A few hours after the outbreak of the 5 June 1967 War, the Israeli air force managed to launch simultaneous raids on more than fifteen Egyptian airbases knocking the Egyptian air force off battle. With no air cover, the fate of the 80,000-strong Egyptian army in Sinai was sealed; and, indeed, by the afternoon of 7 June, that army was defeated, its soldiers retreating in haste towards the Suez Canal.
Remarkably, throughout these fateful days, the Egyptian media, both the radio station, Voice of the Arabs, and the government dailies, al-Ahram, al-Akhbar and al-Goumhuriyya, were broadcasting news of stunning victories: tens of Israeli planes downed, Arab armies converging on Tel Aviv, and victory was within grasp.
This paper studies the remarkable gap between news coverage and what was taking place on the battleground. It relies on published memoirs of newscasters, army commanders and average Egyptian citizens to understand both the logic of the blatant misinformation that the Nasser regime adopted and the manner in which this misinformation was received by the public. The paper also relies on the few published memoirs of combatants in Sinai to see how the soldiers reacted to radio broadcasts informing them that their army was on the verge of achieving a stunning victory over their historic foe when their first-hand experience was telling them otherwise. The paper also studies the impact this public misinformation had on the decision-making process in the military high commands of both Syria and Jordan, Egypt’s partners in the war.
Finally, the paper also studies the dramatic change in the tone of Egyptian print media following the defeat. In the latter half of 1967 and throughout 1968, Egyptian newspapers ran extensive coverage of the public trials of the generals responsible for the catastrophic defeat. While this media coverage was eagerly welcomed by the reading public, and while it had a cathartic effect on millions of readers keen to see those responsible for the defeat punished, no one was held responsible for the misinformation that took place during the short days of the war.
The aim of the paper is to understand the logic shaping the media policy of the Nasser regime, in general, and during the 1967 crisis, in particular. It asks the following two questions: What is the role of media in revolutionary regimes? And, what is the logic, and cost, of using misinformation during military crises?