Representations of Islam & Muslims: A Guide for the Media: Egypt

Representations of Islam & Muslims: A Guide for the Media
December 1997


Who runs the country?*
Hosni Mubarak has been President since the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. His administration is reckoned to have one the worst human rights records in the world today. There are an estimated 50,000 political detainees held under repeated administrative detention decrees, issued under Presidential powers effective during states of emergency. Egypt has been in a constitutional state of emergency since 1967. From 1992 to the end of 1996, 637 civilians have been tried in the military courts, 76 extra-judicial death sentences have been meted out (54 of which have been carried out.) Its national debt is around £135bn, its foreign debt is $35bn.

Muslim groups and issues of concern to them
Poverty: over half of the population lives under the poverty line. There is no NHS to speak of, with one GP available for every 12,000 Egyptians. Banned Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brothers (Ekhwan ul Muslimeen) have been instrumental in setting up clinics attached to mosques, which offer basic healthcare facilities for the urban poor.
Political representation: whilst the parliamentary procedure is ostensibly democratic, the political opposition (both Islamist and non-Islamist) suffers the effects of the state of emergency. In the run up to the 1996 parliamentary elections around 1000 Islamists were detained without charge, or tried and sentenced without due process, including 11 doctors who had been campaigning for the elections.
The right to practise religion is severely curtailed. This has manifested itself in various bans on women wearing headscarves at school, university and work, and the disestablishment of schools of religious education. Muslim women in particular face human rights abuses by the state, both as victims of association with Islamists, and as active Islamists themselves. A human rights lawyer from the Syndicate of Lawyers defending another lawyer imprisoned for defending Islamists, has had her offices burgled by security forces on two occasions and has faced repeated attempts to stop her practising law as a woman, through constitutional courts.

The Muslim Brotherhood is the older and more established Islamist group in Egypt, and preaches non-violent opposition to Mubarak. The Gamaa Al-Islamiyah, to whom the Luxor attack has been attributed, and Al-Gihad are both groups that have taken up arms at one time or another against the regime. Gamaa’s leader Mohammed Sayed, a lawyer awaiting trial in detention, condemned the Luxor attack and disassociated the group from the actions of the attackers.

Problematic reporting: some examples.
” …even an independent man like Hosni Mubarak,…”  Alistair Cooke, Letter from America, date*

Sources: Amnesty International, Justice International, Egyptian Information Centre

“I soon realised that there was a routine to the sort of questions I asked myself on arrival fresh at another airport … ‘What makes this place tick?’ … and, ‘Who runs this country?’
Jeremy Paxman, Friends in High Places, 1991