How Egyptian and Arab media (over)reacted to Turkey's coup
There was a time in history, when power plays in Turkey were defined by the phrase, “military coups.” Since Kemalist principles took hold of the country in 1920s, the military was always seen as being the main source of power and according to them, the main guarantor of a secularist democracy in Turkey.
The ascension of the Islamic-inclined AKP party under the leadership of its current president Recep Erdogan, changed Turkey politically, socially and economically. As their economy seemed to be upwardly mobile since the turn of the century, so too did the internal and external aspirations of Erdogan and his party.
When the Arab Spring erupted in 2011, Erdogan saw it as his chance to make his mark as a regional power broker, and a Turkish leader able to launch a neo-Ottoman empire hosting many Arab countries under his cloak.
He immediately made a very high profile tour of the region followed by open support for Islamist parties across the board, placing his bets on groups loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood, of which he has historic loyalties as well. His wager failed.
However, he was so heavily invested in the region that his allegiances became set in stone, and he made himself an element in Arab politics, which has been more polarised than it has ever been in recent memory. This defined his relationship with many Arab countries and political movements.
Given the tendency of Arab political media to be defined by politics, this made him the enemy of many media outlets and the darling of others.
|Given the tendency of Arab political media to be defined by politics, this made Erdogan the enemy of many media outlets and the darling of others|
Arab media reaction to the attempted coup in Turkey was, to say the least, influenced by these dispositions towards Erdogan. A lot of truths are revealed during stressful moments, when the status quo faces a realistic shift and when the future suddenly looks to be on the brink of potentially seismic change.
This is especially true in the media, as such moments present an opportunity for media outlets to play a more influential role; the general public’s thirst for information tends to be at its peak and immediate accountability for media outlets is at its lowest.
Somehow their roles become predictive, as the pundits and journalists are expected to piece together information in a forward-looking manner. However, in the already hyper-politicised realm of Arab media, moments such as the Turkish coup provided for what can only be described as aspirational journalism, rather than forward-looking reporting.
It revealed what many outlets hoped would happen, some with a guise of professionalism, others by purely using their imagination.
That night, the only thing that was clear, was that nothing was clear. The army had moved, but nothing decisive had actually happened. Every news outlet that held a position regarding the coup, let it show in full effect for the day during the attempt, and in the following days.
|On the day of the coup, Egyptian pro-Sisi news stations all began reporting that the coup had removed Erdogan successfully, as soon as the Bosphorous Bridge was closed|
On the day of the coup, Egyptian pro-Sisi news stations all began reporting that the coup had removed Erdogan successfully, as soon as the Bosphorous Bridge was closed. Multiple TV stations aired perspectives from their newscasters and pundits, that Erdogan was going down and that he had it coming.
A couple of the more stringently, pro-regime media personalities thought that revisionist history should predict what would happen next: since coups succeeded in Turkey before, then this must happen as well.
Egyptian media, for the first time in three years, had to deal with a phrase they dreaded, “military coup”, which became taboo after attempts by Sisi to claim that the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi in 2013 was a revolution not a coup.
Ahmed Mousa, a tv talkshow host and Sisi’s main henchman in the media, even went so far as to make the ludicrous claim that what was happening in Turkey was a revolution, rather than it being a coup.
The morning after, many newspapers had decided against pulling their major headline, which was the fall of Erdogan, but most Egyptian papers avoided the term “coup” completely!
Most of them described a coup, without saying it, using headlines such as, “The Military Took Down Erdogan.” They cheered on the coup, even as most of Erdogan’s staunch adversaries were against it, mostly weary of military rule again, something Mousa avowedly supports.
|Meanwhile, many Arab news outlets that Turkey had agreed to host, especially those pertaining to the Muslim Brotherhood, played the role of Erdogan spokesmen|
Meanwhile: Erdogan's mouthpieces
Meanwhile, many Arab news outlets that Turkey had agreed to host, especially those pertaining to the Muslim Brotherhood, played the role of Erdogan spokesmen through the coup attempt and after. Their gratitude and outright loyalty to the man was disconcertingly clear throughout.
As revealing as that first night of the failed attempt was, the following couple of days (Phase 2) was even more revealing. Media outlets funded by Turkey’s allies, such as Qatar, painted the picture of a victorious man of the people, who, through the power of his popularity, put down a coup.
While many outlets airing from, or funded by Erdogan’s erstwhile foes have claimed the situation was still unclear. One news caster working in a Saudi Arabia funded television station let the words “unfortunately” slip after mentioning that the coup attempt had failed (although to be fair, there’s a chance it wasn’t a Freudian slip and she was quoting a source a little too accurately).
When it became clear that the coup had definitely been quashed, and Erdogan had begun a “purge” of supporters of Fethullah Gulen (Erdogan’s expatriated nemesis and so-called Islamic scholar), many of the aforementioned pro-regime newspapers in Egypt used it as an opportunity to slam Erdogan on human rights issues.
They essentially attempted to deflect many of the criticisms directed at the Egyptian regime to Turkey. One newspaper, Youm 7, put a graphic of Erdogan wearing a Nazi uniform on its front page, and published a story calling him the “new Hitler.”
Of course, Erdogan’s- premeditated- purge of nearly 60,000 employees, and shutting down of thousands of schools, charity’s and religious centres with links to Gulen, is incredibly shocking and sad, especially as many opposition journalists with no links to Gulen whatsoever were added to the purge. It is a continuation of a worrying authoritarian trend within the country.
However, many of his enemies, inside and outside the Arab world have engaged in similar acts, that is if opposition was allowed to begin with.
One thing the coup showed us was that despite attempts by the Turkish government to make friends and improve relations with its neighbours, there is still quite a sizeable rift, that needs mending. Something that the media’s reaction showed.
Mohamed ElMeshad is a journalist and a PhD candidate at SOAS, focusing on the political economy of the media. He worked extensively in Egypt, Bahrain, West Africa, the UK and US.
Recently, he contributed to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ book, Attacks on the Press (2015).
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.