Sex, Church Ties and Video Tape: The Controversy over Egypt's Tabloid Press
The recent alleged sex scandal involving a defrocked Egyptian monk has captured the attention this week of Egyptians at almost unprecedented levels. But the purported affairs of an ex-communicated member of the Coptic Church may well have gone unnoticed had it not been for the decision of Mamdouh Mahran, chief editor of the independent weekly newspaper Al-Nabaa, to publish explicit photos he had obtained of former Coptic clergy member Barsoum El-Muharraqi allegedly having sex with various women in a monastery.
The story is particularly shocking as the alleged activities were reported as happening in the 4th century monastery of Deir Al-Muharraq believed to have been one of the sites visited by Mary, Joseph and Jesus during the Holy Family's flight to Egypt.
And even if the allegations are true, there are dozens more in Egypt whose actions surrounding the scandal bring shame to all Egyptians.
Atop the list are the journalists and editors of Al-Nabaa, who published the shocking images taken from a videotape reportedly used as part of a purported blackmail scheme to swindle unsuspecting women of their money.
Mahran told journalists he ran the story to protect any future victims of the alleged scheme. But these unsubstantiated claims along with newspaper's headlines accusing the church of running a "whore house" perhaps did more damage than good, causing even more tension on already strained Muslim-Christian relations.
However the newspaper, which sold out shortly after it hit the newsstands, was not the only one to unabashedly profit from the scandal. Copies of the paper were reportedly sold for as much as 40 times the actual cost at some newsstands across Cairo. Not surprisingly, reporters of other more established newspapers turned their noses down at the story, calling it "tabloid journalism" while their own newspapers provided team coverage of the events surrounding the scandal.
The public, whose insatiable appetite for the sordid details of the story, should also shoulder some of the responsibility for the newspaper would not have published the photos had it not known for certain that copies would sell faster than hotcakes.
And although al-Nabaa deserves some condemnation, the Egyptian authorities decision to arrest Mahran on charges of "disseminating disinformation" and "inciting of hatred and contempt" infringes upon the basic human right of freedom of the press. Such matters should be dealt with in civil court, not criminal court or otherwise.
Among the only few who acted appropriately in this entire sordid affair was Al-Azhar's Grand Imam Sheikh Sayed Tantawi, who said that the Islamic institution "opposes with all its force the publication of material that questions the integrity of others".
Topics: Crime And Justice, Egypt