The BBC and the Brotherhood

The still unfolding dramatic events of recent days in Egypt prompted this writer to recall an article published just over a year ago – in late June 2012 – in the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ section. In that opinion piece on the subject of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt it was stated: [all emphasis added] 

“The Muslim Brothers have been hounded and persecuted throughout their long history, so their resilience and tenacity is not only to be admired and respected, but should also be held as an example for those who wish to make a difference in Egypt’s vibrant but chaotic post-Mubarak political landscape. [..]

It’s true that notorious jihadi groups have been inspired by the teachings of Qutb – namely that modern society is pagan and ungodly and that true Muslims should reject it and take up arms against it.

But the Muslim Brotherhood of today has distanced itself from such ideas and is committed to normal politics. […]

There are so many people who hate the Muslim Brothers in Egypt and beyond. But no one can deny that they have proven to be the most successful grassroots movement across the entire region. 

The Brotherhood is the closest one can find in Egypt today to an independent political institution where established practices and commitment to an idea seem to trounce blood ties and financial interests.

It’s not only populist, but also truly popular. Its members are drawn from all walks of life – middle-class professionals as well as workers and peasants. […]

But their bond with their constituencies is not seasonal. Care for the poor and the weak is central to Islamic teaching, and they would not have enjoyed the support they do if they had not lived up to those ideals. […]

Unless the liberals and other secular forces learn from the commitment and organisational skills of the Muslim Brothers, leave their affluent ghettos in the big cities and venture out in the countryside, they will remain condemned to a handful of seats in any future election.” 

One must of course wonder if the author of that article has changed his point of view in the face of the reality of the past year of Muslim Brotherhood rule. 

However, those words (which even got the Muslim Brotherhood’s official stamp of approval at the time) were not penned by a Western journalist caught up in starry-eyed enthusiasm for the ‘Arab Spring’. They were written by a native-born Egyptian – and former BBC Arab Affairs Analyst – Magdi Abdelhadi. 

Abdelhadi left the BBC to pursue a freelance career in April 2011; three months after the historic events in Tahrir Square, and hence was most probably analysing those events on behalf of the BBC during part of the time period covered in the BBC’s internal report on its coverage of the ‘Arab Spring’. In that report, published in June 2012, it is noted that:

“…there were many interviews with members of the Brotherhood itself – some rank-and-file, some described as leaders. All of these stressed that their movement favoured freedom and democracy, and did not seek to impose an Islamic order on people against their will. Some of the expert commentators accepted these statements more or less at face value, stressing the Brotherhood’s evolution towards pragmatism during its long years in opposition and semi-clandestinity…”

In January 2011 the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen informed audiences (in an article which was later twice amended) that:

“The country’s only properly organised mass political movement outside the ruling party is the Muslim Brotherhood, and it would do very well in any free election.

Unlike the jihadis, it does not believe it is at war with the West. It is conservative, moderate and non-violent. But it is highly critical of Western policy in the Middle East.” [emphasis added] 

A June 2012 profile of the Muslim Brotherhood on the BBC News website still informs readers that:

“Mr Mursi has insisted that as president he wants to build a “democratic, civil and modern state” that guarantees the freedom of religion and right to peaceful protest.”

The whole point of BBC analysis – like any other – is surely to provide those reading it with enhanced understanding of a particular issue or subject. Whilst the actual current events in Egypt may have taken many people by surprise, thebackground to them is not new by any stretch of the imagination and there were analysts who, from the outset, viewed the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt in a less romantic light than the one which prevailed in BBC reporting. Such voices, however, were not given significant space by the BBC – resulting in the kind of impoverished analysis we see above.

The BBC obviously needs to ask itself why that was the case – and not only in relation to Egypt – if it wishes to be relevant as an international media outlet. 


BBC report on Jews in Tunisia tainted by agenda-driven addition

h/t David

The BBC World Service’s recent two-part ‘Heart and Soul’ programme on the subject of Jews from Arab lands was, to many, a refreshing piece of reporting on the whole. 

(See our posts here and here.) 

Presenter Magdi Abdelhadi’s visit to Tunisia was also featured in the Magazine section of the BBC News website on October 24th, with the article reflecting much of the radio broadcast’s content. 

Somebody, however, apparently could not resist adding to Mr Abdelhadi’s report a side panel of ‘facts’ titled “The Exodus”, where we are informed that: 

“As reports of Zionist settlers driving Palestinians off [sic] their villages hit Arab capitals during the 1940s anti-Jewish sentiment hit new heights”

So, despite numerous examples, including the massacre of Jews in Baghdad in 1828, mass forced conversions in the Persian city of Meshed in 1839, the Damascus blood libel in 1840, the pogroms in Morocco in 1905, the 1929 Hebron massacre and the Farhud in 1941, the BBC once more returns to the simplistic narrative of contextualising prejudice and violence against Jews from Arab lands solely as a reaction to Israel and Zionism. 

What a shame it is that Magdi Abdelhadi’s insightful report from Tunisia has been tainted by the reversion to agenda-inspired versions of history. 

BBC World Service programme on Jews from Arab lands – part 2

In the second part of the BBC World Service ‘Heart and Soul’ programme entitled ‘Arab Jews: A Forgotten Exodus’ (which can be listened to here), presenter Magdi Abdelhadi travelled to Tunisia to meet members of its tiny Jewish community. 

To his credit, Abdelhadi did a much better job in this second episode than in the first. Not only did he not shy away from presenting the various threats posed  by Islamist extremists  to the continued existence of Tunisia’s remaining Jewish community, but he vigorously challenged Rachid al Ghannouchi – leader of the En-Nahda party which heads the coalition in Tunisia’s current government – on his ‘double speak’ regarding attacks on Jews and his party’s relationship with the Salafists carrying them out. 

Al Ghannouchi has often been portrayed by some members of the Western media (and even by some Western governments) as a ‘moderate’, despite – among other things – his party’s feting of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh last January and his own long extremist history

Magdi Abdelhadi, however, seems to have got Ghannouchi’s number. Perhaps he could help out with some sorely-needed editing on the BBC’s ‘Country Profile’ page for Tunisia, where interim president Moncef Marzouki is presented as a “counterweight” to the Islamist En-Nahda party – despite his having earlier this year sponsored a conference co-organised by the Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood-linked ‘Palestinian Return Centre’  – and where a profile of the En-Nahda party includes the claim that Ghannouchi  is “widely viewed as a moderate, reform-minded Islamist”.