The Arab world continues to follow the coverage of Marwa El Sherbini’s murder with keen interest, however the western media seems to be late on the news, Joseph Mayton compares
Some Egyptians, Arabs and observers of the Middle East expected a similar media bombardment when news that a German man had stabbed to death a 32-year-old Egyptian woman inside a German courtroom on July the first. It never came. Now, one week later, many are questioning the role of Western media in honestly and accurately covering incidents in and about the region.
While the region was engulfed in the coverage, little Western reports of the incident were published until Monday, when her body was carried by hundreds of angry protesters to her final resting place in Alexandria.
When an Iranian woman was shot during the mass protests that followed the disputed election in that country, Western media were quick to pick up the lead, reporting in detail her murder, those responsible for the killing and even went as far as publishing the short video clip that revealed the horrors of violence. The young woman, Neda, became an international symbol for the Iranian push against the much-hated Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.
A Google News search on Friday morning revealed a startling fact: exactly zero reports had been written in mainstream news outlets concerning the brutal murder. By Friday afternoon, the major wires services had issued a few reports, but the details were limited. Over the weekend, a number of newspapers and organizations picked up short briefs of the killing, but the outrage simmering in Egypt and the region was left untouched. It was not until late Sunday, Western coverage began to write more about the killing.
On Tuesday evening, every Western news source was attempting to make up for the lost time, publishing report after report. For many, this “catch up” tactic is “unforgivable.”
“None of my usual publications I write for seemed interested in the story on Saturday or Sunday despite my pressure,” an American journalist living in Turkey told Al-Masry Al-Youm, asking that his name not be revealed due to the tenuous relationship of a freelance journalist with foreign press. “It was sad and frustrating, because here you had a huge story that was affecting so many people, especially here in Istanbul, and yet, nobody wanted to write about.”
The reporter says that on Sunday evening, after Al Jazeera published a report on the killing while waiting for Sherbini’s body to arrive in Egypt, “my editors began calling me to get some coverage.”
Andrew Harms, who works for a major American magazine, said that inside his office in New York, editors were clambering to find people to write about the situation and the reaction it was having in the Arab world. “They didn’t know what to do. It was a scramble to discover something that had been so under-reported, especially in English,” he said.
Britain’s The Guardian newspaper did manage to publish two news reports on the incident and one opinion piece that looked into anti-Islam trends in the region.
“She has become a national symbol of persecution for a growing number of demonstrators, who have taken to the streets in protest at the perceived growth in Islamophobia in the west. Sherbini’s funeral took place in her native Alexandria on Monday in the presence of hundreds of mourners and leading government figures. There are plans to name a street after her,” said the Guardian report on Tuesday evening. It was one of only a handful of English language articles published about Sherbini on Tuesday.
A foreign correspondent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, for Spanish media revealed that editors “were not wanting to upset anyone and continually claimed over the weekend ‘we don’t have enough information’ to run anything.” She points that this single event will go a long way to Arabs mistrusting Western news sources.
For Egyptians and Arabs across the region, it showed the ugly side of how the region has for long been suffering from poor Western coverage. Activists, commentators and average citizens point to the affair as “proof” that the West “has no desire to show the Arab world for what it is,” as Heba Mahmoud said on Tuesday afternoon.
“We have lived for so long expecting to see a change in the manner Western media portrays this part of the world and its people, whether at home or abroad, and this lack of coverage is proof that we are heading to a clash,” said the 21-year-old, who said she had been following local Egyptian press for information related to the murder since it was first reported last Thursday.
“How can they do this and not expect people to be angry and upset over it?” she questioned.
On Monday afternoon, hundreds of Egyptians gathered in Alexandria to remember Sherbini. Her body was carried to a local mosque where she would be buried. Along the way, anti-German chants sprouted up, highlighting the gulf that had already begun to build since the killing on July 1. Mourners chanted “Down with Germany” after prayers, in evidence the incident was hitting home with Sherbini’s fellow Egyptians.
“We will continue to support her family and friends and push the world to understand the importance of this kind of acts of racism. It cannot continue if Europe and the Middle East are to have a real relationship,” argued Mohamed El Otoun, a translator based in Cairo, said on Tuesday evening.
“Where is the international media?” questions Egyptian blogger Zeinbobia on her “Egyptian Chronicles” blog. “Again, if she were a lesbian there would be huge attention for her, unfortunately she is a straight Muslim woman!”
Although Internet chatter since the funeral has calmed somewhat, the initial wave of activity reveals a fact many analysts argue few newspapers across the globe were able to capture.
“If you look at what happened with the coverage compared to the blogosphere and activists networks, such as Twitter, it is obvious who won,” said Paris-based Ahmed Clement, an Algerian-French observer of Arabic and English media in the region.
He said that in recent weeks, the global media reporting on events in Iran and now with the Sherbini incident, the Arabic speaking Middle East is turning toward blogs, independent websites and Twitter for their news before reading traditional outlets.
“It is hard to truly tell, but in Egypt, independent forms of news are gaining quickly and soon they may overtake the traditional powerhouses because they are quicker and just as accurate.”