The power of false reporting

 By Osama Diab

Reckless journalism is held responsible for the violence and tensions following the - playoffs.

24 November 2009

If I try to include a statistic or a quote without properly citing it, the article will immediately bounce back to me with the editor politely asking for a proper citation and source for the information.

It is sometimes frustrating to spend hours, and sometimes days, searching the internet and making phone calls to track down sources, studies or reports to back up information that you are already sure is accurate, but it's the responsible media's role to respect the reader and go the extra mile to provide them with absolutely correct information.

The Algerian newspaper Echorouk decided, for God knows what reason, to report that eight Algerian fans were killed (the story has since been pulled from their site) on the streets of Cairo during their stay in the Egyptian capital to attend the decisive World Cup qualifier game. There's no evidence anything of the sort occurred and it's unclear how the newspaper obtained such information.

The reaction to this report was quite extreme. Thousands of Algerians took to the streets to damage all things Egyptian as revenge for their fellow compatriots who were allegedly “killed”, according to the Algerian daily. Death threats were sent to Egyptians living and working in Algeria and Egyptian businesses were bombarded and set on fire.

In a press statement given by Naguib Sawiris, an Egyptian billionaire who owns Algeria's mobile operator Djezzy, he said that, according to preliminary estimates, losses could be as high as tens of millions of dollars. Egyptians are fleeing Algeria in large numbers.

The violence and madness was not confined to Algeria. In Marseille, Algerian youths set fire to boats, smashed shop windows and clashed with the police right after the game.  

Unfortunately, both North African teams had to play again four days later. Thousands of Algerians flew to full of rage with an unwavering determination to seek revenge for the lives of their brothers that they believed had been cut short by the Misraelis, a portmanteau combining Egypt and Israel in reference to the peace treaty signed between the two countries three decades ago and which is still thought of as a source of disgrace by numerous Algerians and other Arabs. Echorouk referred to Egyptians as Misraelis and the Zionists of Arabia on several occasions.

The Algerian government sent more fans than the stadium could accommodate in the hope of scoring a political victory. For its part, the Egyptian government sent thousands of members of the ruling National Democratic Party, led by the president's sons Gamal and Alaa, to attend the game along with a vast number of celebrities. Both Egypt and Algeria were hoping for a victory that would divert people's attention from the chronic domestic problems plaguing their countries, and used every method possible to achieve such a triumph, even recruiting the local media to help.

Egypt lost the game and Cairo, the city that never sleeps, turned into a quiet, sad and empty place. Egyptians were on tenterhooks awaiting a victory against the people they had branded “barbarians”. After the loss, the Egyptian media reported that that at least 20 fans were injured, and that Algerian fans were roaming the streets of Khartoum hunting for Egyptians.

The unfortunate incidents in the Sudanese capital were witnessed by the Egyptian president's sons. Egyptian celebrities were also hiding from fuming Algerian fans in the office building of an Egyptian advertising agency in Khartoum.

Numerous television shows and newspapers in Egypt devoted intensive and exaggerated coverage to the aggression towards Egyptian fans and celebrities. This led to thousands of Egyptians staging a protest in front of the Algerian embassy in Cairo chanting, “You either kill us or let us in,” to the police guarding the embassy. Three days later, demonstrators were still demanding the departure of the Algerian ambassador.

Egypt now wants to restore the country's lost “pride” and compensate for the humiliation Egyptian fans, politicians and celebrities experienced in Khartoum by calling for the severing of diplomatic ties with the North African “enemy”. Some went as far as to call for military intervention in Algeria to save the threatened Egyptians residing there. Egypt also threatened to freeze its activities if FIFA does not react to the Algerian assaults.

This could all have been avoided if the Algerian daily had been more conscientious in its reporting.

Published with the author's permission.  ©Osama Diab. All rights reserved.

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