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Cablegate: Egyptian Press Shake-Up: Musical Chairs Or

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 005057

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KPAO EG
SUBJECT: EGYPTIAN PRESS SHAKE-UP: MUSICAL CHAIRS OR
MEANINGFUL CHANGE?

REF: CAIRO 4127

1. Summary: Egypt's Shura Council confirmed long-rumored
changes to the pro-government press by appointing new
editors and board chairmen on July 4. The changes see
younger faces rising from the ranks to replace an old guard
of editors - some appointed by Anwar Sadat himself - who
doubled as board chairmen. While the timing of the
appointments surprised PA contacts who expected changes
after presidential elections this fall, all believed the
changes were necessary to help increase falling circulation
rates and stem widely rumored corruption. End summary.

2. Egypt's Shura Council, during its final meeting before
summer recess, appointed new leadership for much of the
pro-government press on July 4. These changes -- long-
rumored in media circles since a controversy over a
reprinted May 15 interview that President Mubarak gave to
the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Siyassa (reftel) -- see the exit
of the old guard and the entrance of younger faces. The
new editors and board chairmen have risen through the ranks
of the pro-government press as correspondents and editors,
and, therefore, are known-quantities to the Mubarak
government. Several appear regularly on Egyptian TV and
even pan-Arab satellite channels.

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3. Notable changes include:

-- Osama Saraya, a liberal reformer and former Editor of
weekly magazine Al Ahram Al Arabi, becomes Editor-in-chief
of Al Ahram daily, replacing Ibrahim Nafei. Saraya
frequently travels through the region and appears on Al-
Jazeera and Al-Arabiya TV promoting reform. PA contacts
reported on July 4 that Nafei selected Saraya as his
successor in large part because of Saraya's loyalty,
allegedly acting as Nafei's "vote collector" when Nafei
became head of the Egyptian press syndicate. Saraya is
generally well respected among Embassy contacts and is seen
as someone with a more modern appreciation of the nuances
in international affairs.

-- Mohamed Barakat, previously Editor of weekly magazine
Akher Sa'a, becomes Editor-in-chief of daily Al Akhbar,
replacing Galal Duweider. Barakat previously worked as a
correspondent at the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
and the presidency.

-- Mohamed Ali Ibrahim, former Editor of English-language
daily The Egyptian Gazette, becomes editor-in-chief of
daily Al-Gomhouriya. Mohammed Ali Ibrahim also served as
an editor for Messa, the evening edition of Al-Gomhouriya.

-- Momtaz Al-Qut, former Akhbar Al-Youm Presidential
Affairs Editor, replaces Ibrahim Saeda as Editor-in-chief
of weekly Akhbar Al-Youm. Al-Qut has excellent relations
with the Presidency and the head of the Shura Council, NDP
General Secretary Safwat Al-Sharif.

4. In addition to new editors for the big three dailies
(Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar, and Al-Gomhouriya), new board
chairmen were also selected. They are:

-- Salah Al-Ghamri, Al-Ahram, replaces Ibrahim Nafei. Al-
Ghamri previously worked as the head of distribution for
Al-Ahram newspaper.

-- Mohamed Ahdi Fadli, Al-Akhbar (comprising daily Al-
Akhbar and weekly Akhbar Al-Youm), replaces Ibrahim Saeda.
Fadli served previously as Akhbar Al-Youm's General
Manager.

-- Mohamed Abou Hadid, Dar Al-Tahrir, which publishes Al-
Gomhouriya, replaces Samir Ragab. Hadid was Managing
Editor of Al-Gomhouriya's weekly edition.

5. Other appointments included: Mohamed Al-Qersh to
English-language Al-Ahram Weekly; Abdallah Kamal to liberal
magazine Rose Al-Youssef; and Abdallah Hassan as Editor-in-
chief and Board Chairman for the Middle East News Agency
(MENA), a government-owned wire service offering regular
news reports to subscribers in Arabic, English, and French.

6. Many PA contacts were surprised by the timing of the
Shura Council's announcement. Most observers had
anticipated changes would be made after presidential
elections in September, allowing for stable and reliable
media coverage during the campaign. However, members of
the Egyptian media are encouraged by changes they see as
necessary to retain Egypt's position as one of the leaders
of the Arab media. All contacts agreed that the old
guard's retirement was overdue, with Nafei, Saeda, and Al-
Gomhouriya editor-in-chief Samir Ragab being especially
singled out for criticism for having lowered their
publication's standards and allegedly acquiring their
wealth through corrupt use of their positions. Ragab, in
particular, was unpopular with Embassy contacts and is
widely seen as someone who has based his career on a
formula combining corruption and sycophantic praise of the
ruling elite.

7. Comment: The new generation of pro-government editors,
while benefiting from their previous positions, have
acknowledged to PA officers in past meetings the problems
the pro-government press faces namely, falling rates of
circulation from not competing well with satellite TV and
Egypt's independent press, and from the perception that the
pro-government press is nothing more than a Mubarak
'mouthpiece.' By appointing younger editors and board
chairmen before elections, the Mubarak government could be
attempting to reassure the public that as is the case now
with many government ministries experienced, younger
faces are helping steer the country forward toward reform.
At the same time, Mubarak and his government can be
privately assured that the new editors are known quantities
and 'know the score' of how things are supposed to work in
the Egyptian press. End comment.

CORBIN
IN

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