This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 15/02/2011
Everyone believes that the wealth of the former Egyptian president's family is valued at 70 billion dollars, as the British Guardian newspaper reported. Some of our Arab media re-published this information without bothering to question the source of the story, or its background. Of course the speculated amount is incorrect, and the story itself has some laughable details.
When the Guardian published the report regarding the ousted president's wealth, and that of his family, specifically before he left office, estimating it at 70 billion dollars, the world was astounded. At the time, rational minds were afraid to say this figure was incorrect, and the news spread like wildfire. Some of our media reported the story as if it was genuine, including media outlets in Egypt, and al-Jazeera loudly proclaimed the news. For the many who still don’t know, most of the report published by the Guardian was based on a previous story written in an Algerian newspaper, "al-Khabr", in late 2009. The original piece was published against the backdrop of the football row which broke out between Algeria and Egypt.
The Algerian newspaper "al-Khabr" was the most important source in the Guardian's story, regarding the wealth of the Mubarak family. When the Guardian published the article, it did not say that al-Khabr was an Algerian newspaper, but instead referred to it as an Arab newspaper. [This was significant] because the British newspaper did not highlight that the report was written against the backdrop of media campaigns between Egypt and Algeria. It also stated that the report was published last year, whereas in fact it is older than that.
Interestingly, and in order to illustrate my point, I conducted a search on the internet and found a comment by a blogger on the website "Iraqi Voice", dated 24/11/2009, and written under the pseudonym "Silent Tears 1". Here I transcribe the comment in full: "developments have escalated in multiple forms, the football crisis has extended to now include all affairs: political, economic, cultural, labour and technical, as well as international, with Gamal Mubarak's threat to take the issue to the international forums, to complain about Algeria. Through their respective media, both countries have initiated a phase of digging up the past, and [speculating] what lies in their counterparts' vaults, in terms of the billions held in global banks. This is what the Algerian newspaper "al-Khabr" did when investigating the finances of President Mubarak!"
The anonymous individual was warning that the confrontations between the two countries had reached the level of media mud-slinging, which cannot be considered credible. Yet the bulk of what was re-published from the Guardian story in our media did not alert us to this fact. The Egyptian media, for example, still demands an investigation into the 70 billion dollars, not realising that the original story was part of a media battle in which Egypt itself participated in 2009, resulting from a crisis about football. What a black comedy this is! [For the record] the New York Times newspaper has quoted U.S. officials saying that the rumours regarding Mubarak's fortune are greatly exaggerated, and that the family wealth could range between 2 and 3 billion dollars!
The intention here is not to defend Mubarak, but rather to defend our intelligence, which is not being respected by some of our Arab media, when they distort the news. After this scandal there must be another revolution in our region, this time within our own media, because it is an intrinsic part of our crisis.