Separately over the weekend, the government issued a new English-language guide for foreign journalists operating in the country on the terminology to use when describing various armed groups active in Egypt — including Wilayat Sinai, the ISIL affiliate that carried out last week’s attack. According to a screen shot of the memo posted to Twitter by CBS News correspondent Alex Ortiz, reporters are asked to refrain from using terminology that implies the Islamic affiliation of such groups, including "Islamist," "jihadist" and "fundamentalist."
“Terminologies that are religious based or faith oriented carry in its fold negative connotations which are largely based on heinous stereotypes and ill-informed predispositions,” the memo reads. “These terminologies tarnish the image of Islam as it falsely attaches the horrendous acts of these extremist groups to the Islamic faith.” It then offers a list of terms journalists should use to describe such groups: “terrorists, extremists, criminals, savages, murderers, killer, radicals, fanatics, rebels, slaughterer, executioner, assassins, slayers, destroyers, eradicators.”
Many Arab and Western governments around the globe have issued similar pleas to the media, arguing that calling ISIL Islamic legitimizes its narrative about defending Sunni Muslims from “infidel” dictators in places like Egypt and Syria. Last year the U.K., which has seen hundreds of its citizens travel to Iraq and Syria to join ISIL’s fight, asked the BBC to stop calling the group the Islamic State. Like most news outlets, the BBC refused, citing journalistic freedom and a preference to refer to subjects by their desired name.
But policing language has a different meaning in the context of Egypt, where Sisi is increasingly wary about support for ISIL among disaffected Sinai residents. Critics note that Sisi has deployed similar language in his anti-Brotherhood rhetoric too, conflating the transnational organization — his main political opposition in Egypt — with Wilayat Sinai as a single “terrorist” entity. Brotherhood leaders, who have called for an uprising against Sisi but typically avoid explicit endorsement of violence, vehemently deny any affiliation.
Rights groups fear that contesting such narratives will effectively be made criminal acts under Sisi’s rule, which they say increasingly resembles Hosni Mubarak's decades-long dictatorship — or worse.
“We are faced with an article that pushed the media towards Goebbels’ media — the media of one opinion and one narrative,” Gamal Eid, the executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information told The Guardian on Monday. “It is against the freedom of press, especially press that is critical and professional.”