Egypt crisis: Hosni Mubarak loses control of state media
Hosni Mubarak's control of Egypt's state media, a vital linchpin of his 30-year presidency, has started to slip as the country's largest-circulation newspaper declared its support for the uprising against him
By Adrian Blomfield, Cairo and Adrian Michaels in Herzliya, Israel
6:26PM GMT 07 Feb 2011
Hoping to sap the momentum from street protests demanding his overthrow, the president has instructed his deputy to launch potentially protracted negotiations with secular and Islamist opposition parties. The talks continued for a second day on Monday without yielding a significant breakthrough.
But Mr Mubarak was dealt a significant setback as the state-controlled Al-Ahram, Egypt's second oldest newspaper and one of the most famous media publications in the Middle East, abandoned its long-standing position of slavish support for the regime.
In a front-page leader, the newspaper's editor-in-chief, Osama Saraya hailed the "nobility" of what he described as a "revolution" and demanded that the government embark of irreversible constitutional and legislative changes.
"The state and all its denizens, the elder generation, the politicians and all other powers on the political stage must humble themselves and rein themselves in to understand the ambitions of the young and the dreams of this nation," he wrote.
There was no call on the president to resign and while it may yet prove that Al Ahram's editorial shift may be tactical rather than genuine, opposition supporters expressed astonishment at the development.
Mr Saraya built his reputation as a dependable apologist for the president.
Last year, he became the subject of opposition mockery after Al-Ahram doctored a photo to show Mr Mubarak striding in front of President Barack Obama and other world leaders at the White House, when in fact he was at the rear. Caught out, Mr Saraya defended the deception as legitimate "expressionism".
Mr Saraya's change of heart comes amid growing anger among state journalists following the killing of Ahmed Mohamed Mahmoud, a reporter for an affiliate of Al-Ahram, which was founded in 1875.
Mr Mahmoud, who died last Friday, was shot dead, allegedly by a secret policeman, as he filmed opposition protests from the window of his office with his mobile telephone.
On Monday over 200 Egyptian journalists, many from state controlled publications, marched through Cairo's streets chanting anti-Mubarak slogans and holding aloft a model coffin.
Highlighting the depth of the rebellion, the reporters had earlier surrounded Makram Mohamed Ahmed, the powerful head of Egypt's press syndicate and an ardent regime loyalist, chanting: "killer! killer!" and "down with the mouthpiece of the regime".
Like Al Ahram, which initially dismissed the protests as a non-event, state television has also been forced to modify its coverage of the uprising after a senior anchorwoman and a leading reporter resigned in protest.
Having repeatedly insisted that the demonstrations had drawn no more than 5,000 people, most of them in the pay of foreign media outlets, government broadcasters have for the first time acknowledged a major presence in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
But even as the protesters express their determination to remain in the square until Mr Mubarak goes, the president remains defiant.
A senior Israeli politician with deep ties to Egypt said on Monday that he had spoken to Mr Mubarak four nights ago and that the president remained as determined as ever to stay on.
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who very recently quit as trade minister in Benjamin Netanyahu's government, told The Daily Telegraph that Mr Mubarak had told him: "This is not Beirut and this is not Tunis. I am sure that things are under control and don't worry."
But Mr Ben-Eliezer added that he thought Mr Mubarak would still leave if a way was found for him to exit with dignity. He said the army was still backing the battled president.