Egyptian Newspaper Defends Doctored Photograph From Mideast Peace Talks : The Two-Way An Egyptian blogger discovered a major state-run newspaper printed an altered photograph from the White House.

Egyptian Newspaper Defends Doctored Photograph From Mideast Peace Talks

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DAVID GREENE, host:

Egypt's biggest newspaper wants to everyone to know that its president, Hosni Mubarak, is a leader - even if it means cheating a little. We're talking about a photograph taken at the White House, when Mubarak joined President Obama to discuss the latest round of Middle East peace talks.

In the photo, published by the Al-Ahram paper, Mubarak is looking every bit the leader: walking ahead of President Obama, King Abdullah the Second of Jordan, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

However, Wael Khalil, a little-known Egyptian blogger, has turned heads across the Arab world with this little revelation. In the real photo, Mubarak is actually walking behind the other four men. In short, the newspaper doctored the picture.

For more, Im joined by Adel Iskandar, a lecturer at Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies.

Thank you for joining us.

Professor ADEL ISKANDAR (Arab Studies, Georgetown University): Thank you so much for having me.

GREENE: Tell us a little bit about this newspaper, and why it appears it digitally altered his photo.

Prof. ISKANDAR: Well, I mean one has to situate Al-Ahram within a historical context. This is one of the oldest, most substantial newspapers in the Arab world. It has the largest circulation of any Arabic-language newspaper.

It's also the newspaper of record. It's the newspaper that speaks on behalf of the regime. And it's supposed to be the pulse of the nation-state.

GREENE: And we should say government-controlled, so a real incentive to make Mubarak look as good as possible.

Prof. ISKANDAR: Unquestionably. And of course, it has a lot of political implications. The message here is that Egypt is leader in the Arab world - and not only that, interestingly, given the fact that the meeting from which the photograph was captured happened to be here in Washington, D.C., and yet Mubarak actually leads the host, President Obama.

So Hosni Mubarak is depicted in this particular circumstance as probably the trendsetter, the opinion-maker and the rightful leader in the Arab world, and in the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

GREENE: And who is the blogger? And the fact that he called out this newspaper, does that suggest that opposition media, especially online like these bloggers, might be gaining some power in Egypt?

Prof. ISKANDAR: Wael Khalil is not a particularly famous blogger, but he is becoming increasingly influential, given the fact that he happened to pinpoint one of the most scandalous problems in the Egyptian press.

You know, he and many other bloggers are starting to turn to media monitoring and media, you know - they're essentially media watchdogs to monitor whether the traditional press in Egypt is failing to deliver. And in this particular circumstance, it just happened to fall in his lap.

GREENE: We should say that people are having a little fun with this in Egypt. Can you describe a bit of what you've seen?

Prof. ISKANDAR: Absolutely. I mean, there are images of Mubarak that are being doctored, and Mubarak is being placed and spliced in different circumstances. And this is him on the moon; this is him, you know, at different moments and junctures in history. This is him shaking hands with Stalin. This is him doing such-and-such.

There's one particularly funny one where the message above says: Don't worry, Mr. President. And it has 20 or 30 Mubaraks grafted onto that same image. So in this particular circumstance, it looks like "The Matrix," you know, Agent Smith, the multiple Agent Smiths.

So people are having a good time with it. But of course, this is indicative of sort of a subterranean trend that's happening in the Egyptian blogosphere, that the public is no longer concerned about the consequences of criticism and dissent. And this fun underlies a real transformation in the Egyptian public sphere.

GREENE: Adel, thanks for talking to us.

Prof. ISKANDAR: Thank you for having me.

GREENE: Adel Iskandar is a lecturer at Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. One final note: The editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram, Osama Saraya, responded to his critics with an editorial in the newspaper today. He points out that his paper did run the unedited photo on the day of the meeting here in Washington.

As for why he also published the doctored photo, Saraya writes: The Expressionist photo is a brief, live and true expression of the prominent stance of President Mubarak in the Palestinian issue, his unique role in leading it before Washington or any other.

You can find both photos at our website, npr.org.

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