Russian Influence Operations Extend Into Egypt
The collaboration is part of a long-running Russian campaign to build influence in Egyptian media and elsewhere.
Unlike these news agencies, the Kremlin-controlled outlet posts a fair amount of fluff on Al-Ahram, such as a call by the Syrian Researchers network to or news about the of a former Egyptian president’s iconic 1958 Chevy.
Those articles help Al-Ahram by boosting the site’s overall online traffic. For Kremlin propagandists their mere presence achieves a major strategic objective: neutralizing the distinction between outlets like Reuters and Sputnik and levelling the playing field between journalism and fake news.
This collaboration is part of a long-running Russian campaign to build influence in Egyptian media and elsewhere around the world – including , including that , offers more information on Moscow’s efforts to counter democracy-promoting efforts in the Arab world through media. It’s part of Russia’s global campaign to bolster nationalist movements and politicians that are sympathetic to Russian interests.
The prevalence of Russian disinformation in Egypt is not as surprising as it might seem to a Western audience. Since at least 1961, Al-Ahram has served as the government mouthpiece in Egypt. Russia has long sought influence in a key Arab state.
Simultaneously, there has been a Russian information campaign that has found a sympathetic audience in the leadership of one of the Arab world’s foremost newspapers. As Al-Ahram’s managing editor said of the agreement with Sputnik: Egyptian-Russian relations are closer than ever and the
The culture at al-Ahram echoes . Reality as it appears in the pages of Al-Ahram echoes the government line. When the facts don’t fit the official story, editors may simply alter the image of reality – as in 2010 when Al-Ahram published showing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak walking in front of a group of international leaders, when really he was behind them.
Diverting Public’s Attention
In 2011, when the anti-government protests known as the Arab Spring spread to Egypt, Al-Ahram began its coverage of events with Russian-style disinformation tactics, including one journalist Peter Pomerantsev called “.”
On 25 January, 2011 – the day protests were scheduled to begin in Egypt – Al-Ahram’s front page featured an article about the bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria three weeks earlier. It was a big story, but also a distracting one given what was happening that day in Cairo.
By contrast, Al-Shorouk, a prominent opposition paper in Egypt, began its coverage of protests on 25 January with an article highlighting “online demonstrations” between government and opposition forces.
On 26 January, Al-Ahram by running an article announcing that protests (“ihtijajat”) and riots (“idtirabat”) had intensified – in Beirut. The that day were a recap of the church-bombing story and plans by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Industry to reject a major trade agreement with the US.
A Second Diversion
As I observed while and document in my book, various parties from inside and outside the country worked furiously at this time to shape public opinion about the protests. Al-Ahram got a helping hand from WikiLeaks.
On 28 January, as news organisations around the world were preparing to cover Egypt’s “Friday of Rage,” a massive demonstration that would feature for the first time the full manpower of the Muslim Brotherhood, WikiLeaks released a string of documents from a cache of US State Department cables stolen the previous year. That batch of leaks provided useful fodder for Al-Ahram’s efforts to counter popular support for the protests.
London’s Daily Telegraph, which had just to publish portions of the leaks, ran a story with the headline “” in Egypt. Along with the article, the Telegraph published a “confidential” memo describing a 2009 meeting in Washington at which “ for a transition to a parliamentary democracy, involving a weakened presidency and an empowered prime minister and parliament, before the scheduled 2011 presidential elections.”
in that batch revealed the by the US State Department for “pro-democracy groups” in Egypt. As American Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey told me, US support for democratic activism in Egypt and elsewhere .
Still, Al-Ahram, , published an article on 29 January of a “plot.” The coverage’s content and timing appeared selected to undercut public support of the protesters, suggesting their funding and ambitions were born of U.S. interests – rather than being motivated by authentic Egyptian concerns.
WikiLeaks’ and Russian media operations continued to influence public debate in Egypt after Mubarak stepped down.
And since its first story appeared on Bawaba Al-Ahram in April 2016, Sputnik has published nearly 700 articles, far more than other contributing services. These articles often push stories conducive to the Russian narrative that it’s in the region and .
Egyptian politics are reverting to the days of dictatorship, with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi having just . This, combined with the increasing prevalence of Russian-controlled information, is likely to pull Egypt, , deeper into the geopolitical sphere of Russia and China and farther away from the dream of democratization that was Tahrir Square.
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.)
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