While Al Jazeera gave prominent airtime to al-Qaradawi and other Islamists affiliated with the Brotherhood, numerous Saudi-owned papers took the opposite approach, depicting an ominous rise of Islamist and Salafist parties in Egypt and lamenting the failure of liberal youth movements to organize politically. In July 2011, Tariq al-Homayed, the former editor-in-chief of the Saudi-owned, London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, wrote an op-ed titled, “Are We Looking at Egyptistan?” Though al-Homayed granted that the Islamists had the right to express their opinions, “whether we like it or not,” he concluded by asking, “Will the [Egyptian] political forces—particularly the youth and liberals—wake up from their delusions today… or will they continue to waste these historic opportunities to build a democratic Egypt?”
Other Saudi and Saudi-owned pan-Arab media also voiced their concerns about the Brotherhood after its candidate, Mohammed Morsi, won Egypt’s presidential election in June 2012. Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, general manager of the Al Arabiya news channel, noted that while Morsi gave the Gulf states assurances that he would not interfere with their affairs, “[W]hat would he do if Israel attacked Hamas in Gaza?” He also wondered which Palestinian faction Morsi would support, and whether he would “remain silent about Iran’s ideological and religious activities…as seen in Tehran’s support for local groups and attempts to spread the Shiite ideology amongst some Egyptian circles?”
Throughout the first half of 2013, tensions persisted between Morsi and the judiciary, which struck down Morsi’s request for early parliamentary elections, as well as between Morsi and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Morsi’s government also made headlines for harassing journalists who were accused of insulting the president. Al Arabiya published a scathing report in April titled, “Bassem Youssef and the Muslim Brotherhood’s War on Media in Egypt.”
After the Egyptian military set a 48-hour deadline on July 1 for all political parties to resolve their differences, Al Arabiya mockingly reported on the new clock set up by the Egyptian grassroots movement Tamarod to count the hours and minutes until Morsi’s resignation with the headline, “Move over, MorsiMeter! ‘MorsiTimer’ Counts down Egypt Army Deadline.”
Hours after the military removed Morsi from office on July 3, the Saudi paper al-Riyadh published the “cable of congratulations” that King Abdullah sent to interim Egyptian President Adli Mansour and the Egyptian military, in which he praised Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for managing “to save Egypt at this critical moment from a dark tunnel God on could apprehend its dimensions and repercussions….”
Just months after Morsi took office, Saudi outlets were already mocking him by reporting on the “Morsi Meter,” a tool created by Morsi’s activist opponents to track his lack of progress in fulfilling campaign pledges.
The Saudi-based paper al-Eqtisadiya reported on the protests in support of and against Morsi’s decree, giving far more space to the latter. The paper quoted protesters chanting “Down with Morsi,” and “Down, Down with the Guide’s rule.”
Refusing to accept the interim military rule, Morsi’s Islamist supporters staged sit-ins in Cairo’s Rabia al-Adawiya Square and Nahda Square. In late July, security forces clashed with Brotherhood supporters there, reportedly killing and injuring hundreds of protesters. On July 27, Al Jazeera broadcast scenes from a local hospital where the wounded were being treated, as an angry doctor at the hospital shamed the army for carrying out such violence. In August, Al Jazeera produced a documentary detailing its side of the Rabia story. The documentary shows the crowd there ostensibly protesting peacefully before being shot by Egyptian soldiers firing live-ammunition.
However, the extent of the carnage in Rabia al-Adawiya Square became a point of contention. The Muslim Brotherhood reported at the end of August that over 4,000 protesters had been killed. In contrast, the military claimed that on August 14, the day that it invaded the square to break up the protests, “between 683 and 1,000 people, including 43 police officers” died in the carnage.
Writing for Al Arabiya, Abdallah Schleifer seemed to take sides with the interim government, as he wondered how much attention European and American leaders would pay to the killings of policemen by the Brotherhood. He criticized the Brotherhood’s allegedly non-violent approach, writing, “Non-violence does not mean building barricades to hold off the Egyptian riot police and breaking up pavement stones to throw at them.” He added that a BBC cameraman who caught footage of the Rabia al-Awaiya mosque’s roof noted that “gunfire was not just coming in, but also going out, from the mosque at the same time.”
When Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat reported on the government’s intensified crackdown, it interviewed anonymous Egyptian security officials who “affirmed that the Muslim Brotherhood had allied itself with two Al-Qaeda linked groups, Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis and the Al-Furqan Brigade.”
Even Al Arabiya described Sisi’s victory as “pyrrhic,” because while Sisi wanted “an overwhelming turnout that would accord legitimacy to his July ouster” of Mohammed Morsi, only about 44 percent of Egyptians voted. The low turnout came despite the government’s extension of voting for an extra day and declaration of a national holiday so that citizens could make it to the polls.
On March 24, an Egyptian court sentenced 529 Brotherhood members to death for various charges, including murder, “violence, inciting murder, storming a police station, attacking persons and damaging public and private property.” Al Arabiya struck a vastly different tone with its coverage than Al Jazeera, with the Saudi-owned station simply laying out the charges, while including a short section on U.S. government concern about the death sentences.
Morsi’s constitutional decree in November 2012 also drew scorn from his opponents within Egypt. Cairo’s Al Ahram, traditionally close to the Mubarak regime, ran an article summarizing the reaction from American media outlets: “President Morsi’s Decisions Creating New Pharoah.”
Amid the Morsi government’s ineptitude, corruption, and unfulfilled promises, the Tamarod youth movement emerged, seeking to garner 15 million votes in order to force Morsi out of office on June 30. Part of the large shift against the Brotherhood may also be due to an alleged pact by Egypt’s six main television stations to characterize the organization as a terrorist group. According to the Wall Street Journal, anchors from each channel thanked the military for overthrowing Morsi and covered themselves in Egyptian flags on air while playing the national anthem.
By mid-June 2013, Tamarod had garnered massive support throughout Egypt, with protesters swelling the streets of major cities. Egypt’s al-Masry al-Youm reported that Tamarod activists were being harassed and attacked by Muslim Brotherhood “militias” during their peaceful demonstrations.
It is important to note that at least 22 Al Jazeera staff members from the Egypt office resigned on July 8 over what they described as the network’s “biased coverage” on Egypt. One of the anchors interviewed by Dubai’s Gulf News reported that “the management in Doha provokes sedition among the Egyptian people and has an agenda against Egypt and other Arab countries.”