Saturday 17 August 2013

Talk Like an Egyptian

Today's Dateline London (minus Gavin Esler) was an unusually feisty and rewarding affair. 

Much of it was taken up with a discussion of this week's violent events in Egypt and it began with an impassioned contribution from the programme's regular Egyptian contributor, Abdallah Homouda. 

This came across as something of a cry of frustration at the way in which the events have been covered by Western media organisations, and Mr Homouda gave me the impression of being distinctly nervous about presenting his own point of view on the BBC today - given the BBC's own recent reporting.

[Maybe he'd heard the BBC's Roger Hearing bellowing at a liberal Egyptian pro-army guest on last night's The World Tonight].  

Here's as exact a transcription as possible (sorry, but a couple of words eluded me):
I was concerned yesterday when I was told that I would come to the programme because I felt that I could be a lone voice in a tide of Western media which is barraging Egypt these days. 
I find it really difficult to say
Everything is accusing the military, accusing the security forces and exonerating the culprit, who is the Muslim Brotherhood. There are 350,000 members, well-organised and bound by obedience and commitment, well-trained, and a wing of them is well-armed and they have taken on the security forces from the very beginning. 
They massed their members in two areas around Cairo. They made life difficult for everyone.
Everyone forgot that there were 45 days of agitation, contrary to the narration in the West.
In the West they played on the fact that they are against the military and for democracy and in Cairo they were speaking about the Islamic estate and the Islamic identity of Egypt and that Western democracy is a heretic civilisation. 
They spoke about the Coptic Christians in Egypt as 'casual citizens'. 'Casual citizens' could go anywhere, but Egypt is for them only and not for everyone else.
It is amazing that the Left and the Right both in the West are so naive, or they have their own self-interest. The Egyptian people are beginning to feel, in a way, under attack, xenophob....sorry, I can't say the word...yeah, xenophobic.  
I am so stressed because of the situation to the extent that I find it difficult even to speak in Arabic, because of the unfairness of the situation.
The military just set the scene to reboot the democratic process. The new president is by the default constitution the head of the constitutional court, so he.. [came?]. A new government has been appointed of technocrats who are well-respected around the world and the army is guarding from as far away as possible, leaving the security forces to direct the situation.
The 45 days of agitation threatened everyone, 'We either control you or kill you', and encouraging their own members to play martyrdom, and embarrass the Egyptian authorities in the world.
What I can say is not enough.
I have a list of 45 churches around Egypt which were burned.
What is happening in killing is up and down the country. It is not between the security forces and the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies, it is between the Muslim Brotherhood who are attacking the people.
Today I'm going to interview an English lady who lives in Alexandria and this lady has pictures and will give testimony. I'm inviting Nabila to come and interview her as well, just to know what is going on from someone who is not Egyptian.
The surprising thing here was that Mr Homouda wasn't a lone voice on the panel. In fact, that lone voice belonged instead to the French-Algerian Guardian columnist Nabila Ramdani. 

Nabila - as you might already be aware - has been one of the BBC's most-used 'external' commentators on Middle Eastern matters in the last few years, perhaps because her views strike many at the BBC as being well-judged. (I have to say though that I usually completely disagree with her).

However, in a complete reversal of the situation I'd have expected from Dateline, Nabila Ramdani found herself ranged not only against Mr Homouda but also against Janet Daley of The Sunday Telegraph [from the Right] and Marc Roche of Le Monde [from the Left] - both taking Mr Homouda's side in the noisy tussle that ensued. 

Nabila's views tallied with much that I've been hearing from the many BBC reporters and editors who have been reporting from the country over the past few days and weeks. It was most unusual to find her views so robustly challenged - and all thanks to Dateline [not something I usually find myself writing!] 

3-against-1 situations on Dateline are something I usually complain about (though actually the programme's frequent 4-against-0 consensuses are my particular bugbear.), so I suppose I should be complaining about bias here too. 

I'm not though. Is this because this particular bias coincides happily with my own point of view? Or because this particular bias (deliberately or accidentally) counteracted the prevailing bias of the BBC's own reporters (as I think it does)? 


  1. I didn’t see Dateline, but from your description it does sound as though it was unusually ‘biased’ towards the, (shall we call it the sane) point of view, which indicates how unhelpful aspiring to scrupulous impartiality really is.

    Even though defenders of the BBC would say, (as they frequently did on B-BBC) “you don’t want an unbiased BBC, you want one biased towards YOUR bias” which I don’t actually think is what I want, the BBC still has plenty of chances to make up for it “over time’, which is what it always claims it does.

    On this occasion, it sounded just what the doctor ordered.

    One other point - I heard Douglas Carswell the other day expressing a view I’ve heard a lot from various politicians, about democracies and coups.
    He seemed to be saying that democratically elected governments must always be respected, come what may, and the military intervention was definitely a coup d’etat. That brings to mind Hamas, who were also democratically elected, a grim fact that people never stop reminding each other of, but I'd say that when the elected government “gets off the bus” as the analogy goes, it no longer properly qualifies as representative of the people.

    Of course if a huge majority wished for Sharia and a strict repressive Islamist regime and were willing to sacrifice the resultant hope of economic recovery, then so be it. But it seems that is not the case.
    Later I read somewhere that Carswell’s theory included the prediction that if there had been no coup and Morsi’s policies were left to take their course, they would self-destruct ‘democratically’ and somehow that was what he meant all along.

    Would that that were the case in Iran, or for that matter various other Islamist countries, in the M.E and NA. Their kind of self-destruct doesn’t seem to have many happy endings

    1. Yes, I thought Douglas Carswell was uncharacteristically off-key there too.

      Godwin's Law shouldn't prevent us from noting that democratically-elected dictatorships can last indefinitely - unless they are actively resisted. They can prove remarkably resilient, however self-destructive their actions might seem.

      Just as an extra to the post...

      Janet Daley said the following about the Western media's reporting, in the wake of its reporting of the anti-Morsi mass protests]:

      "Suddenly, when the military did step in and take control, there was a revolt against this, a bizarre sort of intellectual turnaround in which we decided that a democratically legitimate government had been displaced.

      "Democratic legitimacy doesn't come just from being elected. Elections aren't all there is to democracy. Hitler was elected. The fact that you've been elected doesn't mean that you're committed to democratic institutions or the rule of law.

      "When Morsi got into power he had no mandate to create an Islamist state. That wasn't his democratic mandate, and yet that is what he proceeded to do, and there was huge mass protest about that, as you know, mass demonstrations against that, an the army stepped in to restore order."

      And Abdallah Homouda added, "I think the argument against the army intervention is like returning us, in this very situation, to the nursery book of politics. The army did not intervene to do anything other than to suspend what was going on... ...I have never defended the army but the army now acted as a bailiff for the will of the Egyptian people to reclaim their country."

    2. So I think Janet Daley more or less said what I was trying to say.

      Michael J Totton explains how unmoderate the brotherhood is. (Remember Jeremy Bowen's assurances that they were moderates?)

      Of course if the Egyptian people who voted for the MB knew what they were really like, and the fact that the organisation was outlawed during Mubarak’s reign suggests people knew very well, then I suppose, having been voted in, they possibly did have some sort of mandate, and if so they should have been allowed to pursue their ‘vision’ till it came to some sort of conclusion.

      After all, Obama’s version of democracy (I aim to represent all the people, not just those who voted Democrat) could end up being a wishy-washy coalition-like flip-flop. Indecisive and ineffectual.
      Maybe, in order to be effective, true democracy needs government to be resolute, visionary and principled, all the way to hell if necessary; and then if possible, replaced, by democratic means.

      Not very likely with the MB in power though. Once installed they would hardly budge, and perhaps, on the principle of a stitch in time, early intervention in the form of a coup was the only way, democracy or no. Short and sharp it is not, and the stitch might have been in time but it doesn’t appear to have saved nine.

  2. Nabila, I find you biased and insulting towards your views against General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. I saw the Arabic program last night and you calling him a butcher for slaughtering the muslim brotherhood sit in Rabaa, when you know fully well that these were armed terrorists that killed and shot at the Egyptian Police that stormed the sit in. Shame on people like you twisting the reality and shame on BBC for having a liar like you.


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