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Cablegate: Quranic Teachings, Black Magic, and School

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: Cairo 4362

1. Summary: While Egypt plays host to several religious
media outlets, only Holy Quran Radio has any real influence
on the Egyptian population and that remains a religious
influence. Tightly controlled by the Egyptian government,
Holy Quran Radio avoids hard news of any kind, while the
three religious print publications, also government-
controlled, limit their coverage to non-controversial
religious topics. Aqidati, the most sensationalist of the
three, routinely publishes stories on black magic and false
prophets. The other two newspapers adopt a more
instructive tone, advising readers on health matters and
reporting on the latest news from Al-Azhar, Cairo's most
prestigious mosque and religious studies institute. End

2. Like other countries with a majority Muslim population,
Egypt plays host to several media outlets whose purpose is
to spread religious messages and news related to the
religious community. Most prominent among these is the
popular FM radio station, Holy Quran Radio. Visitors to
Cairo are likely to find themselves in a taxi listening to
a reading of the Quran or commentary on the Hadeeth or to
hear Holy Quran Radio coming from shops and cafes as they
walk along the street. A December 2004 Pan-Arab Research
Centre survey on Egypt's media sector found that 58 percent
of Cairo respondents claimed to listen to the station more
than any other. Avoiding politics altogether, government-
controlled Holy Quran Radio broadcasts readings of the
Quran and Hadeeth, Quranic interpretations, and religious
programming. Announcers routinely instruct listeners to
regularly attend mosque, study Islamic teachings, not cheat
on their spouses, and not drink or smoke. Holy Quran
Radio's ubiquitous religious teachings remain a popular way
for Egypt's hard-working and illiterate working class to
easily do their duty as Muslims.

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3. Like Holy Quran Radio, Cairo's three weekly Islamic
newspapers are government-owned and controlled and
generally avoid discussing political issues. However,
unlike Holy Quran Radio, these newspapers have a limited
audience. Aqidati ("My Belief") - published by government-
owned printing house Al-Gomhouriya and controlled by the
ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), which appoints its
editors - is the most sensationalist of the three.
Headlines from its June 27 edition included: "Christian
and Muslim protests in Jerusalem lead to banning of sexual
orgy" and "Aqidati continues campaign against witchcraft
and magic." The June 27 issue's lead article, "Azhar
Secondary School students cheat on exams by using cell
phones," profiled allegations that the school was awarding
diplomas to cheating students, with published photos of
students behind the school reportedly sending text messages
to friends taking their exams inside. The newspaper does
touch on political issues if they relate to religion, as it
did when it published a series of reports on the alleged
desecration of the Quran at the detention facility at
Guantanamo Bay. The reporters were decidedly skeptical of
USG claims that no such desecration occurred (reftel).
Aqidati's circulation is estimated at 10,000.

4. Sawt Al-Azhar ("The Voice of Al-Azhar") bills itself as
the official voice of Al-Azhar, Egypt's most prestigious
and important mosque and source for religious studies. Its
reporting tends to follow the statements and actions of the
Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar, who is appointed by the GOE. The
banner headline in its June 24 issue, for example, read:
"The Grand Sheikh ratifies the results of the Koran
Memorization Contest at Al-Azhar," a markedly less jaded
view of education at Al-Azhar than that of Aqidati. Other
articles in the issue reported on student summer activities
at Al-Azhar; an interview with the head of the Kuwaiti
Authority for Implementing Sharia, claiming that a "savage"
world-wide campaign against Muslims is taking place; and
alleged "Zionist" designs to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque in
Jerusalem. Sawt Al-Azhar also touches on politics when it
involves the Grand Sheikh. For example, Sawt Al-Azhar did
address the allegations of Quran desecration at Guantanamo,
but with a focus on the efforts of the Grand Sheikh to seek
clarification from the USG (reftel).

5. Cairo's third Islamic newspaper, Al-Liwa Al-Islami
("The Islamic Banner") is also controlled by the NDP, but
is more moderate in tone than Sawt Al-Azhar and less
sensational than Aqidati. The lead article in its June 30
issue profiles a debate among Muslim scholars about "mercy
killings" (euthanasia) in hospitals. While, other June 30
articles offer practical advice on how to prevent youth
from smoking and stress that "foreign pressure" is not
responsible for improvements to Al-Azhar's curriculum.

6. Comment: While Holy Quran Radio has found a niche as
an easy source for 24 hour religious instruction, none of
the three newspapers has found much of an audience. None
costs over one Egyptian pound (around 15 US cents), but
their insignificant reporting gives them a limited appeal.
Tightly controlled by the Mubarak government and the NDP,
these outlets shy away from controversial subjects, such as
political reform, covered by more popular media sources.
As long as the Egyptian Government deems unacceptable any
attempt by Islamic activists to assert themselves in the
political realm, these outlets are likely to remain in the
realm of kitsch. End comment.


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