Swine flu vaccination and statements from the ruling National Democratic Party’s Secretary General Safwat el-Sherif have taken the lead in state-owned newspapers Al-Ahram and Al-Akhbar on Friday, as issues like the controversial Egypt-Gaza steel wall, reports of sightings of the Virgin Mary across Cairo, and Muslim Brotherhood elections’ aftermath –highlighted by independent press– took a backseat.
The biggest two stories carried by Al-Ahram and Al-Akhbar on their front pages seemed to be swine flu, with both government mouthpieces confirming that vulnerable citizens and students will be taking the priority in vaccination campaigns. Not surprisingly, Al-Ahram covered a meeting on Thursday assuring people in the run-up to the upper-house of parliament (Shura Council) elections that "the NDP does not hog power and doesn’t monopolize ruling. But always welcomes the participation of other political parties," said el-Sherief to Al-Ahram. It also carried the usual statement by the President’s son, and NDP’s policy secretariat head Gamal Mubarak declaring that "the people’s daily issues and problems are taking the priority" and the attention of the NDP.
In Al-Akhbar, and in the coverage of the same story, the emphasis was switched in the headline and lead from the NDP itself to "national security" issues with the newspaper clearly alluding to the Rafah wall controversy by first carrying statements of el-Sherif from the meeting saying that "the defense of Egypt’s borders is a national security issue and a matter of sovereignty that no one should interfere in. Any procedures taken regarding this matter is for the purpose of securing citizens here and defending the security of the realm." Then adding, in the words of el-Sherif, that "President Hosni Mubarak always stresses on Egypt’s efforts to continually support the Palestinian cause and to make peace between opposing factions and revive the peace deals with Israel."
Neither paper directly mentioned Gaza by name, but Al-Ahram carried a one-paragraph story, with statements from Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki, denying that Egypt has stopped a Gaza-bound aid convoy from crossing through it. Zaki said he was surprised by British MP George Galloway’s statements in which said that Egypt is blocking passage of the convoys. According to a Thursday story by AFP around 250 trucks laden with European, Turkish and Arab aid — both food and medical supplies– were stranded in Jordan pending approval of Egyptian authorities to pass into Gaza through Nuweiba in the Red Sea, "the most direct route." Zaki reiterated to Al-Ahram on Friday, saying, "the Egyptian government welcomes the passage of the convoy into the Gaza Strip … on condition that it abides by the mechanisms in place for humanitarian aid convoys to the Palestinian people."
As state newspapers played it down, Al-Shorouq newspaper, however, ran with the AFP story on its front page, which not only seems to confirm the blockage but also quotes Zaki as saying that the convoys could only pass through El-Arish port and not Nuweiba, an essential detail that Al-Ahram, chose to omit from its brief report. Zaki did not elaborate on the reasons why Egypt is dictating this route as a condition for allowing the humanitarian trucks into the Hamas-seized Gaza strip.
Rose Al-Youssef, another pro-government newspaper, meanwhile, carried a small story on its front declaring that Egypt temporarily opened its borders in Rafah to allow the passage of 500 ill Palestinians and to aid the traffic of "thousands of tons of food" into the Palestinian territories, in addition to also running with Zaki’s statements.
In independent papers, like Al-Shorouq, Al-Dostour, reports of sightings of apparitions of the Virgin Mary and Coptic Christians amassing around prominent churches across Cairo found their way into the headlines, with Al-Shorouq running a feature-long story about the thousands upon thousands of Christians visiting a Shubra church waiting for Virgin Mary to make an appearance — regarded as a sign of hope and perhaps solidarity with Egypt’s Christians during hard times and following recent attacks by Muslim extremists on Christians in upper-Egypt. The paper carried statements by people who saw "light" in the skies, confirming the apparition, while not failing to highlight the security beef-up around the churches where truck loads of riot police were posted.
Similarly, Al-Dostour reported on "seven simultaneous sightings of apparitions of the Virgin Mary" in seven different churches across Cairo. According to Al-Dostour, traffic came to a standstill around the churches where Mary’s ghost was believed to be seen. According to al-Dostour, more than 20,000 Egyptian Christians have made pilgrimage to these churches in anticipation of the sighting.
Otherwise in the news, Al-Dostour reported that the London-based Muslim Brotherhood leader Kamal el-Hilbawy is suggesting the name of ousted Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh for taking on the post of supreme leader, or murshid, of the Brotherhood. The choice seems eccentric, even though the militant Hamas was born out of the womb of the Brotherhood. But despite being a global Islamic movement, the Brotherhood was founded in Egypt, and the top job of heading its Cairo-based ‘Guidance bureau" has always gone to an Egyptian. The newspaper carried other speculations on the top leadership of the Brotherhood, saying that senior Brother Mohammed Badie still tops the list of those most likely to take on the murshid post.
Al-Dostour also carried statements by the socialist al-Karama political group, which claimed that the Egyptian state security are "spying" and keeping tabs on "possible" contenders to 2011 presidential elections such as Mohamed ElBaradie, Ayman Nour, and Amr Moussa. This piece of news remains unconfirmed.