Analyzing Egyptian and Qatari media coverage of Menendez bribery allegations

Selective coverage from Egyptian and Qatari media avoids mention of links to Menendez bribery allegations.

Analyzing Egyptian and Qatari media coverage of Menendez bribery allegations

Share this story

BANNER: Sen. Bob Menendez on March 21, 2024. (Source: USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters)

Following bribery allegations against US Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and his alleged use of influence to benefit Egypt and Qatar, the DFRLab examined how the press in these countries covered–or refrained from covering–the case. The DFRLab investigated Arabic social media posts and media articles published after the initial indictment in September 2023 and a subsequent indictment in January 2024. Egyptian and Qatari media downplayed or avoided covering the details of the case as it related to their involvement. Most Egyptian media avoided mentioning Egypt’s role in the alleged bribery scandal, while in Qatar, the media reported on Egypt’s involvement but not Qatar’s.

Media freedom remains a significant challenge in Egypt and Qatar. Both countries were rated “not free” in Freedom House’s 2023 annual Freedom in the World Index. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s Press Freedom Index ranked Egypt 166 of 180 countries and considers it “one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists.” Meanwhile, Qatar is ranked 105, with RSF stating that “covering domestic political issues remains a real challenge for journalists.”

The bribery allegations against Sen. Menendez and his wife, Nadine Menendez, were announced in an unsealed indictment on September 22, 2023. The couple is accused of accepting “hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes” from three New Jersey businessmen with ties to Egyptian officials in exchange for the senator’s “agreement to use his official position to protect and enrich them and to benefit the Government of Egypt.” The indictment named Wael Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes as the New Jersey businessmen. The indictment detailed alleged actions taken by Menendez to benefit Egypt, such as providing Egyptian officials with sensitive non-public information about employees at the US Embassy in Cairo, signing off on a multimillion dollar arms sale to Egypt, and ghostwriting a letter in support of releasing funds, withheld over human rights concerns, from the United States’ annual $1.3 billion military aid package for Egypt. The allegations also cited the role of Menendez and his wife in Hana’s New Jersey registered company IS EG Halal, noting the company gained a “monopoly on the certification of U.S. food exports to Egypt as compliant with halal standards.”

In January 2024, Menendez faced a new indictment accusing him of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to use his “power and influence as a senator to seek and protect and enrich” his bribers and “to benefit the Arab Republic of Egypt and the State of Qatar.” In addition to the previous charges, the new indictment accused Sen. Menendez of assisting Daibes in securing investments for the benefit of the Qatari royal family and government and trying to influence a US federal prosecution against Daibes.

Sen. Menendez’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the case in January. Prosecutors disclosed in February 2024 the existence of recordings of conversations provided by a confidential informant that were not previously disclosed in the unsealed indictments. On March 1, 2024, Uribe pleaded guilty to seven counts, including conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services fraud, and obstruction of justice. The trial for all defendants in this case is scheduled for May 6.

Selective coverage from Egyptian media

The indictment referenced five Egyptian officials connected to the case without disclosing their identities. The indictment states that “NADINE MENENDEZ and Egyptian Official-4 organized a private meeting between MENENDEZ and a senior Egyptian intelligence official (‘Egyptian Official-5’) in a hotel in Washington, D.C. prior to a meeting between Egyptian Official-5 and other U.S. Senators the next day.” Several international and regional media outlets noted the dates of the meetings with Egyptian officials listed in the indictment coincided with a visit to Washington from the Director of the General Intelligence Directorate of Egypt, Abbas Kamel.

Egyptian state-owned and pro-government media provided biased coverage of the allegations by eliminating any mention of ties to Egyptian officials or by only mentioning the case in the context of domestic US politics. Self-censorship is commonly practiced among Egyptian media as journalists are increasingly subjected to arbitrary detention and politically motivated trials. Egyptian authorities also regularly censor online content, with more than 600 websites blocked in Egypt as of 2020, including the websites of media outlets and rights groups

The day after the September indictment was announced, state-owned Al Qahera News covered the allegations in an article on their website and a TV broadcast featuring the channel’s foreign correspondent in Washington DC, Ramy Gabr. Gabr noted the investigation was ongoing and avoided discussing the indictment details and the links to Egypt. He also reported that “there is no concrete or real evidence.” Gabr then referenced Menendez’s previous legal challenges, unrelated to Egypt or Qatar. In 2015, Menendez was indicted for conspiracy, bribery, and honest services fraud. The case resulted in a mistrial and was later dismissed. Gabr further speculated that as Menendez prepares for his Congressional reelection campaign, the allegations against him could be traced back to internal conflicts between US Democrats and Republicans ahead of the 2024 election.

Gabr later interviewed Joel Rubin, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for House Affairs, about the allegations, during which he focused the discussion on the US political climate as it relates to the allegations. Without discussing the details of the Menendez case, Rubin referred to the season of electoral campaigns in the United States as “the silly season” as Democrats and Republicans compete to garner a majority in the upcoming elections.

Al Bawaba newspaper covered the interview with Rubin in an article on September 23 titled “Former American official: Election campaigns are a disturbing season in the United States.” Al Bawaba’s article referred to the allegations using quotes from Rubin without any mention of what the accusations are or the links to Egypt.

Egyptian news outlet Sada El Balad, whose owner is a known supporter of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, also sought to minimize the allegations as they relate to Egypt. An article on Sada El Balad on September 23 titled “US Senator after calls for resignation: Not going anywhere” reported only on quotes from Menendez and other US officials dismissing the allegations. Later, an article published in October about a court date being set for Menendez’s trial did mention the senator is accused of received gold and cash in exchange for using his influence to assist the Egyptian government and protect his co-conspirators from legal investigations.

State-owned Ahram Online covered the allegations in September and October on its English language website using two Associated Press wire stories. However, both articles carried the disclaimer “* This story has been edited by Ahram Online.” All mentions of Egypt or Egyptian authorities in relation to the allegations were removed. Ahram’s Arabic website did not publish any articles on the topic.

Other Egyptian state-owned or aligned media outlets, like Al Masry Al Youm, Egypt Independent, Al Gomhuria, Al Shorouk, and Al Youm Al Sabea, did not report on the allegations in any capacity.

Journalist Wael Lotfi, who is a columnist for Al Dostor newspaper, wrote the publication’s only article on the subject, titled “American War on Egypt,” which said of Menendez, “when he showed some fairness in dealing with Egypt, he was defamed and accused of a charge that all members of Congress carry out publicly.”

An X account previously identified by the DFRLab as a ringleader in a pro-government inauthentic network, @bassembekhet2, and Egyptian journalist Abdul Wahed Ashour, who frequently posts on X in support of President al-Sisi, dismissed the allegations in X posts.

Independent online newspaper Mada Masr, which has been under heavy scrutiny from Egyptian authorities, was one of the few Egyptian media outlets that published detailed coverage of the Egypt-related allegations against Menendez in both Arabic and English. Mada Masr also posted a thread about the allegations on X. Mada Masr‘s website has been blocked in Egypt since 2017 under accusations of supporting terrorism and spreading false news. Egyptian authorities have also refused to approve Mada Masr’s operating license.

Well before the allegations against Menendez were announced, Mada Masr published in 2019 an investigation into how IS EG Halal Certified, established in 2017 and incorporated in New Jersey, had monopolized the lucrative halal meat imports business. Hana, one of the three businessmen accused in the indictment, and American attorney Antranig Aslanian, who previously represented the Egyptian government in an unrelated lawsuit in 2016, own IS EG.

Other independent media outlets Al Manassa and Daaarb also covered the allegations. Al Manassa reported on  the details of the case, including the subsequent congressional calls to withhold military aid to Egypt. Al Manassa is also blocked in Egypt and its editor-in-chief was detained on cybercrime charges in 2020. Daaarb covered the details of the case in two articles with their focus being on Wael Hana.

Most Egyptian media provided minimal or myopic coverage of the allegations against Sen. Menendez and his wife, often neglecting to mention the case’s ties to Egypt. The media response in Egypt to the Menendez case underscores the bias and self-censorship present in Egyptian state-owned media.

Selective coverage by Qatari media

Most Qatari media outlets are state-owned or aligned. Some journalists or bloggers covering sensitive topics in the country have previously been accused of publishing false news. Freedom House reported that journalists in Qatar practice varying degrees of self-censorship, fearing repercussions and prosecution under the country’s cybercrime and false news laws.

Arabic and English Qatari media covered the Egypt-related allegations revealed in the September indictment, but entirely avoided covering the allegations related to Qatar. Al Jazeera, which is privately held but remains state-aligned, represents one of the most prominent examples of biased media coverage of the allegations. Al Jazeera’s Arabic website posted several articles in September and October related to the Egypt allegations but did not provide any coverage of the Qatar allegations.

After the indictment was made public, the X account for Al Jazeera Arabic’s Egypt coverage posted a series of tweets, including explainers of the Egypt-related bribery allegations.

In 2017, Al Jazeera was blocked in Egypt and accused of spreading false information and supporting terrorism. Egypt also detained Al Jazeera journalists and placed them on a “terrorism list.” The network denied all the allegations.

Since September, four of Al Jazeera Arabic’s X accounts have posted tweets or threads about the Egypt-related allegations. Al Jazeera English published an opinion piece titled “Corruption is as American as apple pie” in September, citing the Menedez case and other unrelated incidents. However, none of these accounts posted about the Qatar allegations.

Qatari daily newspaper Al Raya posted one article and a tweet in September about US lawmakers demanding Menendez’s resignation. No other articles or tweets on the topic can be found on Al Raya’s website.

The English-language newspaper Gulf Times also posted one article about Menendez in September. The topic did not receive any coverage from Qatar’s other major Arabic-language newspapers, Al Sharq and Al Watan. The lack of coverage highlights journalists’ caution when working on sensitive topics concerning Qatar.

Cite this case study:

Dina Sadek, “Analyzing Egyptian and Qatari media coverage of Menendez bribery allegations,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), April 29, 2024,