BBC WS tells a context-free tale of Egypt’s Six Day War ‘naksa’

BBC World Service radio tells listeners dubious tales in a context free item on the Egyptian Six Day War 'naksa'.

The June 3rd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Fifth Floor’ included an item (from 27:13 here) billed as follows in the synopsis:

“Egypt’s Naksa Day 
Next Monday is the 50th anniversary of Naksa day, or Day of the Setback. The “setback” for Egypt was their crushing defeat by Israel in the Six Day War. BBC Arabic reporter in Cairo, Sally Nabil, tells us how the day is viewed there now.”

At the start of the programme presenter David Amanor described the upcoming item as follows:

“…and a six-day war with consequences much greater. We’re finding out what young Egyptians today know about the events of June 1967.”

He introduced the segment itself thus:

Amanor: “Now most countries don’t relish their defeats and I guess Egypt is no different. Next week sees the 50th anniversary of what’s generally called the Six Day War in June 1967 but its impact remains much bigger than its short time span might suggest. It was a humiliating defeat for Egypt and its Arab nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. Israel took forces…took possession of the entire Sinai peninsula, leaving Egyptian forces to make a chaotic retreat. In Egypt the war is called the ‘naksa’. Sally Nabil of BBC Arabic tells me the story behind that name.”

What is most noticeable about this item is its complete abdication of responsibility to supply background information and context concerning a fifty year-old event that many listeners will not remember first hand and in particular, the failure to provide audiences worldwide with the facts concerning the Egyptian actions that led up to the war.  

Nabil: “It’s, you can say, an understatement of the word defeat. It’s like literally a setback so it seems that the Egyptian regime at that time did not want to recognise that the army has been defeated. So they used the word ‘naksa’ – or setback – instead of defeat to try to sugar-coat a bit or to convince the people that this is not the end of it; we lost a battle but we did not lose the war.”

Answering Amanor’s question as to whether that is the history taught in Egyptian schools, Nabil told listeners that:

Nabil: “Yeah, absolutely. I remember when I was at school we used to know it as the 1967 ‘naksa’ and they didn’t elaborate much on it, as much as they did on the 1973 war because the Egyptian government and the Egyptian people as well they glorify the 1973 when Egypt managed to take part of Sinai back from Israel and then they made a political settlement and took all of Sinai back.”

The “part of Sinai” gained by Egypt in the Yom Kippur war was of course two small areas to the east of the Suez Canal which were later joined under the terms of a cease-fire agreement that also saw Israel withdraw from areas captured west of the canal. 

Later on Amanor gave Nabil the cue for her next topic:

Amanor: “This is seen as one of the shortest yet most decisive wars in the modern era but it wasn’t just six days for a lot of the soldiers, was it? And there were a lot of casualties.”

Nabil went on to tell an unverifiable story about an unidentified former soldier.

Nabil: “I mean I met a veteran soldier who was caught by Israel. He remained in Israeli detention for about a year and he was sentenced to death but he managed to escape and he said that this year he was detained by the Israeli soldiers has haunted him for years and years to come so for him the 1967 war it’s a lifetime memory.”

According to the Israeli MFA, all prisoner exchanges with Egypt were completed by 23 January 1968 and so Nabil’s claim that the man was “in Israeli detention for about a year” is highly dubious, as are her unsupported claims that he “managed to escape” and that he “was sentenced to death”.

Nabil’s item continued with a description of the man’s dire financial situation and criticism of “the fact that the government turned a blind eye to people like him”. She then digressed to a topic outside the item’s declared subject matter, comparing the current Egyptian government to the Nasser regime, before closing by telling listeners that BBC Arabic will be “marking this anniversary with a number of postcards [reports] from the different countries that were occupied during the 1967 war”.

In conclusion, in this item BBC World Service audiences heard over seven minutes of entirely context-free reporting that included unverifiable and highly dubious hearsay. How the programme’s producers can claim that is accurate and impartial reporting which enhances audience understanding of the topic of the Six Day War is anyone’s guess.  

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