Al-Ahram Weekly, by Doaa El-Bey. Excerpt, read on here.
An Al-Jazeera documentary about compulsory military service in Egypt heightens tensions between Cairo and Doha, writes Doaa El-Bey
Al3asaker, a documentary by Al-Jazeera focusing on the lives of Egyptian conscripts beginning their compulsory military service began to stir controversy even before it was screened on Sunday.
“Al-Jazeera’s documentary is part of Qatar’s psychological war against Egypt, an attempt to incite army conscripts against their commanders,” says professor of political science Tarek Fahmi.
The documentary claims to tell the story of young Egyptian men as they prepare for military service, and addresses how they are treated during their time in the army.
What we need to remember, says Fahmi, is that it is only a film and there are plenty of other movies since the 1970s that have portrayed the army in a more negative light.
Mohamed Hegazi, former assistant to the foreign minister, believes the documentary provides a perfect example of how the media has become a vehicle for exercising political pressure, disseminating false information and attempting to erode national unity.
“We need no more evidence that this satellite channel, which for several years has daily devoted hours of its schedule attacking Egypt, is part of a malicious campaign to fragment and divide the Middle East along sectarian and ethnic lines and undermine the nation-state,” Hegazi told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Rakha Hassan, former assistant to the foreign minister, believes it is no coincidence the documentary was broadcast against a backdrop of escalating tensions between Egypt and Qatar.
“Most recently tension has been exacerbated because of Egypt’s clear stand on the Syrian issue. Egypt supports a political solution that protects the integrity of Syrian territory while Qatar supports the opposition, especially Al-Nusra Front, a group that has been designated a terrorist organisation,” he says.
Fahmi agrees with Hassan that the decision to broadcast the documentary now is linked to the dwindling possibility of meaningful reconciliation between Egypt and the Gulf states, with the exception of the UAE and Kuwait.
The airing of the documentary prompted many in the Egyptian media to launch attacks against Al-Jazeera and Qatar.
In an article in Al-Watan newspaper Emadeddin Adeeb wrote that the documentary was an example of “Qatar’s absurd hostility to Egypt which will cause harm to Doha on the long run.”
Other media and public figures regarded the documentary as offensive and demanded the government take immediate and strong retaliatory action.
MPs called for the Qatari ambassador to Egypt to be expelled, a demand widely echoed on Twitter.
A handful of commentators adopted a more measured tone, criticising the virulence of the media attack and asking why the authorities were so concerned about a one-sided documentary broadcast on a satellite channel.
Hassan stresses that life for conscripts is no bed of roses and their training is often harsh, especially at time of heightened conflict. He also points out that “the documentary is biased and lacks the balance needed by any serious media programme”.
“It was clearly made to be the vehicle for a political message. Its goal is not to document or simply state the facts.”
Fahmi sees the film as part of a concerted campaign, and it is the Egyptian army that Al-Jazeera has in its crosshairs. “On the same day the film was screened,” he notes, “there was yet another article on the Egyptian army on Al-Jazeera’s website.”
Tensions with Qatar first surfaced under Hosni Mubarak as Doha attempted to extend its diplomatic influence in the Middle East, including in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They grew when Doha adopted a policy of close cooperation with Islamist movement Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Hizbullah in Lebanon.