CAIRO: Four months after an Algeria-Egypt football match sparked large-scale riots and drew international attention, prominent journalists, academics, and others met to discuss the media’s role in the incidents.
The seminar, entitled “Media Between Professionalism and Politics: the Aftermath of the Egypt-Algeria Games, was organized by the Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute and the Arab Forum for Alternatives on Feb. 14.
It aimed to “discuss the causes of what happened in the Egypt-Algeria football game, the responsibility of the media in its major repercussions, and how to resolve the numerous mistakes that happened, according to the coordinators.
“For the media, self-criticism is extremely important, said Rasmus Alenius Boserup, the Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute’s director. “A critical assessment of what we have done – that’s how societies move. The question the media needs to ask itself is ‘Did we actively fulfill our role?’
Hassan El-Mistekawi, who sits on the newspaper El-Shorouk’s editorial board, said he felt the media had failed in its role regarding the football riots.
“I’ll be frank, he said, “the Arab media – we are liars, we are hypocrites… not only in football, but in all areas of coverage.
El-Mistekawi said both countries’ media lied during the match’s fallout.
“However, the Algerian media lied even more, he said. “They said there were killings of Algerians in Cairo.
El-Mistekawi blamed such reports for the violence following the November match’s conclusion, which Algeria won 1-0.
“They [the Algerian media] said there were Algerians killed in Cairo, El-Mistekawi said. “If I am an Algerian and I hear this, I will not bear it, and so there were attacks on Egyptians in Algeria.
El-Mistekawi went on to say football had become a surrogate for patriotism in Egypt.
“From the moment the match was announced, insults between the two countries began, he said. “In the ‘other world’ – the developed world – it is just teams…. We have linked sports achievements to national achievements.
“A football match is a political, military, social, and economic conflict, El-Mistekawi continued. “We are not a productive nation. Waving a flag and cheering for a team – this is the easy nationalism.
The riots included destruction of patriotic symbols. Protesters even burned an Algerian flag outside the Egyptian Bar Association, according to Mahmoud Qandil, a lawyer for the Arab Forum for Alternatives.
Hafez Al Merazy, director of the American University in Cairo’s Adham Institute for Visual Journalism, commented on media inaccuracies during the match and riots.
“Egyptian newspapers accused me of training Algerian journalists to hate Egypt [at the American University in Cairo], he said.
Al Merazy said newspapers accusing him never contacted him before printing the story.
“They have my phone number – I give my phone number to everyone, he said. “They could have just called and asked me. That they didn’t… this was very disrespectful of these journalists.
Likewise, Al Merazy said he had met with some Algerian colleagues just after the football match.
“The meeting was friendly and cordial, he said. “However, soon thereafter, I saw an [Algerian] story about how my colleagues had ‘escaped death in Cairo’.
Yassin Temlali, an Algerian writer and researcher, said he agreed the media on both sides failed in its obligations.
“The stories written… cannot be described as a piece of news, he said. “We can point to one very large problem: a lack of verifying the information published in the news.
However, Temlali denied the Algerian government played a major role in the conflict’s escalation.
“No, it is not true that the government ordered media outlets to publish this story or not publish this one, he said. “The escalation was started by the editors of private newspapers.
Hussein Abdel-Ghany, director of Al Jazeera’s Cairo office, also agreed the media failed to fulfill its responsibilities during the riots.
“Both the performance of the Egyptian and Algerian media was disastrous, he said. “We have this unique ability to destroy anything that is valuable.
Abdel-Ghany blamed sports commentators’ contributions to the riots’ escalation, especially commentators who are former football players.
“These players are very good at football, he said. “But I don’t think they’ve ever read a single book or a page in the newspaper other than the sports page.
Abdel-Ghany said he believed this lack of professionalism was instrumental in miscommunication during the riots.
“These people… they were never trained, he said. “We journalists know how much training we need.
Solima Rahal, an Algerian poet living in Egypt, said the media should be called to publicly account for their mistakes.
“To end a wound, you have to clean it first, she said. “There will be more problems if we do not punish the wrong-doings on both sides… reconciliation without justice is not reconciliation at all. -Additional reporting by Tyler Somes.