Mubarak loyalists change stripes to fit into the new Egypt

By Leila Fadel
Monday, February 14, 2011

CAIRO - For now, Osama Saraya is still editor in chief of al-Ahram, the state-run Egyptian newspaper that has long been a deferential mouthpiece for the president and his ruling party.

But his main preoccupation seems to be reinvention.

Portraits of Hosni Mubarak no longer adorn his office walls (one is stashed under the television, others behind a curtain). Photographs of Saraya with top government officials have been turned upside down.

It was only last week that Saraya was denouncing the chaos caused by pro-democracy demonstrators. His editorial in al-Ahram on Sunday carried a very different tune.

"A salutation to the revolution and respect to its youth," Saraya wrote. "The corrupt in Egypt were only a few that led to the destruction of the country, and their era is gone now.''

With Mubarak out of office and the National Democratic Party in a shambles, Saraya is hardly alone among prominent Egyptians in trying to remake his image as quickly as possible.

Among them is Tamer Hosny, a well-groomed Egyptian pop star, who has released a song to honor the Jan. 25 revolution, with a video featuring portraits of those who were killed during demonstrations. He earlier had spoken on state television and pleaded with protesters to go home and end the crisis in Egypt. When he switched sides and went to Tahrir Square, demonstrators kicked him out.

Others are named on "Lists of the Shameful'' being circulated on the social-networking sites Twitter and Facebook, which identify Egyptians said to have opposed the demonstrations or sought to suppress them. Those targeted include symbols of Egypt's movie and music industries and officials of the Information Ministry, who tried to demonize protesters as hoodlums and Islamists.

At al-Ahram, reporters and editors met for four hours Sunday to discuss whether Saraya, who was appointed in 2005 because of his membership in the ruling party, should continue in his post, journalists and board members said.

Under his leadership, the paper often read like a compilation of government news releases. In September, Saraya defended his decision to publish a photograph that had been doctored to elevate Mubarak to the head of the pack among Middle Eastern leaders walking with President Obama at the White House.

In the early days of the protests, Saraya appeared on Arabic-language news channels to dismiss the protesters as nothing more than a handful of people. In a Jan. 28 column, he warned that the demonstrations were being hijacked by Islamists and people with nefarious foreign agendas.

"He's a very obedient servant," said Ahmed el Naggar, an economics researcher at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. Last month, Naggar said, Saraya refused to allow him to write about the overthrow of Tunisia's leader because he was worried about the implications for Mubarak's iron-fisted regime.

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