Inside the Middle East
September 17, 2010
Posted: 1618 GMT
The original photo showed U.S. President Barack Obama leading Middle East leaders during peace talks.
The original photo showed U.S. President Barack Obama leading Middle East leaders during peace talks.

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.

When Wael saw in Al-Ahram that Mubarak was in the lead, he knew something was wrong.
When Wael saw in Al-Ahram that Mubarak was in the lead, he knew something was wrong.

“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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Elke, Germany   September 17th, 2010 7:27 pm ET

I had a good laugh. I read Al-Ahram (English version) and as you wrote, it´s the government´s voice. Time for a change, and when the politians are not able to do it, then this way. I´m sure most Egyptians understand it.

Abubakar   September 18th, 2010 5:42 am ET

I think the whole picture thing is clash of interest between the west and the middle east. This is because even in the said developed democracies truth is always oblitrated in favour of the government.

Ahmed Dawoud   September 18th, 2010 6:56 am ET

The old story of the bear and its master. The bear killed its master by a stone when a fly was on his face and the bear wanted to kill the fly. Al Ahram news paper wanted to support Presid. Moubarak using the computer techniques to fool the Egyptian readers ignoring the worldwide media that have made the whole world as one country. I beleive the least Presid. Moubark needs to do is to fire Al Ahram working team that takes full responsibility of that crime because Presid. Moubark wouldn't ask any to use such cheating ways to gain love and support of his people.

Hope   September 18th, 2010 7:00 am ET

"So Al-Ahram plays fast and dirty with Photoshop"– Forgot to say sloppy too!! Close, but that is not the original or identical frame shot as the above one if you look closely. maybe few seconds apart.. Netanyahu's head is in different directions..and Mubarak is being flipped, check out his sleeve and tie. Sloppy but not a big thing... granted it is a stupid prank by a local newspaper.

deepwater805   September 18th, 2010 9:39 am ET

This whole episode reminds me of someone with low self esteem. Why would anyone doctor a meaningless photo like this? Perhaps they live in a society that is ruled by a government that sees itself as not equal to that of other countries? It's sad actually, that they would resort to such cheap, and ultimately demeaning, form of expression. What they are really expressing, are their inadequacies.

Luatedavid Lukan   September 18th, 2010 2:12 pm ET

It's such unethical, ahram is practicing jungleism not journalism. so bad for the nation of pyramids.

Mohamed El Shinawi   September 18th, 2010 4:11 pm ET

Al Ahram was used to be the official source of news, but recently; it's serving the regime and its supporters. It became just a tool in the government hand for brain washing of the public.
We used to feel that in their articles and news presentation; but to reach pictures, that was unexpected!

Well Spotted Wael.

Andy   September 19th, 2010 5:32 am ET

"because Presid. Moubark wouldn't ask any to use such cheating ways to gain love and support of his people."

Ahmed, are you serious? He has used techniques like this and worse, routinely jailing and beating people who oppose him. Not to mention using propaganda to paint himself in the best light to the Egyptian people for so long, and tarnish his political rivals. The man's time is over; unfortunately, he is setting up a dynasty for his son to take over...and democracy in the Middle East has another nail delivered to it's coffin.

Samer   September 19th, 2010 12:40 pm ET

I cannot say anything about this that has not already been said. I just want to add my voice to the millions upon millions of Egyptians who make up the wallpaper in Mubarak's 29 year long daydream.
Red tape, thrown about freely, is a means to control the movement of the population and an accepted fact of life. A large portion of the population live well below the international poverty line. Public services are a disgrace. Corruption is rife. Nepotism is the norm rather than the shocking exception (which goes a long way to explain the inadequacies of government officials and media types).

But at least the president is pretty.

Adeosun, Adeyinka   September 23rd, 2010 2:30 pm ET

Praise the leader would easily become kill the leader. The analogy of the bear and the master is very accurate. Hero worshipping is a mark of third world dealers, sorry, interchange the 'l' and the 'd'. lol. Their cronnies paint them as larger than life, indispensable, the only one with the magic wand. If Nasir and Saddat had instituted dynasties, then the former fighter pilot Mubarak would never have smelt the presidential palace. Maybe he would go on pilgrimage to North Korea but unfortunately for him, Egyptians have a better view of the world than North Koreans! Let the editors go and drown in the Nile! The fishes in the river need the fresh meat of psychophants in order that the land can be cleansed. Bravo to the smart journalist that exposed this brazen rape.

ahmed   October 27th, 2010 6:40 pm ET

i very upset and i hope the president mubark remove from our life and all Egyptian hope that

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