Sisification - or: the winner takes it all
Just like the control over state-owned media, a strong leverage on the private sector has been a priority of President al-Sisi over since he has come into power in 2013. His instruments of choice are the two main branches of the secret service (the General Intelligence Service and the Military Intelligence Service) that have historically played political roles in defending the regime and preventing any attempts to establish democracy, together with the Army and the Ministry of the Interior.
After the January 25, 2011 revolution, these agencies became increasingly involved in the media in order to influence the public opinion. To that end, a number of religious and pro-Muslim Brotherhood channels were shut down immediately after the 2013 military coup led by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. On the other hand, private media was left to operate still freely since the military needed support from the business elites, media owners, and civil political movements to counter Islamist protests.
But as Islamist protests subsisted, and the media started to cover general political and economic issues, President al-Sisi responded by orchestrating the Intelligence interference. First, through the launch of new companies and media outlets, and then by acquiring existing private media to reduce the influence of their private and independent owners.
In the light of the substantial amounts of funding involved in these mostly unfriendly takeovers, questions are raised about the sources allowing intelligence agencies to invest heavily in the media sector in recent years. One expert assumed vis-a-vis the MOM team that it most likely came from the United Arab Emirates in line with its crack-down of political change and Islamist movements in the region. However, this could not be verified since none of the transactions and deals were documented and made public.
This service (Mukhabarat) is the Egypt's equivalent of the US Central Intelligence Agency, but it has also taken on tasks that normally fall under the mandate of a domestic security agency. In January 2018, al-Sisi fired its Director, Khalid Fawzi and replaced him with his former Chief of staff and close aid, General Abbas Kamel, a retired Army General, who now leads the media empire of the General Intelligence.
During his tenure (2014-2018), Khalid Fawzi was credited with the revival of the General Intelligence after its failure to anticipate the Arab Spring in 2011. Considered as a hardliner in security, Fawzi became famous for his handling of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, of civil society issues and of the transformation of media landscape. The service also became an important interlocutor between the United States and Egypt.
Around 2016, under Fawzi’s watch, businessman Ahmed Abu Hashima founded the Egyptian Media Group (EMG) with huge investments of unknown origin. At the time, his presence was perceived already to be a proxy of the General Intelligence to invest heavily in the media industry. In 2017 the rumor became a fact when the General Intelligence established Eagle Capital, which bought EMG’s controlling shares and appointed former investment Minister Dalia Khurshid as its Chairwoman. Khurshid stated that she was seeking to achieve a “breakthrough in the media sector” through the management of EMG. EMG also acquired the controlling majority of Synergy Productions and Kurshid appointed Tamer Morsi, its former owner and one of Egypt’s most important producers, as EMG Chairman.
Through its control over the Egyptian Media Group (EMG) the General Intelligence owns five media outlets out the 41 covered by the MOM: ON E, Extra News, Al Hayah, Youm 7 Newspaper and Youm 7 website. Through a series of deals, EMG has become one of Egypt’s biggest media conglomerates. When MOM Egypt 2019 was launched, EGM extended its control over State-owned through a news contract with the National Media Authority, increasing the influence of the General Intelligence over the Egyptian media landscape.
In a few years, the Group acquired Youm 7 Newspaper and Youm 7 website, ON E network (owned by businessman Naguib Sawiris), CBC through the acquisition of Future Media Company (owned by Mohamed Al-Amin) and Al Hayah networks that Falcon Group sold to EMG. Media reported that Al Nahar Network or Dream TV could also be purchased. This was confirmed by Ahmed Baghat, the owner of Dream TV, who announced his intention to enter into a partnership with a party in the state, although not mentioning through which entity.
See how EMG hijacked liberal media
In May 2016, Hashima acquired all shares of the liberal ON TV network. Its owner until then was Naguib Sawiris, a prominent businessman associated with interests with the state, but who believes that the media industry needs freedom to criticize officials and policies. As such, the ON TV network included prominent television hosts such as Yusri Fouda, Reem Majid and Lilian Daoud, who criticize the current authority. Just before Hashima acquired it, the TV hosts were taken off the air. Fouda and Daoud are now working abroad, while Reem Majed is no longer a TV host. EMG excluded Sawiris from the ownership and management of television channels.
EMG has also signed deals with other businessmen closer to the current authority, resulting in a business partnership. It acquired 50% of Synergy's shares owned by producer Tamer Morsi and 50% of Misr Cinema shares owned by Kamel Abu Ali.
EMG also acquired the Soot el Omm and Ein El Mashaheer newspapers from Ahmed Issam Ismail Fahmi, the son of businessman Ismail Fahmy, a pioneer of private journalism in Egypt.
On 20 January 2018, the Egyptian Media Group signed several protocols with the National Media Authority to launch a new satellite TV channel for the Arab region. It will be the first satellite TV which broadcasts throughout the Arab world aired through the Egyptian State-owned Nile Sat. The NMA and Egyptian Media also agreed to upgrade and develop content on state-owned TV's Channel 1 and Channel 2, as well as the Egyptian satellite channel Al-Masriya. According to the deal, advertising rights will be upgraded and developed. This extends the control of the Egyptian Media Group to the State-owned media sector, reinforcing the influence of the General Intelligence over the TV landscape in Egypt.
Fawzi’s sacking came amid the preparations for the presidential elections. At the time, al-Sisi was challenged with the candidacy of former prime minister and former chief of staff of the army, and by criticism coming from his supporters. For example, CBC TV host and vocal supporter of al-Sisi, Lamees Al Hadid, was taken off the air before the EMG acquired acquired 51% of Future Media Group, which owns satellite news channel CBC. Her show, Hona Al Asema, is still on the air. The Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar reported that Fawzi was fired because of his failure to manage investments in the media sector and his faltering steps towards reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Most likely, Sisi felt that the General Intelligence did not show enough support for his second term.
Since Major General Abbas Kamel was appointed, EMG announced it would also start to manage the public network Nile Radio. An expert in the field has told the MOM team that the equity capital of the radio network was secured by the General Intelligence. It is also widely known that Kamel seeks to get Turki Al-Sheikh, an advisor to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to invest in EMG, according to Mada Masr.
This service ( إدارة المخابرات الحربية والاستطلاع Idarat El Mukhabarat El Ḥarbiya Wel Istitla) falls under the authority of the Ministry of Defence. Prior to his tenure as the Minister of Defence (2012- 2014), President al-SiSi was the director this service and Major General Abbas Kamel his Chief of staff.
Out of the 41 media outlets covered by the MOM, two of them are connected to the Military Intelligence: El Radio 9090 FM and Radio DRN, which was shut down without explanation in the course of the project.
In 2013, El Radio 9090 FM, which was owned by D Media, came as a surprising newcomer to the radio scene. While several businessmen attempted to establish private radio stations, the State refused to grant them a licence to use public airwaves. Only one, Taher Helmy (Nogoum FM), had succeeded so far thanks to his close ties to the Mubarak regime.
Supported by the Military Intelligence, D Media launched the DMC TV network in 2016. Media workers in Egypt keep referring to the DMC and Radio 9090 channels as military intelligence media.
In 2017, DRN was launched by the Falcon Group, which is believed to be partly owned by the military intelligence. In 2017, Falcon also acquired Al Hayah TV Network before selling it to the EMG in 2018. As of mid 2018, reports indicate a collaboration between EMG and D Media, respectively controlled by the General Intelligence and the Military Intelligence. DRN’s frequency and website are now used by EMG On Sport radio. While Falcon Group sold Al Hayah TV network to EMG and shut down Al Assmeh channel, it also closed DRN radio, but there was no announcement made yet, that it was sold to EMG.
According to experts interviewed by the MOM team, a traditional and at times intense competition among the two intelligence agencies in the media is now giving way to a more collaborative approach. Major General Abbas Kamel seems to have mitigated the rivalry since his appointment.