Mohamed Abdelfattah Cairo-based multimedia journalist

@Shorouk_News removes @AbolHolNews Swedish laughing gas story, sends reply

 

Screenshot_shorouk

As I said in the previous post, Shorouk has silently removed the Swedish laughing gas story originally plagiarised by Al Arabiya from @AbolHolNews

I’ve just received an email from the social media manager of @Shorouk_News in which she outlined her defense of what the online news website did. Here I quote her reply as per her request and my reply to her:

Dear Mohamed,

Shorouk news online is the first Egyptian news website to publish its editorial values a few days ago in addition to a feedback and corrections page, which can be found through the following links:

Editorial values:
http://www.shorouknews.com/news/view.aspx?cdate=31122013&id=c64248ab-bcc0-4c60-910f-f9fdcf162630

Corrections page: http://cms.shorouknews.com/mobile/news/view.aspx?cdate=01012014&id=955ae998-50cf-4c08-b1ae-f5ee9349c915

Our journalists do their very best to apply the editorial guidelines and become a trusted source of news by checking the credibility of the sources and accuracy of news as well as going to the root of the news story to verify it.

In the case of the Swedish laughing gas story, the story was picked up from one of the well established websites and news sources – Alarabiya. We credited the source as “attribution” is a one of our core values.

We have not “silently” removed the story as you have mentioned. We have clearly published the correction in our correction page on the website.

We are proud of our journalism, and our accountability to our audience. Mistakes in a news organization always happen but what makes a difference is to acknowledge and correct them promptly. This is exactly what we do because we respect our audience.

As your piece has inaccurate information we ask you to please publish our reply.

Kind regards

Marwa Hasan
Social Media Manager

And here is my reply:

Dear Marwa,

Thanks for your email.

First, I would like to highlight that Shorouk News remains possibly the least influenced by the unprofessionalism and lack of ethics permeating the media scene in Egypt. It’s not immune to it though.

However, Shorouk has a track record of cooking content that is not theirs, let alone verifying the accuracy of that content. 

The plagiarism may not be institutionally sanctioned but clearly it’s a culture that some institutions cannot impede. In 2010, I myself faced an act of plagiarism from Shorouk. For more on my video that they have stolen and subsequently apologized, please check these posts from 2010:http://www.anegyptianjournalist.com/archives/34

 
 
“Our journalists do their very best to apply the editorial guidelines and become a trusted source of news by checking the credibility of the sources and accuracy of news as well as going to the root of the news story to verify it.
 
The journalist who cooked that story and and “attributed” it to Al Arabiya has obviously not checked the credibility let alone going deep to “the roots of the story.”
 
The root of the story was our satitical AbolHolNews.Com site that explicitly says it publishes incorrect news stories. 
 
Checking the roots of the story could have at least entailed the journalist googling any single part of the story to make sure whether it’s correct or not.
 
Your journalist was apparently focused more on generating traffic than doing proper journalism. 
 
And why publish a story from Al Arabiya ? Does that come in a framework of some sort of content partnership ? Or does “attribution” make it less costly to counter any claims of infringements ? And how could you say that Al Arabiya is a well-established news source ? … in that case they have clearly plagiarized our content and it all trickled down to other unassuming outlets, including Shorouk.
 
 
There are no inaccurate information that I published on my blog. 
 
Your corrections page is laughably inconspicuous that I’d have had no way of knowing about except by your email. In respecting the minds of your readership, these corrections should be published on your social media platforms. I’ve even failed to find a link to that corrections page right from your Home page. 
 
In respecting your concern and effort to email me, I will definitely publish your reply as is along with my reply.
 
Best wishes,
 
Mohamed Abdelfattah

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AbolHolNews: The satire that made fool of Arab media outlets

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Plagiarism usually hurts. But it didn’t in this case.

A few weeks ago, the production company that I founded with with three amazing others of of my colleagues started Egypt’s first satirical news website in Arabic: AbolHolNews.Com 

The up and coming project is being led by partner and digital marketer Loai Nagati, a veteran social media guru who previously worked for Al Masry Al Youm and Shorouk News.

One of the fake news stories we published on the site talked of Swedish police using “laughter gas” to disperse a women rights protest.

It’s entirely made up; the story, the sources in it, their names, and quotations. But who would you guess in your wildest dreams have fallen into believing and propagating this story ?: leading Arab and Egyptian media outlets.

There are countless other websites of no serious professional weight that have plagiarized the story.

First, I was notified by a friend of mine on Twitter that Shorouk has published our fake story. I go to the link. I find Shorouk citing Al Arabiya.net as a source.

I go to Al Arabiya.net to find the story plagiarized and copied verbatim from our satirical news site. Their creativity went as far as adding to the plagiarized article that it’s “based on Swedish newspapers published Tuesday.”

Then we find Al Hurra website plagiarizing our content as is from AbolHolNews.

Then we find Egypt’s Akhbar Al Youm plagiarizing in the same way.

Shortly before I write this post, I was yet again shocked to find the online portal of Egypt’s possibly oldest newspaper, Al Ahram,  publishing the story in an act of … brrrr … grrrr … plagiarism 

What’s even more ironic is that Al-Kompis, the Swedish website tasked with presenting Swedish news to Arab-speaking audience has also plagiarized and published our story alleging in the byline that it’s based on “agencies” or “wires.”

As soon as we realized what happened, the laughter we sounded exceeded the pain of feeling plagiarized. We couldn’t truly believe that Al Arabiya, Shorouk, Al Hurra, Akhbar Al Youm, Ahram, and so many others swallowed this bait.

It was never intended to go that way.

What this story revealed is how common plagiarism is tolerated in Arab and Egyptian newsrooms with the exception of a few. Who was responsible for vetting whatever is getting published ? Are these reputable news websites or undeserving fools and plagiarists ?

Where are the editors who should have checked, let alone fact-checked, what is being published ? 

We’ve mentioned the Twitter handles of these outlets with our subsequent “reaction story” making fun of what they did. Only Shorouk has just silently removed the story but the rest .. are not aware yet. And as you can see from the hyperlinks above, you can still check the plagiarized stories online.

To the date of publishing this article, plagiarized links from these reputable websites are still being shared and liked.

Farewell to journalism.

Original story here: http://abolholnews.com/?p=123

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Debating atheism in the heart of Cairo

The World Affairs Journal, a bimonthly international affairs publication, has thankfully hosted my latest article on a debate between atheists and believers that I had attended.

You can read it here: http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/kristin-deasy/debating-atheism-heart-cairo

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Leaving Islam in the age of Islamism

What would prompt a former youth member of the Muslim Brotherhood to declare that he is putting his belief in Islam “on hold”? What would convert young people to become not only non-religious but extremely anti-theist following long periods of activism with Egypt’s ultra-conservative Wahhabi club, the Salafis?

What I said may be surprising for many, but not for others. The past several years have witnessed every single young man or woman with a shred of critical thinking to leave the Islamist movement. Starting with the Egyptian revolution and the Islamists’ shameful position against it, young middle class educated members have ever since continued to trickle out.

But this mere organisational friction is not the subject of this article. What I intend to expound on is more far-reaching. It’s about those often-silent people who decided to abandon faith completely as a result of their faithful experiences.

“I’ve decided to put Islam on hold as a religion,” wrote former Muslim Brotherhood activist OsamaDorra in his blog post. “For the conflict I’ve found between some of its details and what I think is sanity, justice, and logic has reached an inconceivable limit.”

The young Islamist dropout was courageous enough to come out with these views publicly on his blog. For days comments and shares continued to fuel the discussion. Islamists and their acolytes, who may have one day been shoulder to shoulder with Dorra, were unable to discredit his opinion as simply a fake conspiracy against Islam. Hence, I guess, they were more than cautious not to take him to court.

In any case, Dorra’s “Flying high above religion” blog post was later followed by other articles that suggested more revisionist takes on his initial position.

On the other hand, Islamists themselves have been paying the price of coming out publicly with their archaic and medieval views. For decades, these views were only voiced in underground audio cassettes and cheap booklets when they were long repressed. But as they came to power, they have now realised there is a price tag on every statement.

You could now find uncompromising Salafi TV preachers legitimising profanity and insults. Or the more bizarre Yasser Borhamy of the Salafi movement rejecting a clear ban on slavery in the constitution because he thinks slavery is not necessarily un-Islamic. Or take his other comment that Muslims should hate Christians from a Godly point of view. The list can go on and on to illustrate why a youth born into the 21st century may feel alienated by the whole religious establishment.

“Although the Islamist movement managed to reach power, it has been unprecedentedly dethroned from the hearts of many Egyptians,” so lamented Nageh Ibrahim the founder of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya in a recent article in Al-Masry Al-Youm. Several other preachers have said multiple times recently on TV that Al-Da’wa, or proselytising for Islam, has been losing a lot of credibility as a result of politics.

The issue of rising religious skepticism has been noticed by many. It has taken space in much of the local press and several opinion pieces. But it’s been petty stuff. Instead of defending someone’s right to disbelieve, it’s being treated as a problem that needs confrontation. Instead of presenting a seething critique of the most backward and reactionary ideologies, a self-styled intelligentsia is acquiescing to the Islamist framework in its weakest of times.

A growing generation of skeptics and atheists is increasingly coming to the fore. They are regarding religion, in practice, as at worst harmful and at best unnecessary.

Osama Dorra might be one example of a man who came out with his views. But the numerous others that we know very closely in our social circles prefer not to take the heat at the moment.

Islamists rising to power has not yielded their much-awaited fantasised moment of everything-turning-Islamic. Instead, it’s contributing to an unprecedented wave of skepticism, socialsecularisation and atheism. Young people feeling alienated by every Friday sermon that lacks substance or labels all non-Islamists as heretics and un-Egyptian are moving away from religion and “flying high above.”

“The Arab Spring has shaken our confidence in everything that preceded the revolution. And it has become clear that all the fundamental assumptions our life was based on were not completely sound,” wrote Dorra.

– Published in the Daily News Egypt

http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/01/24/leaving-islam-in-the-age-of-islamism/

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What’s the use of journalism in Egypt ?

The drawing sketch of a kindergartner carrying an emblem of the Egyptian revolution adjacent to the blood-stained train. Source of photo @masrya_83

Egyptians are once again confronted with and unified in the only thing that has sustained their togetherness: calamity.

Fifty kindergartners, at least, have died  in the split of a second as their bus moved recklessly past a dysfunctional level crossing only to be hit and dragged by the incoming train for close to 2000 meters, according to witnesses.

17 of those kids have reportedly survived, only in words. A life of woe, trauma, and disbelief may still haunt them for good.

The body parts of 4 to 6 year olds on their way to school were scattered in the radius of almost 2 kilometers. And bereaved family members had them collected in plastic bags as they desperately waited for an ambulance that came more than an hour late.

The specifics of a failing level crossing system, if any, may not be needed to cite. It’s not any different from the tragic litany of train crashes or road bloodshed this country has endured for decades.

But what has caught my attention in the midst of all this is a revealing investigative report published almost two months ago on Al Masry Al Youm website.

5.5 million pounds have been allocated earlier this year for the mere renovation of the crumbling level crossings across Egypt’s beleaguered railways. Albeit on paper. For nothing of this money ever moved beyond ink on paper, the report reveals.

The reporter  has simply toured across various crossings in Egypt to find evidence of any improvement or renovation projects but found none.

Level crossings across the impoverished upper Egypt were supposed to be completely renovated from January till April for a sum of 1.5 million pounds. No one knows in which pocket has this money now found way.

It’s a sad story.

I don’t know what the reporter who managed to reveal this corruption feels at the sight of blood stains she had wished to play a role in preventing. I feel absolutely sorry for her and equally for journalism. The brilliant information-digging she did for public interest has gone no where.

“A two-month year old investigation on corruption within the railway authority,” Ahmed Ragab, an investigative reporter with Al Masry Al Youm, tweeted his colleague’s work with much lament yesterday.

Many of us who got into journalism, particularly among this young generation, had hopes for cultivating real impact on people’s lives. Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable is the mantra that has been driving many of us. But in Egypt, it seems the comfortable is getting more comfort and the afflicted will have to bear more suffering.

It looks like a time of disillusionment for many. I know we’re not supposed to wield influence on power by every story we do. But the unmatched tragic loss of life at this accident should get us to start questioning what’s even wrong beyond the sphere and capacity of the press?

Most stories of death-by-torture in the country’s notorious police stations and detention centers have always found little or no recourse in a criminal justice system that needs to be upended. I could still recall a story I uncovered in 2010 of a young man in a poor neighborhood of Alexandria who was tortured to death.

The case of Ahmed Shaaban made its way to several international media outlets and triggered an Amnesty international statement before it made its way to a local press busy with an election season. Several local activist groups have launched protests in support. But the pressure the victim’s family had to sustain along with the continuous threats they received from the local police force had them acquiesce and finally agree to put the investigation on the shelf.

It seems across all aspects of injustice in this country, the state machinery is the actual culprit. Whoever (de)formed this bureaucracy and filled almost all legal frameworks with countless loopholes, designed to favor the powerful against the powerless in startling consistency, should be indicted with premeditated murder.

And the Muslim Brotherhood who have blatantly hijacked the Egyptian revolution are another culprit. They have deliberately reduced the radical changes everyone hoped for to mere time-serving and cosmetic reforms. The “Renaissance” project of their false prophets has revived nothing but Mubarakist practices spiced up with Islamic undertows of morality.

In fact, it’s not the first time Egypt’s railway system soaks in blood. A simple Google search can lead you into a tragic litany of accidents. Even during Mubarak’s era, transport officials got fired for similar events. What has changed? Nothing.

A simple reading into the body-count of road and railway accidents in Egypt every year is shocking. According to the World Health Organization, Egypt loses about 12000 lives each year to road accidents. Five months in power, has the Muslim Brotherhood’s second-choice president Morsi initiated or even pondered a pro-active policy to prevent this systematic bloodshed ?

The tragic accident is likely to follow the typical path such horrendous acts of public negligence tend to go through: firing an official, holding a low-level employee accountable, and offering embarrassing reparations for bereaved families. But nothing will touch the crumbling state machinery the Muslim Brotherhood has proven to be adamantly wanting to preserve as is.

This tragedy will likely be a defining moment for many who wished good for Egypt after the revolution. For the families of the dead and injured, I ran out of euphemisms that could be used to console their loss. For the Egyptian press and a nucleus vanguard of anti-establishment journalists, I wish nothing but the ability to resist a persisting state of disillusionment.

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Rediscovering Egypt’s forgotten suffragette

Doria Shafik (1908-1975) by Van Leo from the AUC digital archive http://goo.gl/2bIpt

The very fair lady you see in this portrait is Egypt’s leading suffragette who, following multiple struggles and activism in the 40′s and 50′s, brought Egypt’s women the right to vote. Only to be shunned from public life and any facit of collective memory at the directive of president Nasser following her hunger strike against his dictatorial rule.

After she was dismissed from the feminist union she founded and led for many years, and after her magazine along with any public appearance were banned by a political order, Shafik entered a period of seclusion for 18 years. This eventually resulted in her suicide from her Zamalek apartment in 1975 leaving behind a plethora of unpublished memoirs and a whole history of proud activism that waited to be resurrected once again.

The only biographical study of her life was admirably conducted by AUC anthropology professor Cynthia Nelson and was published in 1996.

The biography is a must-have for anyone interested in the history of Egypt’s women movement and such a crucial part of Egypt’s modern history.

Here are some of her quotes

“No one will deliver freedom to the woman, except the woman herself. I decided to fight till the last drop of blood to break the chains shackling the women of my country in the invisible prison in which they continued to live; a prison, which being invisible, was all the more oppressive”

 

“They are assembled a few steps away from us. I propose we go there, strong in the knowledge of our rights, and tell the deputies and senators that their assemblies are illegal so long as our representatives are excluded, that the Egyptian parliament cannot be a true reflection of the entire nation until women are admitted. Let’s go and give it to them straight. Let’s go and demand our rights. Forward to the parliament ! “- Shortly before she led over 1000 women to storm the Egyptian parliament demanding political rights for women

 

“I’m calling upon the women of Egypt to fall into the line of battle and to carry guns in order to save their nation from its enemies… turn the wheel of history, and take your place at the head of the troops doing your utmost for the sake of Egypt” – from her article in Bent Al Nil magazine agitating against the British occupation

 

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A word from Barry Hampe

One of so many useful takeaways from Barry Hampe’s much acclaimed Making Documentary Films and Videos

Preproduction is full of hopes and dreams. Production is all potential. But it is in postproduction that you have to deal with reality. This is where you discover what you really have in the footage as opposed to what you thought you shot

Hampe’s book is indeed one of the most definitive in documentary filmmaking. He is fundamentally a creative writer and hence his emphasis mostly lies with scriptwriting, the importance of structure, storytelling, and visual evidence. His book is a rare mix of accumulative practice and well-grounded theory.

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News resources for Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections

English-speaking news websites and other resources to keep track of Egypt’s presidential elections:

Websites

http://www.EgyptIndependent.com/ 

The English edition of one of Egypt’s most important newspapers, AlMasry AlYoum. Their news are a mix of their smart staff original reporting as well as translations from the always-updated Arabic edition of AlMasry AlYoum. Their opinion articles section has grown substantially in recent months and is more than enough to give you perspective on any story in Egypt.

http://www.theDailyNewsEgypt.com/

Spot news, comprehensive features, and interesting business coverage are the hallmarks of DNE.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/

Ahram Online is the online English edition of Egypt’s most powerful state newspaper Al-Ahram. But editorially speaking, it’s the total opposite of the Arabic brainwashing printed Frankenstein. Their real plus is the extensive coverage of very local stories and their exposure of miniature details in the way they present their news. What international English language papers might put in a single line, Ahram Online gives it a paragraph. They have also wrote alot of Wiki-style orientational pieces on many Egyptian issues, movements, and figures. And don’t miss their coverage of art and culture too.

Tweeps

@Seldeeb

Sarah El Deeb

An Associated Press Cairo journalist and a non-sleeping news gatherer. She produces flawless pieces for the well-known agency and keeps track of any breaking story at any time of the day ( or night ).

@Nadiaglory

Nadia abou el-Magd

News producer and journalist with Al Jazeera English bureau in Cairo. Go there to get the latest confirmed information on any breaking story and you will never be disappointed.

@Adamakary

Adam Makary

Producer for the Al Jazeera English Cairo bureau.

@Ssirgany

Sarah El Sirgany

The news editor of the Daily News Egypt.

@Hany2m

Hany Rasmy

By all accounts, he won the undisputed title of Egypt’s twittersphere human Google. He is not a journalist, but he never misses any information. He is a refuge for many looking for any specifics and has been a very helpful person.

@Arabist

Issandr El Amrani

Renowned Arab affairs blog but one of the best laconic commentators on Egypt affairs. He has the depth, the background, the correct information, and the much-studied context that makes his pieces unmatched among a sea of pundits.

@Bassem_Sabry

Bassem Sabry

Good at aggregating various news and sifting through the information haystack to eventually publish the correct information. Make sure you check his twitter page every now and then.

@Repent11

Mohamed Fadel Fahmy

CNN journalist in Cairo.

Good luck with some of that mental news food.

Feel free to contact me

elsaffani@gmail.com

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How to report safely inside Egypt?

Foreign journalists working in Egypt have faced a hard time field-reporting in the past year. Not what you think, but the authorities may be the least suspected culprit behind this drama. It’s unfortunatley the popular perception indoctrinated into the minds of many citizens by way of populist xenophobic state propaganda.

Since Mubarak’s second speech back on February 1st, 2011, state media outlets have been whipping up xenophobic propaganda. Essentially, they accused “foreign elements” of formenting unrest, labelled the protesters as supporters of a “foreign” agenda, blamed “foreign” media for “defaming Egypt’s image abroad”, and every once in a while their news ticker carried an often-rephrased version of stories of “Israeli spies” being caught by the army who were holding camera and other advanced equipment. In short, right before that day any foreign-looking, mostly white-, person walking down the street was faced with welcome-to-Egypt remarks. After the speech, they were being searched and asked for their passports.

To counter that feeling, many foreign reporters, except very very few, had the required social skill to manage the situation.

The usual drama evolves around a foreign reporter surrounded by lots of bystanders who are questioning his/her identity. No logic or argument is carried in their discourse except the heavily-induced suspicion that the journalist is a spy. Most probably an Israeli spy !

So here are the tips:

You are about to get mobbed if you didn’t leave the area immediately. No argument is adviced with the mob because they don’t use logic. Neither you should look scared when pulling out.

Look as smiling, humble, and ordinary person. An American photographer friend of mine almost never got mobbed at any situation in the past year. The reason is: he is always smiling, initiates a small Arabic talk as he enters a new environment, and he looks ordinary. Being the international correspondent you wish to be on the field may not happen if you are stiff, condescending, not smiling, or wearing an extravagant type of designer suits.

Best of all, manage the people ahead. Most importantly a fixer’s job, the skill to be able to understand the people’s behavior, attitude, murmurs, and culture around you will help alleviate any potential conflict. The best scenario is to be able to initiate and socialize with the people and don’t let them put you in the reaction bubble. After convincing them of the impact, reason, and importance of your work for them, you will be able to get them on your side. They are the only ones who are able to defend and protect you from other hasslers. In fact they can get you further connected to sources or characters you never thought you would find for your story.

Minimize equipment, if possible. Because xenophobic hassle is not much about being foreign than being media, camera phobia must be dealt with. As technology has offered us much smaller and practical options, no need arises for large camera crews on the field. The correspondent, the cameraman, and the producer are enough. The cable fetish accompanying a sound man and exotically large tripods can make you very noticeable as you move.

If a heated mob starts to gather, cut your plans short for that area. Start the countdown to leave as this happens. The more you stay in the area, if you became a hostile target, the more the situation becomes increasingly hard to resolve. Keep moving as much as you can.

Never get angry, and never show as very weak. Cooperate with the people as much as you can. Never be confrontational. Never shout or insult even if they cursed you. Rule one always is to pull out as soon as possible.

Have your car and driver ready and attentive to move in a second. Inform your driver to be by the car and alert for your coming. If the car has automatic doors, make it manual so that you can open it yourself easily if you had to run to it. The car needs to be parked in an area that makes it easy for it to move right away. The driver must be professional enough not to get angry or argumentative at all with the people.

Egyptians have a huge concern for their image abroad. Filming trash on the streets is the most famous sensitivity. Don’t film long bread queues. Same with broken sewage water on the streets. If you come across as interested to shoot something that really looks nice, the people will like it and see your urge to view their country in a fine image.

Heading to a local area, you must be under the patronage of a local. For locals, their local friend plays the role of a verifier to who you are and why you are there. He will also be able to secure your entry and exit in the area. He will be the real fixer in that situation. By a very local area, I meant a village, a suburb, or a poor neighborhood.

Share something personal about you that can be a commonality with the locals. This is the best ice breaking. A family anecdote, personal belief or opinion, way of clothing, personal preferences, etc.

The list can run longer, but these are the general indispensable tips for foreign reporters in Egypt.

Generally, a foreign reporter needs to be familiar with the local culture not through “reading about the Middle East” but through talking to peers who have been there. They should also adhere to the word of their local assistant because they have been born and raised in the country.

 

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Editorial Lines #2: Omar Suleiman

How various media organizations attempted to give a background on Egypt’s former intelligence chief following his running for president:

The BBC

A close ally of the former president, Mr Suleiman was seen as a pivotal figure in Mr Mubarak’s 30-rule rule.

The Guardian

Omar Suleiman, who was the ex-president’s intelligence chief, has inside influence that will make him a likely frontrunner in the elections, to be held on 23 and 24 May.

AP

Suleiman’s entry in the race is likely to be welcomed by Egyptians who fear their country might be slipping into chaos after a turbulent year of deadly protests against the military’s continued rule that have battered the economy. His insider knowledge of the political system could make him one of the front-runners in the crowded field.

The Wall Street Journal

In Mr. Suleiman, the military appeared to have offered a rejoinder to the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood.

 

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