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Why is Egypt airing insurgent TV from Iraq?

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Al Zawraa television station, the face of Iraq's Sunni insurgency, shows roadside bombs blowing up American tanks, dead and bloody Iraqi children, and insurgent snipers taking aim and firing.

And all this blatant anti-Americanism is broadcasting 24/7 on an Egyptian government-controlled satellite provider from one of Washington's closest allies. Even though Iraq and the US have asked Egypt to pull the plug, the station remains on the air.

The question is, why? While Nilesat, which broadcasts Al Zawraa, argues that it's airing the channel for purely commercial reasons, analysts point to the political benefits for Egypt.

Some say the country's reluctance to shut down the channel shows that Egypt, predominantly Sunni, may be taking a stand against what it sees as the unjust aggressiveness of Iraq's Shiite-led government and the dangers of Iran's influence there.

"With Iran flexing its muscles in Iraq and Lebanon and talking about becoming a nuclear power, all of this puts the Sunni Arab regimes – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan – on the defensive," says Lawrence Pintak, director of American University in Cairo's television journalism program and author of "Reflections in a Bloodshot Lens: America, Islam, & the War of Ideas."

Mr. Pintak says Egypt's decision to keep Al Zawraa on the air plays into the Sunni-Shiite cold war that has descended on the region, caused largely by sectarian bloodshed in Iraq and Iran's nuclear ambitions. In essence, he says, it's a show of support for fellow Sunnis.

American officials have reportedly called the station "utterly offensive," saying that closing it down is a priority.

But one Egyptian government official, who asked to remain anonymous, reiterated Nilesat's stand that the station remains on air purely for commercial reasons. "We're merely a carrier of this station. We're not producing it. This is a straightforward business deal," he says, adding that, "none of us would reject the principle of freedom of speech and broadcasting for everyone."

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