The failure of U.S. officials to get the Egyptians to pull the plug on Al-Zawraa underlines the complicated nature of the U.S.-Egyptian relationship and the limits of American influence in the new regional equation. It is also another example of the emerging cold war between Iran and Sunni Arab powers in the region.
The Egyptian information minister has appointed a team to monitor the channel and provide him with a report, but, he says, the government can only take action if the channel has violated “the major codes of ethics of the pan-Arab media” and it receives a formal request from the Arab League, which, not incidentally, is seen by Iran as a tool of Sunni Arab power.
Having failed to convince the Egyptians to act — el-Fiki claims he was approached “in a friendly way” by the U.S. ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone, but has received no formal request — the Americans had hoped Iraqi President Jalal Talabani would raise the issue with President Hosni Mubarak, but the Iraqi leader’s December visit was cancelled. However, the man said to be the station’s founder, Mishan al-Jabouri, a former member of Iraq’s parliament, was recently in Cairo.
So for now, the insurgents have their televised voice and the Middle East has yet another of its countless contradictions: The U.S., which is demanding freedom and democracy in the Arab world, wants a TV station muzzled; while Egypt, whose prisons are crowded with home-grown Islamists and whose own media is tightly controlled, is defending the insurgents’ right to their electronic pulpit.
Lawrence Pintak is director of the Adham Center for Electronic Journalism at The American University in Cairo and author of Reflections in a Bloodshot Lens: America, Islam & the War of Ideas. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.