The following are selections from articles which appeared in the Egyptian English weekly, “Al-Ahram” of Al-Ahram Weekly, 25th June – 1st July, 1998

Small Arms for Big Wars
by Gamal Nkruma

{“Heading:] America may have suffered a diplomatic setback in its attempt to bring peace to the Horn, but its arms manufacturers are unlikely to complain

The United States, ostensibly to contain Sudan, has over the past two years supplied $7-million-worth of arms and ammunition to Eritrea and Ethiopia. These two countries are now using American military equipment to fight each other. America’s most senior officials appear at a loss for words when it comes to deciphering the political quagmire they have helped create. “The war, quite frankly, is madness,” said US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Washington last Friday. But couldn’t America’s foreign policy be described in similar terms?

… The $7-million-worth of American military equipment… consisted in the main of small arms. Their proliferation in the Horn of Africa is what makes the region so volatile, where they kill and maim an estimated 6,500 people a week. A bold international code of conduct on their export should be enforced — but probably won’t be.

… The American-led international efforts to end the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia faltered because of its rather patchy grasp of the political priorities of the countries of the region. Strategically important sectors of the Ethiopian economy, such as its defence industries, have now opened up to private foreign investment. American arms exporters will not be disappointed by that.

Both Eritrea and Ethiopia have embarked on diplomatic offensives to win the support of their Arab neighbors. A top-level Eritrean delegation… stopped over in Cairo during a tour of Maghreb and Gulf countries. Eritrean Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs Abdalla Jaber said, “The Arab media exaggerates ties between Eritrea and Israel. They recently reported that 100 Israeli diplomats fled Asmara. There are only five Israeli diplomats in Asmara [and they] left the country last week.” Jaber also denied rumours that there were 10 Israeli military bases and projects underway on Dahlak Islands. “Actually two Saudi nationals — Hani Zaki Al-Yamani and Prince Al-Walid bin Talal — are the only investors involved in tourism ventures on the Dahlak Islands,” Jaber told Al-Ahram Weekly.

In Search of an Honest Press
by Mariz Tadros

[Heading:] A backlash against the press in the US is forming from within, but will it mean anything for the countries of the South ?

It has become customary for… media types from the United States to come and give lectures in Egypt about the abominable violations of press freedom in this country.

But there are always exceptions to the rule. At a lecture on press and social responsibility held by the Al-Ahram Regional Press Institute, Professor Emeritus John Merrill turned the tables round and chose to talk about the finer points of press practice in the US.

Merrill is dean of the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia… The fact of the matter, declared Merrill, is that unrestrained press freedom has led to more monopolies and less democracy. “I think we can all agree that in the US, we do not know what the truth is anymore, we are getting warped versions of the truth based on our prejudices and biases.”

The whole idea behind journalism, pointed out Merrill, was to present the truth to the public. “They don’t call it censorship, they call it editing,” he grinned. “In theory the government is closer to the people than the press because it is elected, whereas the press is a private, unelected business, which is about making money.”

Merrill said that although he had fought relentlessly in defense of a free press, he cannot turn a blind eye to the “excesses of the system in America.” Too much freedom, he insisted, can make for biased reporting, for example, in favor of the Israelis and against the Palestinians. The “overindulgence of press freedom in the US” has also been responsible for a multitude of ills, including information imperialism by the major press monopolies.

Public or civic journalism has emerged in the US, explained Merrill as a backlash to existing press practices. It emphasises communitarianism, as opposed to individualism, which they believe characterises the press in America today.

… Merrill is quick to point out that while communitarian journalism is spreading fast, especially among new graduates of journalism, it has been repudiated and shunned by newspapers such as The Washington Post and The New York Times. He believes the reason behind this is that in many sections of American society, “they associate the collective nature of such newspapers with Marxism.”

But when it comes to the crunch, Merrill told the Weekly that communitarian journalism won’t ever be able to challenge the grand monopolies. Also, it has a puritanical streak to it, “it has this fundamentalist religious base to it, so it might not get far.”

… Merrill concludes that although communitarian journalism is a kind of fad that may not last, there is a definite wave in the US calling for greater regulation of the press.