While I was searching for the BBC channel to watch the World Cup, a picture of al Qaeda in Iraq’s website, where it claimed responsibility for a kidnapping, shown during a news bulletin, caught my attention. In particular, I was drawn to the “Breaking News” headline on the website. The above concept is used solely in the media and one finds it on CNN or Al Arabiya or even Fox News. It seems the soldiers of darkness also use it to announce their crimes. While the language was that of the media, the content had nothing to do with it.
I remembered this when I read an article by colleague Mona Eltahawy, a few days ago, in the International Herald Tribune, where she vents all her anger at Asharq Al Awsat. She was not writing her views but presented factual errors and inaccuracies. There is a world of difference between giving one’s opinion and lying.
In her article, she claimed to have been banned from writing for Asharq Al Awsat based on instructions from the Egyptian government because of an article she wrote criticizing the Egyptian elections and President Hosni Mubarak. She also alleged that Asharq Al Awsat presents itself as a newspaper that adopts writers banned from writing in their home countries.
In addition, Eltahawy said that Asharq Al Awsat was following in the footsteps of former President Yasser Arafat in our English-language website, where we publish in English what we dare not publish in Arabic in order to dazzle the West! She even said that the paper’s red lines are Saudi Arabia and its allies, with the exception of the Emirate of Qatar!
My answer to her claims is as follows:
First, her claim that she was banned on orders of the Egyptian government is an outright lie! Yes, a lie. Asharq Al Awsat has not received a single message, either to myself, the Editor-in-Chief, or my deputy, and no one has ever discussed the issue with us, not the Egyptian government or even those close to it.
Eltahawy is not the only one to have written about Egyptian issues in a critical manner, which, of course, does not correspond to the official Egyptian position. Dr. Mamoun Fandy, Fahmi Huwaidi and Dr. Amro Hamazawi, have all written on the subject in Asharq Al Awsat. We have also published news articles, analyses and interviews on the subject. I even asked an American journalist who contacted me seeking an explanation about Eltahawy’s article, to select a neutral person and ask them to review our coverage of Egypt and all Arab countries, without exception, to see for themselves the size of Eltahawy’s lies! We do not focus on one country at the expense of another! Allow me to take this opportunity to thank the Egyptian government for its patience!
In addition, and this both comical and depressing, Eltahawy’s article, where she attacked the elections and the Egyptian government, was published in the International Herald Tribune itself and not in our newspaper. The article was published on 22 December 2005 while the last article she wrote for Asharq Al Awsat appeared on 28 February 2006, meaning she wrote seven more articles in our paper, three of which were critical of the Egyptian government!
As for her claim that Asharq Al Awsat presents itself as a newspaper that attracts banned writers, this is an outright lie. We do not believe in fake heroism or slogans. We have repeatedly indicated that we support responsible words.
Why is it so? If we were published in the United States, we would have complied with American laws and taken into consideration social, religious and economic factors, like other American newspapers published there. Because we are published from London and read in more than thirty countries, we have to simultaneously deal with twenty-two different laws and state structures in the Arab world, not counting complex social structures!
In addition to all this, we abide by British laws. This is why we always repeat that we never jeopardize our credibility. We do not say this to boast but because the obstacles we face are more than one can enumerate. This is our line of work and the secret of its enjoyment.
Asharq Al Awsat has, in the past, been banned in Syria, Yemen and Sudan. It was also banned in Iraq for thirteen years when Saddam Hussein was in power. A year ago, we shut our offices in Baghdad, after receiving threats. The presidential palace in Lebanon also brought legal action against the paper… we have paid the price for our work.
We receive death threats and extremists denounce us as infidels on a daily basis. I say all this because Eltahawy was wrong as she sought to outbid us and portray herself as the victim. We do not claim to present the whole truth, or to even know the entire truth. As Ben Bradlee, the prominent former Washington Post editor once said, “We try to reach the truth as close as possible”.
In order for Eltahawy to emphasize her non-existent credibility, in her article devoted to attacking Asharq Al Awsat, she claimed that our English-language website publishes what we do not publish in Arabic, and provided a single proof since 2004, using one article only as an example. The article in question coincided with the launch of our website; the mistake occurred because Eltahawy does not write in Arabic and we have to translate her articles from English into Arabic. At the time, Eltahawy contacted the editor of Asharq Al Awsat’s English-language website who replied in writing and apologized for the error. He said, “It’s my mistake and I assume full responsibility”!
Did the mistake occur again? I don’t think so, and if it did, why didn’t she raise any objections all this time? It is sad that Eltahawy contacted our online editor on 17 October 2005 asking him to inform her if anyone wanted to re-publish her articles which had previously appeared in this paper. “Sometimes, I edit my articles which are published in Asharq Al Awsat to give them an American flavor, and I send them to American newspapers”, she wrote in an email.
In another electronic message, dating back to 11 October 2005, Eltahawy said, “Asharq Al Awsat’s online English edition opens new horizons to Western readers and it would be unfortunate to lose them. I have seen many literary sites linking to Asharq Al Awsat’s English site. This is a fantastic way to make readers in the West acquaint themselves with views they didn’t at all expect to see in an Arab newspaper!” This was her email! God have mercy on Abu Ammar who never admitted the different dimensions in his speeches just as Eltahawy has admitted!
As for the red lines that exclude Qatar, this is a joke we are now used to hearing and one which is no longer funny. In an article on 7 February 2006 in Asharq Al Awsat, Eltahawy praised Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, the wife of the Emir of Qatar, who we respect and appreciate, and lauded Al Jazeera, with whom I have well known disagreements! What red lines are these?
I will let Eltahawy herself disprove her claim that we restrict readers from giving feedback. On 8 February 2004, she wrote, “My article on the suicide mission carried out by Reem al Riyashi, who was recruited by Hamas, has provoked an angry reaction from readers. Instead of including these remarks, it is best you refer to the article yourselves on the newspaper’s website and read the feedback. But, I will include two comments that support my point of view. I am not doing so because they support my opinion but in order to allow views that have started to appear in Asharq Al Awsat to be expressed.”
Some might wonder why my reply hasn’t been published in the International Herald Tribune. The answer is I am disappointed with the manner the International Herald Tribune has handled the issue, as it didn’t even bother to contact Asharq Al Awsat to inquire whether the lies in Eltahawy’s articles were true or not. This is a basic rule in this profession, in which we had thought the International Herald Tribune was better than us. It appears the opposite is true.
I would like to remind the International Herald Tribune of a stand that demonstrates the importance we place on professionalism. Once more, I will let Eltahawy recount it. In an article entitled “The issue of media pillorying”, published on 15 March 2004, she attacked the New York Times for publishing pictures of dead bodies in Iraq and discussed her correspondence with Asharq Al Awsat’s opinion editor at the time. “I wrote to the opinion editor, Bakr Oweida, to inform him that I intend to convert my anger into words in my weekly column. He encouraged me to write [about the issue] but asked me to go back to my role as a correspondent and to inquire from the New York Times why it published these pictures. I cannot thank Bakr Oweida enough and I wish I had asked the New York Times beforehand. Despite still being opposed to the publication of these pictures, finding out the background of their publication, has somewhat lessened my anger.” This shows Asharq Al Awsat’s professionalism and morality compared to that of the International Herald Tribune. Our words carry responsibility. I find myself compelled to quote from a well-known saying: I am not saddened that Eltahawy is lying, but I am sad I can no longer believe her.