The production, reproduction and transformation of hegemony through media: The Case of Egypt

 

  1. Introduction

 

The resignation of Mubarak in February 2011 didn’t end the rule of the power centres- which includes the military- that have been in power since the overthrow of the Egyptian monarch in 1952. After his resignation, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) wielded power for almost one year and half directing the political and public spheres towards a certain direction in its favour, clashing protests all over the country, imposing de facto martial law and pushing one of its former members, Ahmed Shafik as a candidate in the first presidential elections after the revolution.

In 2013, when millions of Egyptians took the streets demanding the resignation of the former President Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi led a coalition to remove Morsi from power and suspended the Egyptian constitution. One year after the military coup, Al Sisi was elected as the president in 2014.

After five years, the different power centres that belongs to the previous ruling elite including the military is still managing to maintain its position in the ruling class not only by coercive force but by enforcing hegemony to attempt to manufacture the consent of the society using the media, the educational system, and the religious institutions.

Using Gramsci’s concept of hegemony and the manufacture of consent, this paper will analyse how the different power centres that belongs to the previous ruling elite including the military in Egypt try to maintain its position to preserve its control after the 2011 revolution using the media to manipulate the public sphere and to enforce a certain discourse that endorse its control.

First, I will explain why Gramsci is relevant for this case then I will explain how Gramsci views the media as an institution subject to production, reproduction and transformation of hegemony and the limitation of this view. In the light of this Gramscian view and its limitation, I will analyze the Egyptian case of hegemony over media.

  1. Theoretical framework: Why Gramsci is relevant for the case?

Using Gramsci’s theoretical framework will provide an analysis on how the different power centres including the military as part of the ruling class in Egypt maintained its position after the 2011 revolution not only by coercive power but by enforcing hegemony without falling into the problem of economic reductionism. While traditional Marxists think that the economic sphere is the main founding element of all social formations dismissing the ideological sphere, Gramsci uses the concept of hegemony to examine the complex relationship between the ideological and the economic fields. (Munif, 2013, p.203)

For Gramsci, hegemony is the interplay between consent and coercion with the aim of producing leadership. It also involves a leading social group securing active or passive consent of other social classes rather than individually imposing its decrees upon its reluctant subjects. It relies more on subtle mechanisms of ideological integration rather than direct recourse to arms. In pacific version, this involves forging coalitions based on negotiations and compromise between different interest groups or a ‘historic bloc’. (Thomas, 2009, p.161)

In modern societies, any ruling class uses a combination of consent and coercion to maintain their power over subaltern classes. To sustain the consent of the various subaltern classes, the dominant class uses multiple subtle techniques. Thus, hegemony is not based on building alliances with social groups identified with the societal project of the dominant class. On the contrary, the main task of the dominant class is to suggest discourses that forces homogeneity on the subaltern classes and alter their subjectivities. In this process, the ruling class doesn’t only produce appealing narratives for specific subaltern groups, but it produces new identities by interpellating various social groups. (Munif, 2013, pp.203-204)

According to Gramsci, the state is composed of two separate yet complementary spheres: the civil society and the political society. As the civil society includes the cultural practice institutions such as the educational system, the family, the media and the religious institutions, it appears to be independent from the political sphere. The civil society institutions propagate the dominant culture which is masked in the form of the common sense. As for the political society, it is composed of repressive apparatuses such as the police and the military. It uses violence and coercion to enforce the will of the ruling class. Hegemony is the production of the dialectical relationship between the two spheres. (Thomas, 2009, pp.167-170)

This struggle to separate the interdependent relationship between civil and political societies through transforming the popular consciousness created what Gramsci called a “counter-hegemony” or “war of position” which can be defined as a cultural struggle waged within civil society using platforms suitable for “cultural transmission,” such as parliament, educative and religious institutions, professional associations, the media, and the courts (Boggs, 1984, pp. 160–161).

During the 2011 revolution, the ruling class lost its power and authority because of its inability to ‘lead’ according to Gramsci. It is then when this counterhegemonic project emerged.  Gramsci sees this as a rare phenomenon because the civil society – in different contexts- may become a complex and strong structure that encloses the political society and protects it from any attacks. As the process of countering hegemony within civil society is difficult, it can be a precondition to challenging political hegemony as well. (Munif, 2013, p.204)

The concept of hegemony is mostly useful in the Egyptian context because it draws the attention on the making and unmaking of alliances and also it helps scrutinise the complicated and unstable relationships between ruling and subaltern groups. Using the Gramscian analysis can help in understanding how after the Egyptian revolution destabilized the ruling class and allowed the subaltern groups to form hegemonic bloc, the military as part of this destabilized class began to restore its position again through its hegemony using various tools, but for the limitation of this paper, it will be focusing on media only.

  • Media as an institution subject to production, reproduction and transformation of hegemony

As emphasized by Gramsci, mass media is one of the most important institutions that is subject to ‘production, reproduction and transformation of hegemony’. If we shall use Gramsci’s analysis to analyze the role of media in the context of hegemony, we can assume that media is a powerful tool that affects the individuals, the society and the culture. Media institutions, in this sense, do not only reflect and sustain the consensus but they help in producing the consensus and manufacturing consent in order to establish hegemony. (Gramsci, 2001, p.46)

Stuart Hall (1982, pp. 86-88) analyzes media through a ‘hegemonic framework’, and he argues that public trust the media because it is supposed to be independent and neutral from the state’s political or economic interests. But in reality, media existing within a state should follow the formal protocols of broadcasting that depends on the form of the political system of the state itself. Thus, media can be described as an ‘ideological state apparatus’ that is used to mediate social conflicts and its role is to interpret and make sense of the world to the mass public, and during this process it tend to reproduce the hegemonic ideology. (Curran, 1982, p.227)

Gramsci sees that the production of hegemonic ideology can be explained in regards to its professional communicators- the journalists or the TV anchors in our case- who are essential to ‘amplify systems of representation that legitimize the social system’. Thus, as Gramsci argues, these professional communicators can be described as ‘intellectuals’ who are responsible for ‘the production and the dissemination of ideas and knowledge’. Even when there’s an assumption that these communicators are independent, they are bounded by the hegemonic system and they – unconsciously- frame the news in a way that keep with the ‘institutional arrangement of the society’ or the hegemonic ideology. (Strinati, 1995, p.171) (Giltin,2003, p.256)

Giltin (2003, p.258) suggests that when the dominant class controls what the media feeds the public, the ruling elites are infusing a false consciousness among them, which limits them in acting for change. However, if we are following the Gramscian traditions, it is important to note that hegemony is not a constant thing, it’s always changing by challenging, resisting and endorsing the ‘dominant hegemony’. There is always a room for a counter-hegemony. ‘Traditions, institutions and formations’ are the three cultural processes for hegemony. The traditions are always ‘invented and reinvented by the national state’ and these newly formed traditions depends on institutions like mass media for transmission in order to establish a ‘dominant consensus in the society’. In this regards we may consider that hegemony provides space for critical reasoning, so that a new class may contest the existing ideology and resist change from the hegemonic ideology (Stevenson, 1995, p.181)

However, we have to put into consideration the importance of the ‘informational and cultural powers’ as important key players in governance and they play crucial role in enforcing social control. Challenging the elite hegemonic ideology reinforced by the media is a difficult task as well. It collides with the interests of the dominant class and since they are the one who ‘have control over the informational and cultural apparatus’ that influence and determine how the society thinks, challenging them becomes more difficult. (Stevenson, 1995, p.5)

  1. Limitation of hegemony explaining the role played by media in the society

Hegemony cannot be always used to explain the role played the media in a society. While hegemony argues that the class consciousness in a society is controlled by the dominant class, it totally neglects the autonomy of the people as people are different and they have different thought capacities as the homogeneous human subjects don’t exist. (Gottdiener, 1985, p. 982)

Also, when we talk about the false consciousness from the perspective of hegemony, we tend to neglect that consciousness and ideology are two separate entities as ideology is not consciousness, it is the representation of the ‘imaginary’. (Gottendiener, 1985, p.983) Ideology cannot be fully controlled and the struggle to control it will always continue. (Gottendiener, 1985, p.978)

 

  1. The case of Egypt: Media’s role in hegemony and the war of position

After the 2011, there are many concerns regarding the conflict of interests between different centres of power in Egypt: The Military Intelligence and the State Security Agency. These two power centres are using media to push forward their agendas (Atef, 2015, para.7-8) in a situation that is similar to what Gramsci described as ‘war of position’.

 

In the last ten years of Mubarak’s rule, the State Security Agency rose to power and dominated the media outlets, marginalizing the Military Intelligence agency, although both of them are part of the ruling elite. Any media content should be approved by the State Security Council before being published or aired. (Atef, 2015, para.9-11) There was an unspoken rule among national, partisan and private newspapers and channels: they can criticize everyone except the president and his family. To some of them, this silence extended to the defense and interior ministers (Youssef,2015, para.1-3)

But the outbreak of the 2011 Revolution and the painful setbacks to security that followed–symbolized by the burning of police departments and the storming of State Security buildings – shifted the balance of power. The state fell back into the military’s control, as it was the only organized and functioning institution at the time. Military Intelligence began to develop an outstanding public reputation. In less than two years, Al Sisi had become president of the country. (Atef, 2015, para.12)

When Al Sisi’s rose to power, everyone began trying to establish new footing in the new regime. State Security, changing its name to National Security Agency, is now striving to retain its dominance. It is attempting to leverage the relationships it fostered with businessmen and key figures of the Mubarak’s regime. Meanwhile, Military Intelligence, which the president considers trustworthy because of their close ties, is striving to develop an arrangement that ensures that Mubarak’s regime will not come to power again and that Egypt is not driven to revolution once again. (Atef, 2015, para.13)

The media in Egypt is not fully independent, it is heavily controlled by a variety of legal provisions that prevent Egyptian journalists and broadcasters from operating freely. In addition to the Constitutional Law and the Press Law, media – as press and broadcast-  is also regulated through multiple legal texts such as the Penal Code, the Journalism Regulation Law, the State Documents Law, the Party Law, the Civil Servants Law and the Intelligence Law. (El Issawi, 2014, p.18) Journalists and Television presenters in Egypt – whose mission as per Gramsci is to ‘amplify systems of representation that legitimize the social system’-as continue to be the acknowledged leaders of public opinion in Egypt, where more than quarter of the population is illiterate. But where once they openly criticized the military and the government – most notably for killing protesters during the months of revolution in 2011 when the State Security Agency  was still having allies in the media– now their role in public debate is much less clear.  Many of Egypt’s top TV presenters and journalists are remarkably frank about their readiness to act as government supporters after the military coup in 2013. (Youssef, 2015, para.10)

When Youssef (2015, para.2-5) interviewed some of the prominent journalists and TV presenters for the Guardian, they agreed on not discussing anything related to the military unless they are told to. Although they realize their influence on the millions of viewers who read their articles or watch their shows on daily basis, they prefer to defer from talking about the army unless they are dictated to as they are afraid ‘they might hurt the national security’ or ‘stir public opinion against the army’. (Youssef, 2015, para.13) This resulted in some journalists and TV presenters ‘policing’ and ‘censoring’ themselves. They would automatically refer from reporting news related to the military’s budget or the Egyptian military intervention in Yemen (Youssef, 2015, para.14)

However, the Daily newspapers and Television screens have become visible battlefields of the conflict between the Military Intelligence and the State Security Agency. In the 2014 presidential elections when the site of empty polling stations was public, some private media outlets – backed up by the State Security Agency- took advantage of the situation to highlight the lack of participation through their media channels. It was claimed then that the State Security was trying to send a message to the president that he could not marginalize the institution. On the other side, the Military Intelligence backed media was portraying this media discourse as a conspiracy theory to ruin the momentum of the first national election after dismantling the Muslim Brotherhood’s regime. (Atef, 2015, para.14-15)

The struggle to gain positions of influence that can develop counter-hegemony will still continue between the two surviving power centres. While media remain an important and influential institution in influencing the behaviour of the society, we cannot claim that there is a winner as Ideology cannot be fully controlled and the struggle to control it will always continue and it implies ignoring the autonomy of the people and their different thought capacities.

  1. Conclusion

Hegemony has its own limitations but it has proved its efficiency as a concept in understanding the media organization and influences in Egypt which helps in creating the mass culture that might influence the behaviour in the society. By using the concept of hegemony and analysing how the media functions we can understand the role that the media plays in mass culture, and how this role strengthens hegemony. This paper tries to tackle the concept of hegemony from the perspective of Gramsci and other researchers following his path and also highlight the limits of this concept. I provided a context on how the media in Egypt works in a hegemonic framework after the 2011 revolution, how the war of position between the two power centres in Egypt worked and how the intellectuals working for the media reacted. Media as an important institution plays an important role in the society although the role it might play in the society is undeniably influenced by hegemonic ideology.

 

References

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Youssef, N. (2015). How Egyptian media has become a mouthpiece for the military state. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/25/egyptian-media-journalism-sisi-mubarak

 

 

Writer:

Sama Singer
Central European University
Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology

 

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