September 17, 2010
Posted: 1618 GMT
Twitter alerted me to the doctored picture of President Hosni Mubarak leading the pack of Middle East peacemakers that appeared on page 6 of Al-Ahram’s 14 September edition.
Wael Khalil, a part-time blogger and full-time software engineer, noticed that the photo in Al-Ahram was an altered version of a picture first published after the meeting in the White House of President Barak Obama, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jordanian King Abdallah II and, of course, the Egyptian President.
In the original photo President Mubarak was in the back on the left, looking, many people in Egypt duly noted, his 82 years. The group was led by President Obama.
So when Wael saw in Al-Ahram that Mubarak was in the lead, Obama pushed back to the second row, and Netanyahu relegated to the rear, he knew something was wrong. Through Google he found the original photo and posted them on his blog, and posted that link on his Twitter account.
And then went out for lunch with his friends.
“We felt it’s going to be a ‘ha-ha,’” he told me, “a local joke, a ‘look-at-what-they’re-doing’ sort of thing.”
He’s taken aback by the interest in the doctored photo. “This is the Mubarak we know, this is the regime we know,” he says.
He posted his blog when I was busy covering the second round of direct Palestinian-Israeli peace talks in Sharm Al-Shaikh. I looked at the two pictures, laughed at the obvious, fairly crude hanky-panky, and moved on. So Al-Ahram plays fast and dirty with Photoshop, I thought. No surprise there. They’re playing the same game they do with words on a daily basis: It’s called “praise the leader.”
Al-Ahram is one of Egypt’s oldest newspapers, founded in 1875. It’s a dull but reliable indicator of how the government views the world. It’s Cairo’s dusty gray lady, all the news the Egyptian government deems is fit for the people to read.
Al-Ahram’s senior editors are appointed directly by the Egyptian president, and, not surprisingly, they follow the official line without much deviation.
Friday Osama Saraya, the editor of Al-Ahram, wrote in the paper that the picture at the centre of the controversy was “expressive,” underscoring Egypt historic role in the peace process.
Hisham Qasim, himself an independent newspaper publisher and harsh critic of the 29-year-old Mubarak regime, is not impressed by the defence.
“The editors of Al-Ahram have gone over the top. They are making Mubarak look silly worldwide," he said. "It's amazing how much coverage Mubarak is getting. It has become the joke of journalism.”
In the meantime the Ahram photoflub is racing around the new media in Egypt across the Middle East, a lesson to the old media, perhaps, that the rules of the game of “praise the leader” have changed for good.
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