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In Egypt, Television Confronts State; TV Wins

March 7, 2011

On March 2nd Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq appeared on the television show Baladna bil Masry where he was grilled mercilessly by novelist Ala’ Aswani. The four hour show spawned a public debate in the blogosphere as to whether Aswani, and the television show went too far: how much respect do people owe office holders? what is the place of decorum in public debate? The debate was cut short the next day, when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces announced that it had accepted Shafiq’s resignation.

ON-TV originally announced that Baladna bil Masry would feature host Reem Maged with Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, billionaire Naguib Sawiris (owner of the network), political scientist Amr Hamzawy and lawyer Kamel Abu El-Maged. At midnight, MC Yosri Fouda was to host journalist Hamdi Qandil and novelist Ala’ Aswani (author of The Yacoubian Building) on the program Akher Kalam.

But the event didn’t go as planned.

For the first two hours, Shafiq used the opportunity provided him by his friend Sawiris to spin the uprising from his own point of view. Questions were mild, and Shafiq answered them with confidence, unfolding a classic counterrevolutionary narrative.

Furious tweets, text messages, Facebook and blog posts spread rapidly, furiously condemning Shafiq’s claims as counterrevolutionary lies, propaganda, and a betrayal of the blood of the martyrs of Tahrir Square. Many said they were turning off the TV.

But the blogosphere suddenly came alive again when Shafiq agreed to stay on and speak with the new guests. Aswani had no restraint in his questioning of Shafiq, who seemed to grow quickly irritated. Then Aswani got personal, saying “If your son had been one of those who got run over by the police cars, you would not have remained silent like that.” Shafiq lost his temper and the debate spiraled beyond the capacity of hosts Fouda and Maged to contain.

(The prime minister on the left wearing a white shirt and black suit. Author Ala’ Aswany is wearing a pink tie).

So Ahmed Shafiq became the first Egyptian politician to face a real attack during a televised debate. A public debate immediately broke out about whether the exchange had gone too far.

Several people criticized Aswani for his aggressive attack on the Prime Minister:

  • There is a gr8 gap between democracy and vulgarity. Whoever shows respect, respects himself. It is a matter of morals that many Egyptians lack.
  • First am against Shafi2 staying & after today’s talk show he’s a big NO, [but] 2nd i was raised by my parents to respect whom ever is speaking & to hear his point of view before raising my voice.!
  • [T]he writter alaa al aswany was speaking in an inpolite way with the prime minister and actually i repect dr.ahmed shafick for not leaving the meeting because it is not accepted to have such a person like this one who speaks rational about events that happened in a previous regime and accuse the prime minster with such things…
  • [W]ell,somehow it was a perfect show but we need to know the difference between being RUDE and being HONEST …he(elaswani)has taken it so far that’s not even a way of discussion…but other than that democracy is great…..and yes democracy doesn’t mean humiliating others and disrespecting them at all that’s what we should learn to :)

Others felt Aswani took the right approach:

  • I don’t think Dr. Aswany was rude.. He was only trying to make the PM understand the exact horrific feeling for a mother lost her child and the killers are not charged yet.. Expressing that the PM was blindly following Mubarak… killing his own people and he’s still blindly leading the country where he’s unwanted by the majority of the people.. The PM did NOT give Dr. Aswany a chance to run a civilized conversation fearing to face the responsibilities and to take the blame for the horror events on air… Simply, all the people are still mad that Mubarak’s regime is still in power.. Revolution means changes from the roots.. Which will be a fact starting Friday!!
  • Any man, regardless of his post, whether a garbage man or a prime minister, has to EARN respect. The fatherly behavior u preach is none sense and is what got us into this status in the first place. …A PM is a Civil Servant who gets his salary from MY tax money. Also a PM is a politician, and he shouldn’t automatically expect Holy behavior as if he’s a God that i have to worship. This is true Democracy and the basics of Human rights and the freedom of expression. But still, i can understand that after living as slaves for 30 years, it would be hard for some to understand and practice freedom. sad but true.
  • Mr. Shafiq was the one who started with all the yelling, patronizing and from the first question on. Good manners require that he also respects the one in front of him even if he was younger, not say “I was flying fighter jets… before you were even born!!!” Please re-watch the show and let’s all learn that, in politics, you’re not addressing the person, instead you’re scrutinizing the executive in charge, and in Mr. Shafiq’s case, in charge of your safety and well-being. You know what, my dear? why don’t you send him a bonobnya (a piece of candy) the same kind he wanted to pass around at Tahrir square – and give him a sweet pat on the shoulder while you’re at it!? This man and his gang are responsible for the Deaths and Injuries of your follow Egyptians (or your fellow humans) and so he doesn’t deserve yours or any ones’ sweetness for that matter.
  • I just watched part of it.. in which shafik attacked Alaa Alaswany. Well, again shafik is using the same attitude of “I am better than you all and you are nothing” the same attitude of feeling greatness and feeling like a king and the rest …are slaves. This is what Mubark and his family and all his regime are feeling. This is why mubark regime should be out. They can never change. They feel they are better than everyone else. This mode of thinking can never change. They must be out NOW. The people who will build the new Egypt are modest, are hard-workering, are not into gaining money or gaining privileges or feeling greatness about themselves.

This debate on the proper decorum in television interviews did not last for long because later that day Shafiq’s resignation was announced. The TV show was suddenly reframed from “the episode in which Aswani attacked Shafiq” to “the episode that made Shafiq resign.”

It seems likely other television show will learn from this experience—as will Egypt’s politicians, old and new.

On March 2nd Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq appeared on the television show Baladna bil Masry where he was grilled mercilessly by novelist Ala’ Aswani. The four hour show spawned a public debate in the blogosphere as to whether Aswani, and the television show went too far: how much respect do people owe office holders? what is the place of decorum in public debate? The debate was cut short the next day, when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces announced that it had accepted Shawfiq’s resignation.
ON-TV originally announced that Baladna bil Masry would feature host Reem Maged with Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, billionaire Naguib Sawiris (owner of the network), political scientist Amr Hamzawy and lawyer Kamel Abu El-Maged.  At midnight, MC Yosri Fouda was to host journalist Hamdi Qandil and novelist Ala’ Aswani on the program Akher Kalam.
But the event didn’t go as planned.

On March 2nd Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq appeared on the television show Baladna bil Masry where he was grilled mercilessly by novelist Ala’ Aswani. The four hour show spawned a public debate in the blogosphere as to whether Aswani, and the television show went too far: how much respect do people owe office holders? what is the place of decorum in public debate? The debate was cut short the next day, when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces announced that it had accepted Shawfiq’s resignation.

ON-TV originally announced that Baladna bil Masry would feature host Reem Maged with Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, billionaire Naguib Sawiris (owner of the network), political scientist Amr Hamzawy and lawyer Kamel Abu El-Maged. At midnight, MC Yosri Fouda was to host journalist Hamdi Qandil and novelist Ala’ Aswani on the program Akher Kalam.

But the event didn’t go as planned.

For the first two hours, Shafiq used the opportunity provided him by his friend Sawiris to spin the uprising from his own point of view. Questions were mild, and Shafiq answered them with confidence, unfolding a classic counterrevolutionary narrative.

Furious tweets, text messages, Facebook and blog posts spread rapidly, furiously condemning Shafiq’s claims as counterrevolutionary lies, propaganda, and a betrayal of the blood of the martyrs of Tahrir Square. Many said they were turning off the TV.

But the blogosphere suddenly came alive again when Shafiq agreed to stay on and speak with the new guests. Aswani had no restraint in his questioning of Shafiq, who seemed to grow quickly irritated. Then Aswani got personal, saying “If your son had been one of those who got run over by the police cars, you would not have remained silent like that.” Shafiq lost his temper and the debate spiraled beyond the capacity of hosts Fouda and Maged to contain.

For the first two hours, Shafiq used the opportunity provided him by his friend Sawiris to spin the uprising from his own point of view. Questions were mild, and Shafiq answered them with confidence, unfolding a classic counterrevolutionary narrative.
Furious tweets, text messages, Facebook and blog posts spread rapidly, furiously condemning Shafiq’s claims as counterrevolutionary lies, propaganda, and a betrayal of the blood of the martyrs of Tahrir Square. Many said they were turning off the TV.
But the blogosphere suddenly came alive again when Shafiq agreed to stay on and speak with the new guests. Aswani had no restraint in his questioning of Shafiq, who seemed to grow quickly irritated. Then Aswani got personal, saying “If your son had been one of those who got run over by the police cars, you would not have remained silent like that.” Shafiq lost his temper and the debate spiraled beyond the capacity of hosts Fouda and Maged to contain.
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4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 26, 2012 3:19 pm

    Thanks a lot for this article and the video.
    I should confess that winter-spring situation in Egypt bothers me a lot.
    In February 2011 I had a trip to Egypt and I was so scared! Could you imagine that in the touristic town there were tanks and military men near them ( or inside)?
    That’s awful!
    I’m really happy that this situation is a bit easy now, and I hope nothing like that will ever happen again.

    • MPeterson permalink*
      March 26, 2012 11:28 pm

      It can be scary. The first time I traveled to Europe, I was shocked to see soldiers with automatic weapons in their hands outside some public buildings. I know a Japanese colleague who can’t believe that in Ohio (and other states) men can legally carry concealed (licensed) firearms into a bar. It will be a long time before Egypt is back to “normal” and when it is it will be some new kind of normal.

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