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Ahead of elections, Egypt's state propaganda machine rolls on

Egypt's government paper Al Ahram was the central arm of state propaganda during the reign of Hosni Mubarak. Ahead of elections, it's taking aim once again at Egypt's Islamists.

By Staff writer / April 30, 2012



Last week, Egypt's state-owned newspaper Al Ahram helped kick up an international storm with a bit of dodgy journalism: It ran an opinion piece by Amr Abdel Samea, a former loyalist of deposed President Hosni Mubarak, that stated that Mervat el-Tallawy, the head of Egypt's National Council for Women, had complained that Egypt's parliament was considering a piece of legislation sponsored by Islamists to allow men to have sex with their wives after their death.

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The story was translated into English by Al Arabiya, and was quickly picked up by outlets like the Huffington Post and the sensationalist British tabloid The Daily Mail, which distorted the original claim from a proposal to a done deal: "Egyptian husbands will soon be legally allowed to have sex with their dead wives," the tabloid claimed, apparently having misunderstood the original Arabiya translation. The story buzzed around the world, held up in blogs as evidence of the immorality of Islamist politicians. The current version of the Wikipedia article on necrophilia even has a section devoted to the claim.

The problem is that there was never any such proposal, at any stage of consideration, in the Egyptian parliament. Ms. Tallawy issued a statement today that says she's concerned about legislation that may harm the position of women in Egypt, but that there was never any "sex after death law" under consideration, let alone one she complained about. Arabiya followed up as well, quoting Parliament Secretary Sami Mahran as saying no such piece of legislation ever existed.

This is hardly surprising. Anyone who knew Egypt didn't believe it in the first place, since sex with the dead is a laughably extreme position that no Egyptian Islamist group has ever espoused but is exactly the kind of overheated scare-mongering that can be potentially useful for opponents of Islamist politicians as Egypt's presidential campaign heats up.

In the presidential campaign, former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa (who served as Mubarak's foreign minister for a decade) is the old establishment's preferred candidate. His main rivals are former Muslim Brotherhood executive Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh and current Brotherhood member, Mohammed Morsi.

Ahram's reporting should be seen within its traditional framework – serving the interests of those in power. That was Mr. Mubarak for decades. Now, it's the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF), the military junta that has run Egypt since Mubarak's ouster last February.

Ahram under Mubarak was much like Pravda in the old Soviet Union. Consider the former president's September 2010 visit to Washington for Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. A photographer captured Mubarak, President Obama, Jordanian King Abdullah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walking the red carpet together. Mubarak trailed the whole group, just behind Mr. Netanyahu.

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