Egypt Independent

Wednesday’s papers: Mubarak orders more food to appear, Egypt less corrupt than Somalia

All state-owned papers lead with nearly identical coverage regarding the country’s chronic food-supply issues. At a cabinet meeting chaired by President Hosni Mubarak, the government was ordered to increase production of everything from meat and fish to vegetables. That’s not exactly an innovative solution–“Make more food appear!”–but the coverage seems designed to emphasize that Mubarak is personally invested in the problem and cares deeply about the day-to-day struggles of ordinary Egyptians.

Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar and Al-Gomhorriya all feature nearly identical photos showing Mubarak gesturing forcefully while a table full of ministers hangs on his every word. Al-Ahram’s headline adds the detail that “large quantities of meat at reasonable prices” will be made available in time for the meat-intensive Eid al-Adha holiday in mid-November.

Al-Gomhorriya’s headline brings us a wonderfully implausible promise by Minister of Agriculture Amin Abaza, who set the goal of Egyptian “self-sufficiency in wheat by 2018.”

Given that Egypt is one of the world’s largest wheat importers, purchasing about 12 million tons per year, it seems unlikely (to put it diplomatically) that we’ll be able to find a way to generate an extra 12 million tons. But 2018 is a long way away, and in any case Abaza knows he probably won’t be sitting in the minister’s chair by then to answer for his promise.

Elsewhere on Al-Ahram’s front page comes the news that the country is apparently making progress in combating corruption and instilling greater transparency in the government. According to the latest report by the NGO Transparency International, Egypt surged upward from its previous rank of 111 to reach 98 on the organization’s global transparency scale.

That still means there are 97 countries that are better than Egypt in this regard, but Al-Ahram chooses to focus on the bright side, pointing out that Egypt is now ranked higher than Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. The highest-ranked countries, according to the Transparency International scale, are Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore.

Privately owned daily Al-Shorouk also puts food concerns on its front page. In addition to coverage of the same food-centric cabinet meeting, the paper brings us details and pictures from Beni Suef Governorate, where Governor Sameer al-Yazal turned the vegetable crisis into a photo opportunity. With reporters and photographers in tow, al-Yazal made a show out of heading to the local market and buying a kilo of tomatoes for LE3.50. Given that the same kilo was selling in Giza for twice that amount just three days ago, there’s a healthy possibility that it was all a PR set-up–but still, we can all appreciate an effective piece of political street-theater.

Also topping Shorouk’s front page is a story which none of the state-owned papers chose to feature: a mass demonstration outside the cabinet offices by the employees of ministerial information centers, demanding higher wages. The article claims that the demonstration was “broken up by force” by security troops, and the picture shows a striking overhead shot of what looks to be about 300 demonstrators straining against the usual triple line of black-clad Central Security cadres.

Over at Al-Dostour, the newspaper makes a front-page defense against claims by competitors that its circulation is dwindling. The paper reprints a letter from the Al-Ahram distribution house attesting that Al-Dostour is selling an average of 81,000 copies each day. The accompanying article states that the letter “disproves the assumptions” of recent reports that circulation has plummeted over the past year. It also rather testily speaks of “some newspapers that pretend to be independent and objective and have gotten used to publishing false news which costs them their credibility with readers.”

Egypt's papers:

Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt

Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size

Al-Gomhorriya: Daily, state-run

Rose al-Youssef: Daily, state-run, close to the National Democratic Party's Policies Secretariat

Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned

Al-Shorouk: Daily, privately owned

Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party

Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Arab Nasserist party

Youm7: Weekly, privately owned

Sawt al-Umma: Weekly, privately owned