Radical religious Al-Nas TV gains influence in Egypt
Analysis by Muhammad Shukri of BBC Monitoring on 26 June
Al-Nas (The People) TV, an Arabic-language religious satellite TV channel which broadcasts 24 hours a day from the Media Production City in 6 October City in Egypt, has mesmerized Egyptian and Arab viewers generally.
A few months after its launch in January 2006 as a station focusing on social and entertainment content, the channel's administration decided to turn it into a Sunni religious TV, a move that has attracted millions of viewers to the channel in Egypt and across the Arab world.
The channel is owned by Saudi businessman Mansur Bin Kadasah and is managed by Atif Abd-al-Rashid.
The channel presents a variety of religious programmes focused on the precepts of Islam and the teaching of the Koran.
The best known programmes are Fadfadah (Heart-to-Heart Talk), Sabah al-Iman (Morning of Faith), Duniyah wa Din (Life and Religion), Ma'a al-Nas (With the People) and Al-Tariq Ila al-Janna (The Way to Paradise). The channel also presents a programme called Bursat al-Iman (Market of Faith), in which Islamist-oriented economists discuss economic topics from an Islamic perspective.
Phone-in programmes, such as Fatawa (Fatwas), are also carried on the channel to answer questions from viewers about religion, society, the economy and other topics. The duration of the programmes ranges between one and two hours.
Most of the preachers who appear on Al-Nas TV are well known on the Egyptian scene. They include Muhammad Hassan, Safwat Hijazi, Salim Abu-al-Futuh, Abu-Ishaq al-Huwayni, Muhammad Husayn Ya'qub and Mahmud al-Masri, who are known as hard-line Salafi shaykhs.
Before joining the channel, most of these preachers used to give religious sermons at mosques which were attended by a large number of people.
Their sermons are recorded on tapes and widely sold in kiosks and shops. But the launch of the channel has provided those preachers with a great opportunity to take their message to a greater number of viewers in Egypt and in the Arab and Islamic world.
The preachers are observed to steer clear of politics. They focus instead on the teachings of Islam, how people should respect God through their deeds and relationships, and how they should prepare themselves for the afterlife.
Some indirect reaction to developments in the Arab world can, however, be observed at the conclusion of their sermons, when they usually pray to God to protect and strengthen the Islamic nation and make it united, referring to the situations in the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Lebanon.
The appearance of these widely-known preachers on the station has played a key role in attracting such a large number of viewers, who tend to trust those preachers, given that they are not affiliated to the government, and are not graduates of Al-Azhar, the official religious institution, seen as supporting government policies.
"A screen that takes you to Paradise" is the logo of the station. It appears between programmes and sounds very attractive to Muslims. The station has apparently become the talk of the street. People from various segments of society can be seen discussing what was broadcast on Al-Nas the previous night. A very great number of SMS messages can be seen on the bar of the TV screen, praising the TV and the preachers for their role in raising the awareness of the people about their religion. Callers from Egypt and several Arab countries participate in call-in programmes to ask about what is halal (religiously permissible) and what is haram (religiously impermissible).
The growing influence of the channel and the appearance of those preachers on its screen seems, however, to have raised the hackles of the Egyptian government, which has unleashed an attack against the channel through its affiliated religious clerics.
Egypt's Mufti Shaykh Ali Jum'a was quoted some months ago as describing the satellite TV's preachers as unprofessional. However, the channel has moved to further widen its influence by launching a website, www.alnas.tv, which provides several services, including live streaming and schedules of the programmes.
On its website, the channel explains that its aims are to "serve the nation and spread religious and worldly knowledge" and "present distinguished Islamic and social media". It stresses that its policies are based on "not violating the teachings of the true tolerant religion of Islam" and "respecting all segments of society and Islamic sects and fiqh [jurisprudence] schools". The channel also says it "addresses ordinary people and takes an interest in the concerns of the masses", emphasizing that it depends, for its operating expenditure, on "commercials" and "phone calls", and that it does not "accept any donations".
In a controversial step that has further demonstrated the Salafi (hardline) orientation of the TV, the channel's administration in August 2006 decided to dismiss all its female presenters, including those who were veiled. Egyptian independent daily Al-Misri al-Yawm at the time quoted an anonymous source at the channel as saying that the decision had come in response to the wish of Shaykh Abu-Ishaq al-Huwayni, a prominent Egyptian Salafi preacher, who agreed to present programmes on the TV provided that the female presenters were suspended because, according to him, the voice of a woman is "awrah" (private, and should not be exposed) and her appearance on screen is a great sin.
Atif Abd al-Rashid, the channel's director, was quoted by the same daily as saying that the decision had come mainly in response to the wishes of viewers and some channel preachers. "I am not against a woman appearing on screen. The evidence is that some commercials in which women appear are still carried in some programmes. My view is that the appearance of a preacher or a female doctor giving knowledge beneficial to people is better than a female presenter asking guests questions," Abd al-Rashid told the daily.
According to the World Islamic Media Organization's website, the Israeli press some months ago launched a sharp attack on Al-Nas TV, describing it as a "danger" to the state of Israel. The Israeli press claimed that the TV incites children to attack Jews and declare war on them. The Israeli press and websites said that Al-Nas TV follows the same line as the Lebanese Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar TV. An Israeli news website quoted some parts of a children's programme presented on Al-Nas, saying that the programme urges children to seek martyrdom and to hate Jews. The Israeli press further claimed that Al-Nas TV is funded by hard-line and "terrorist" groups, and it must therefore be shut down.
It is noteworthy that it was on Al-Nas TV that Egyptian preacher Safwat Hijazi issued a controversial fatwa in which he allegedly permitted the killing of Israeli Jews in Arab countries and Palestinian territories. Although the preacher later retracted his fatwa, stressing that it had been misunderstood, the Egyptian Ministry of Endowments issued a decision suspending his preaching licence. He also faced legal investigation over the fatwa.
The channel is broadcast on Nilesat 102 at 7 degrees west; frequency 11919 MHz; polarization horizontal; symbol rate 27500; FEC 3/4.
Its website is www.alnas.tv
Source: BBC Monitoring research 26 Jun 07