The Washington Post insists on presenting hardline Islamist authors of articles in its opinion section as moderate spokespersons for moderate Islamic movements.
In a Post piece published on January 8, Istanbul-based commentator Yehia Hamed discusses the ostensible violence and repression of the current Cairo government, led by President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, and bewails the scarcity of free expression in today’s Egypt. Although Hamed discloses that he served in the government of President Mohamed Morsi, the Washington Post fails to delve a little further and mention that he has served much longer as a prominent operative and spokesperson for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood – a dangerous anti-Semitic, anti-Western, violent Islamist movement — both before and after his brief spell near the top of Egypt’s short-lived theocratic regime.
Instead, the casual reader is left with an impression of Hamed as some run-of-the-mill technocrat, who simply “served as minister of investment in the government of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president.”
Hamed’s call for free expression in Egypt is particularly duplicitous. As a minister in Morsi’s cabinet, he was one of the men responsible for a wave of repressive measures aimed at suppressing political and press opposition to Islamist rule. Under Hamed’s ministership, journalists frequently faced censorship, arrest, and violent attacks.
That political and media freedoms are similarly crushed under al-Sisi – just as they were under Morsi and Mubarak — is not disputed; but for the Post to ignore the glaring hypocrisy of Hamed’s pseudo-democratic appeals is concerning.
This is not a new problem, either. In November, the Post gave column inches to Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, whom the paper only described as “the head of the Supreme Revolutionary Committee.” Al-Houthi’s article was similarly designed to appeal to Western sensibilities, with repeated calls for “peace” and “love,” along with a flourishing mention of international law.
And yet, as critics pointed out, the Houthi rebels, of which al-Houti is a leader, have murdered thousands, including journalists. Their slogan is: “Death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews, victory to Islam.”
After the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi regime, even the Washington Post‘s newsroom questioned the paper’s opinion editors. One news piece revealed that Khashoggi’s columns for the Post were “shaped” by the head of the Qatar Foundation International, the Qatari regime’s most important and influential overseas arm, which propagandizes for Doha and promotes extremist material in U.S. schools.
In addition, the Post has repeatedly insisted on downplaying or denying Khashoggi’s Muslim Brotherhood connections, despite Khashoggi’s own overt support for the Brotherhood and Islamism, all summarized neatly in his own Washington Post pieces.
There is a recurring theme here. In spite of objections from prominent Egyptian and Yemeni liberal activists, media such as the Post continue to afford extremists the opportunity to proclaim themselves as representatives of a broad, liberal, democratic ideal. This deception legitimizes extremists as leaders and opinion-makers, and it sidelines genuine moderates.
Even in its coverage of American Islam, the Post has encouraged readers to see the terror-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations, or the Farrakhan-friendly Linda Sarsour, as credible voices of American Muslims. And yet these Islamists have no mandate from ordinary Muslims; instead, these extremists derive most of their legitimacy from media outlets blindly willing to homogenize minorities and declare their loudest voices to be representative leaders.
As the Washington Post tells us, democracy dies in darkness. But Islamism also flourishes there. It is not completely objectionable that a newspaper would give space to an extremist (in fact, it can be useful); but it remains deeply problematic when a newspaper repeatedly offers this platform without shining a light on such a dangerous underlying agenda.
Sam Westrop is Director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.