While the world's attention was on the Suez Canal and the stranded MS Ever Given, Egypt’s tightly controlled media was nowhere to be seen.
News bulletins and headlines this last week have mostly focused on a fatal train crash or a building collapse in Cairo’s el-Salam neighbourhood, as well as plans to relocate 22 royal mummies to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation, which led to a “curse of the pharaohs” hashtag trending all week.
When the story was covered a misleading situation was presented: a report in newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm published on the 25th of March said that traffic in the Suez Canal was back to normal.
Over the last week, Egyptians have been reading only parochial statements from the Suez Canal Authority, warning media outlets to only rely on information it provided.
Regular updates only began to arrive on Monday morning, when there was finally progress in the operation to get the cargo ship moving again.
As it became clear that the operation to refloat the Ever Given was going to be successful, Egypt’s autocratic President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, who has ruled the country with an iron first since coming to power via a military-backed coup in 2013, finally broke his silence on the issue.
"By restoring matters to their normal course, with Egyptian hands, the whole world can be assured of the path of its goods and needs that are carried through this navigational artery," Sissi said on his official social media pages.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Egypt is one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists, and since Sisi came to power independent media has been targeted, and freedom of speech severely curtailed.
The Suez Canal is one of the world’s busiest and most lucrative waterways, where around 12 percent of global trade flows annually. But it is monumentally important to Egypt: economically and politically but also culturally, as a symbol of Egyptian independence and its post-colonial history.
Egypt's economy was already hit hard by the COVID pandemic, and the Suez Canal contributes around two percent of the country’s GDP. A six-day traffic jam in the Mediterranean and Red Sea will have cost Egypt dearly, and speaks to why the story has been so tightly controlled by the government.
The MS Ever Given may be moving again, and Egypt has gone through this crisis for now, but Sisi’s political control and economic hardship is likely to continue to haunt the 100 million-strong nation for years to come.