|Emerging Viruses, State of Emergency and the Manufacture of Health Crises in Egypt. Media Framing of Avian Flu and Other Invisible Enemies|
|On April 30, 2006 the Egyptian Parliament agreed to extend the 27-year old emergency rule for two more years. In the course of wrangled debates, 105 members of the opposition parties, majoritarly supplied by the Muslim Brotherhood, launched a campaign to end the state of emergency. The same day, the government was rejecting a request issued by 20 MPs for the inception of a “truth committee bird flu” to investigate the “destruction” of the Egyptian poultry sector.
How emerging pathogens might be embroiled in the frame of the state of emergency? Regarding the media framing of avian flu and other emerging pathogens in Egypt during 2006, one can ask whether health hazards might act as the same manner than terrorist threats by triggering the rise of a state of emergency.
Indeed, the renewal of the state of emergency was justified due to the necessity to reduce terrorist hazards. Yet, it also occured in a context shaped by the proliferation of “crises” each of them mobilizing the issue of emergency in the political language. Since February 17 the country was experiencing a widespread and destructive avian flu epizootic and epidemic soon coupled with foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks in the Delta area. Several governorates and cities were declaring the state of emergency to grapple with the epidemic soaring. The irruption of H5N1 virus in media headlines had just succeeded to the disaster provoked by the sinking of an Egyptian ferry boat in the Red Sea on February 3th, in which more than a thousand passengers died. Last but not least, anxieties about water pollution, priorly expressed during the February/May avian flu crisis, raised a threshold in November when several cities of the Delta feared the reemergence of old infectious diseases like cholera or typhoid fever after people have been intoxicated by salmonella contaminated drinking water.
In all these cases, the ability of the Nazif governement to manage transport as well as health crises has been challenged in numerous press titles. Ironically, it was turning out that the administration of crises supposedly achieved to manage crises and implement the law of emergency was itself in crisis.
The wax and waning of emerging threats and the production of emergencies act as two of the most powerful dynamics allowing the provision of exceptional measures to tackle down invisible enemies. H5N1 virus and other emerging pathogens outbreaks in Egypt have shown that these in-between entities are to be seen as but one category of invisible threats enrolled into the grammar of the police state.
This paper will broach the issue by adressing first the manner by which avian flu and other emerging infections have been framed and instituted as sanitary crises by Egyptian newspapers which have reported governmental action. In a second part, we strive to portray the symbolic constructions produced in the course of these sanitary crises, mainly avian flu, and in the search for causes and accountabilities in a context shaped by uncertainty.