is well written, it falls back on the same facile accusations of Western love for the Brotherhood and designs for Egypt's demise that I have heard expressed time and time again as an American expat living in Cairo over the last year.

It is really exhausting to constantly hear these accusations with little substantiation. We're constantly being told that the U.S. both hates Islam and loves the Muslim Brotherhood. This is simply not logical, and neither statement is true.

There are lots of valuable, valid criticisms to be made of western media coverage in the Middle East and of American foreign policy here in general. But speaking as an American with plenty of contact with friends back home, I think there is a huge amount of solidarity, sympathy, or whatever you want to call it with the regular Egyptians now protesting in the street. Americans are, for the most part, hugely suspicious of the Islamist government, but also of military rule. Certainly they could use more information to better understand the state of affairs here, but please be wary of repeating the same tired trope that the West's primary objective is foiling Egypt's success as a popular democracy. This article would really benefit from more specific examples.

How refreshing to read an

How refreshing to read an intelligent, utterly and bluntly truthful analysis of the reasons behind the western media's biased misrepresentation of events in Egypt. Thank you, Mr. Shaalan.

Great read!

Great read!

violence against women

i agree. it was relatively peaceful. but i think we negate all the violence against women and instead are patting ourselves on the back for not killing each other. are gang rapes and sexual assaults then not considered forms of violence?

whilst i broadly agree with

whilst i broadly agree with your argument, i think you have overplayed the bias of the Western media (i can only really speak on British media). it seems to me that the slant most of the british media, especially the bbc, has taken is anti-morsi. the point that was being made, it seemed to me anyway, was that Morsi was fairly elected by the Egyptian people a year ago and despite his many serious failings, he still has a mandate to rule until his term expires and Egypt can elect a new leader then.

you also say that the western media has ignored any other potential factors at play in the protests but you don't say what these other factors are either?

to khaled shaalan

Thank you for analyzing it so clearly - it has been very frustrating to read and listen to Western media the past few days

Thank you for real News

Thank You Khaled Shaalan for providing real insightful news about what is happening in Egypt. Congratulations to the Egyptian people for standing up for the democracy that they themselves created. Congratulations to the Egyptian people for having the courage to make a course correction when they saw the threat to THEIR democracy. Bravo Egypt!!! You are taking back your country and you are an example for others.

your last sentence clearly speaks

Thank you for this writing. I live in the US where media functions amid grave misrepresentation and serious lack of credibility. You see clearly the breakdown of western media when it is allowed to be owned by people of wealth who use this powerful tool for their own motives. Even more than ever, the populace must use discernment and a multiplicity of news sources to ascertain a broader sense of truth.


I hope you enjoy being ruled by the SCAF as that it what is going to happen. If you are going to have a democracy then free and fair elections is the proper way to choose or reject who will lead you.

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NYT Article

Samer S. Shehata's article in the NYT entitled "In Egypt, Democrats vs. Liberals."

It would be helpful if the

It would be helpful if the author named names instead of tarring all 'Western media' with the same brush. As it is, his own (mis)representation of the 'Western media' suffers the same defect as the very caricature of Egypt in some media outlets which he seeks to oppose.

in response

I'm sorry but I just don't agree to this view. Although some points regarding the use of sound bites and unnuanced description hold true, you can argue this is a problem of the media of news and the way news programmes are run with short deadlines and short presentations.

On the substantive points:
- initial 'polarisation' image was played down correctly, not necessarily because the embedded messages were being proved untrue but because it is news i.e. moves quickly and is subject to change. They may have jumped the gun a bit in the analysis on the first day but representation of a fluid situation can and should be changed as events develop.
- "depicted merely as a significant sign of social discontent" - this is not necessarily true. It is also a recognition of the well proven fact that spontaneous movements which lack specific political direction, programmes and leadership will have a hard time in effectively replacing embedded power structures. Of course it should be attempted and i wish for the triumph of horizontally-organised movements of the people, but don't underestimate the difficulties. This is the interpretation i have gleaned form the news on the BBC, rather than dismissal of the potential of the protests.
- coup d'etat discourse also i think a recognition of the realities of an embedded military power structure that wants to protect its interests. it should be raised as a possibility in genuine analysis rather than dismissed, to deny the possibility would surely be naive.
- i don't feel that the news coverage prevents me from sympathising with the protests, quite the opposite. A clearer picture of the obstacles that are faced leads to more sympathy, not less. Getting rid of mubarak was only ever the beginning, challenging the deep state is the harder problem and i hope the egyptian people succeed.
regards, from the UK (can't speak for US media anyway)

Western Media Coverage of Egypt

I found Mr. Shaalan's criticisms to be interesting, but not very helpful as a corrective.

If Western media has failed "to both recognize and project the nuances of the current conflict in Egypt," please tell us what these nuances are! If the military takeover is not a coup d'etat of a democratically elected government, please tell us what it is!

"The US, Britain and many other counterparts" may "have heavily invested in the empowerment of a tamed Islamist rule" as "simply the best formula for the protection of their interests in the region," but it was not by choice. It was because Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were the democratically elected choice of the Egyptian people.

Sitting here in Chicago, wishing the best for the Egyptian people and Mr. Shaalan, I hope Mr. Shaalan will tell us what this is really all about.


Further to my earlier comments - watching the coverage tonight in the UK on channel 4, it fulfilled virtually everything you said above, from the polarisation and violent conflict message to the heavy emphasis on coup d'etat analysis. Truly appalling reporting from Krishnan Guru-Murthy , who shouted down several Egyptians who were making reasoned points to convey some of the nuance. Let's hope we can do better! Regards

Thank you

A great article indeed

Thank you for taking the time

Thank you for taking the time to articulate the frustrations of at least one Egyptian abroad.

wow... i highly disagree with

wow... i highly disagree with your argument. you immediately discredit think tanks just because they live in the "comfy" west. you then go on to call western media's views "orientalist", "pathetic" and "shameful" without giving any real meaning to these words. sorry, name-calling is not a substitute for a substantial argument. also, do you know what "polarization" means? because I felt like you didn't by the way you used it. Egyptian society is definitely polarized and I don't think anyone would argue about that. you then quickly lump all westerners together, saying this is why they are not allowed to celebrate morsy's ouster... wow! now who is painting with the big brush? I think it's you!

and of course media looks to the military and the muslim brotherhood as the two main influences in egypt! there is no other organization in egypt with as much power. (perhaps there might be if it weren't for the squabbling liberals.) it's not a conspiracy by the west to hide the other influences at play... because there *are* no larger power brokers in egypt besides these two in power! you say there are other players, but you yourself seem to have trouble mentioning them in your article...

you also seem to forget that the British-American "plot" to put the brotherhood in power was actually just a presidential election where egyptians voted to put the brotherhood into power. egyptians came out to the streets in 2011 calling for democracy and then you blame the west for working with their elected government? what would you have them do? who then would they work with? i definitely don't agree with morsy's policies and i believe he mismanaged the government, but you can't blame the west for working with the government elected by the egyptian people. in the end, this is an internal matter that all egyptians are going to have to work out for themselves, but your argument reeks of too much victimization.

The way the author throws

The way the author throws around the "orientalism" charge around makes me wonder if the author has even read Said? Is he very aware of the rich history of discourse related to orientalism? Or does he merely know that (if you're into name-calling) it is a very powerful charge and one that is hard to rebut? If Edward Said were alive today I suspect he would be way more nuanced and insightful re present happenings in Egypt. Even if he agreed that the recent army induced regime change had very broad popular support (or even if he thought that this change was positive overall or better that the most likely alternatives) I am certain Said would both call it a coup and acknowledge real concerns with the precedent it sets.

What strikes me is the

What strikes me is the obsession in this part of the world to always find faults with the West. If it is not with the foreign policy it is with the media. Although what the author says about some media may be true it remains on the whole a generalisation that does not reflect the truth. Many media outlets have been following events every minute and evidently could not get every detail correct. The Western media still remain credible in comparison with the media in Egypt with presenters clad in uniforms to announce the coup and their unified campaigns.

Despite all the criticism, it is always towards the West that faces turn for aid or solutions to their problems.

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