IT WAS THE WIRELESS ON A HIGH SHELF THAT ENDED THE monopoly of Al Rawai (the storyteller) as the sole entertainer-cum-information-provider to care punters in areas where electricity to private homes, or newsreels in cinemas were the privilege of the few after World War I.
Hourly news bulletins, current affairs, drama and culture provided by the Egyptian Broadcasting House EBH--which emulated the few years senior BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation)--reached, for the first time in modern history, those who could not read newspapers (illiteracy stood at 70%) throughout the Nile Kingdom (Egypt & Sudan) then North Africa and East of Suez.
Growing up in post-WWII Alexandria, I was fascinated by grown-ups debating major political events, such as the Egyptian Nationalists' ideas for forcing the British to vacate military bases, or news of Adolph Hitler's imminent re-emergence from Bunker 13. Whether it was the Partition of Palestine, the assassination of Gandhi, or the Mau-Mau revolt, the argument was backed by the immortal phrase: "It is true because I heard it on the BBC."
In addition to the BBC Arabic service, Anglophones listened to the World Service in English, to give them a sharper edge in coffee house debates, or even in Al Parlamman (the Westminster-style Multi Party Egyptian Parliament that existed before the military regime was replaced in 1960). Even my uncle, a French educated barrister, trusted the BBC French Service, more than did Radio France's external service.
The BBC became an unbiased, balanced and credible news source for millions in Egypt during the harsh years of censorship and media control by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser's military rule, and for peoples of nations that followed such example. Anti-western French or Russian educated Arab nationalist and Marxist commentators were no exception in their quest for credible news and analysis, but only admitting it after Nasser's death in 1970.
This love-hate relationship was like an undissolvable Catholic marriage that linked London, still known as the capital of the Middle East, with the Arabic speaking world through the BBC's unchallenged credibility.
While its adolescent would-be rivals like Sky or various American networks struggled to 'get it first', the BBC proudly and consistently was seen to 'get it right' after consulting specialists and several sources. The corporation guards its independence jealously, which led to direct clashes with Prime Minister Tony Blair's New...