When you listen to the slickly-attired owner of the Egyptian network Faraeen TV Tawfik Okasha expounding his eclectic views each night on social, political and religious issues, you may be entertained, informed, angered, shocked or disgusted — but you will undoubtedly conclude that democracy’s staple freedom of speech is alive and well in post-revolution Egypt.
Okasha, a former presidential candidate, pulls no punches, berates his compatriots and seemingly cares not one jot who he might offend with his extreme right-wing opinions which are presently geared toward persuading the voting public to opt for President Mubarak’s last appointed Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq perceived by a percentage of Egyptians as tainted by his association with the ousted former regime. While extolling the virtues of Egypt’s military “the best in the world” and the much-maligned police force, Shafiq’s opponent Mohamed Mursi, chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, invariably comes in for a drubbing.
Okasha argues that behind the door, the US is encouraging a Muslim Brotherhood takeover, pointing to a map of the Middle East and Africa sprinkled with black dots where the American army, air force and navy are stationed. If Mursi wins, Egypt will be next, he maintains while outlining his belief that the US is champing at the bit to label Egypt a terrorist state when it will send in the troops and hand oil-and-gas rich Sinai to its Israeli ally.
On Sunday evening, Okasha rolled out clip after clip blackening Mursi’s campaign. One consisted of interviews with some of the most underprivileged member of society in a poor suburb. One after the other, they accused Mursi’s people of knocking on their doors between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. bearing oil, potatoes, eggs, tea, sugar plus 100 Egyptian pounds on condition the recipient swears on the Qur'an that their vote will go to Mursi. “I kicked them out,” said one middle-aged woman living in a hovel that was unfit for the ducks wandering around the living room, let alone for human habitation. “We suffered 30 years of bad government and I refuse to sell Egypt’s future for food and money.”
All the interviewees, around six or seven, echoed her feelings. If the interviews were for real, then Okasha has done his fellows a favor by exposing this cash/food-for-votes scandal. But on the other hand, the country’s political tussles have become so low and dirty that there’s a chance the people interviewed were paid by Okasha’s minions to say what they did.
During the same segment, the man with the silver, poison-laced tongue showed videos of mobs, he claimed were instigated by the Muslim Brotherhood, burning and looting police stations, setting fire to Alexandria’s town hall that was razed to the ground, stealing TVs and gas bottles — and even taking the watch off the wrist off the bloodied corpse of a policeman. He later blasted the Brotherhood for sending its members to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in cahoots with the US when, according to him, they’ve done nothing to free Jerusalem, especially the Haram El Sherif, Islam’s third holiest site, from Israeli control. Was freeing Afghanistan from Russians more pressing than returning Jerusalem, he ranted?
It’s little wonder that Mursi wants the channel closed-down. Last month, his party announced it had lodged a complaint with Egypt’s public prosecutor about Fareen that is being “used as a tool to defame, slander and commit crimes — and Okasha who has “resorted to the lowest means of delivering his media message…to take revenge on the Brotherhood on behalf of the ousted Mubarak regime.” The Brotherhood has also accused Okasha of inciting the murder of one of Mursi’s supporters, shot by assailants, one of whom shouted that the killing was a message from Tawfiq Okasha to anyone backing Mursi just before he fired.
Ironically perhaps, the Brotherhood shares common cause with the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in its wish to silence Okasha. Some years ago, the center’s director for international relations wrote to German State Television that had agreed to produce programs for Faraeen TV describing it as anti-Semitic. He based his claim on a weekly show titled “In Articulate Hebrew” that painted the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” — discredited as non-authentic — as being a Jewish world plan for world domination — and on Okasha’s assertion that riots subsequent to the 2009 Egypt-Algeria World Cup qualifier were an Israeli-Iranian conspiracy.
He may be off the wall with a total absence of any red lines but nobody can doubt his courage. I assume he goes around with a retinue of bodyguards. If he doesn’t then he would be well-advised to. Secondly, I’m amazed by his capacity to talk for hours unscripted with passion and without hesitation as well as his ability to make the viewer believe he’s sitting next to him in a living-room. He freely admits he doesn’t have a doctorate and is a proud fellah but he is a gifted orator.
Unfortunately, though, the man dubbed as Egypt’s Glenn Beck for his similarly radical opinions and far-fetched conspiracy theories, antagonizes devout viewers with jokes about women who wear the niqab and his own interpretations of the Qur'an, the Torah and the Bible used to reinforce his point.
His bigoted outlook on the Jewish race, as opposed to any legitimate allegations he might have against the actions of the Jewish state, only serve to discredit his core message, i.e. put a lid on past grievances, choose a leader who can deliver stability, security and prosperity and join hands to work for a better future for all.
His following is as difficult to gauge as Faraeen TV’s viewership; however, his name does freely trip off the lips of many of my Egyptian acquaintances who either love him or hate him. He’s the talk of the town you might say. I wanted to know how his diatribes are going down with working people, so I asked a waiter in Alexandria whether many he knew regularly watched Okasha’s nightly program. “Yes, we all do,” he said. “He’s crazy. We watch it for a laugh.” One thing Egyptians aren't is gullible.