CAIRO, EGYPT — The Muslim Brotherhood’s year-old television station, Misr25, broadcasts from a building in Egypt’s Media Production City, a vast complex of buildings built under former president Hosni Mubarak in the desert west of Cairo, well beyond the pyramids. The compound is home to dozens of production studios, including those of Misr25’s direct competitors in Egyptian television.
A red vinyl banner hangs on the concrete exterior of Studio 15, announcing the station’s presence. On the banner, Mohamed Morsi, the Brotherhood candidate who won the presidency in June, smiles and extends his hands in welcome. During a visit last week, technicians, producers, and journalists crowded past each other in the building’s narrow corridors. In the studio, the host of a talk show titled People’s Opinion was discussing “freedom, justice, and renaissance” in Egyptian society, in between taking viewers’ calls. On the other side of the room, outside the camera’s gaze, a designer was arranging a kitchen set, apparently for a cooking show.
The number 25 in the station’s name is a reference to January 25, 2011, the start date of the 18-day popular uprising that ended Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship. The channel owes its existence to the uprising, which also ended the Mubarak regime’s grip on Egyptian broadcast media. As a banned opposition group under the old regime, the Brotherhood was prohibited from spreading its message of Islamic reform on the airwaves.
In Misr25’s small, fluorescent-lit newsroom, earnest journalists insist that the channel’s news reporting is independent, but their concept of independence includes advancing the Brotherhood’s political project. The group’s stated aim is to reform society and the state based on Islam, although Brotherhood leaders have insisted recently that legislation should be based only on an Islamic “frame of reference” and not on full implementation of Islamic religious law.
“We support the Brotherhood’s Islamic project, the brotherhood’s civilizational project, not by privileging something other than fact,” said Yasser Ad-Dokani, the station’s news director. “We are capable of being balanced, but we do not deny our relationship or our connection with the Brotherhood.” Ad-Dokani, like many of the new channel’s journalists, is not a member of the Brotherhood, though he says he supports the organization’s aims. He was a 10-year employee of state television before he joined Misr25.
Asked whether Brotherhood officials ever interfere in the production of the news, he said, “Instructions don’t come to me saying, ‘do that, don’t do this.’ Instructions don’t come to me from there, of course not. We have been criticized. They haven’t liked our coverage of some events and our hosting of some figures.” Criticism, he said, is different from intervention.
But what does independence mean when, for example, the station openly supported Morsi in the presidential election and actively coordinated its coverage with the campaign?
“We didn’t say that we were a neutral channel, far from it,” Ad-Dokani said. But Misr25 is different, he added, because it’s not owned by figures associated with Mubarak’s government.
“All Egyptian channels are owned either by the government, meaning they follow the state, or by the private sector, or what we call in Egypt ‘businessmen’—these people had relations with the previous regime,” Ad-Dokani said of all Misr25’s competitors. The channel is financed by “Brotherhood businessmen,” he said, but declined to give any names. “So, it’s almost as though Misr25 is standing in one corner and all the other channels are standing in another corner.”
Aside from news, Misr TV also broadcasts a wide variety of other programming, talk shows (with frequent interviews with Brotherhood officials), as well as a show on women’s issues and a show devoted to issues of daily life and public services. The channel also produces a vaguely MTV-style youth issues program called Under Thirty, whose intro sequence, set to a bubblegum pop beat, flashes purple computer-generated images of a laptop computer, a cheeseburger, and, finally, a mosque.