June 27, 2019
Article 70 of the Egyptian Constitution of 2014 states that “freedom of press and printing, along with paper, visual, audio and digital distribution is guaranteed. Egyptians — whether natural or legal persons, public or private – have the right to own and issue newspapers and establish visual, audio and digital media outlets. Newspapers may be issued once notification is given as regulated by law. The law shall regulate ownership and establishment procedures for visual and radio broadcast stations in addition to online newspapers.”
Article 71 adds, “it is prohibited to censor, confiscate, suspend or shut down Egyptian newspapers and media outlets in any way. Exception may be made for limited censorship in time of war or general mobilisation.”
This last sentence paved the way for the exception to be turned into a general rule. Every day in Egypt has become a time of war and general mobilisation, in the name of the “war against terrorism.”
Since the coup d’état on July 3 2013, Egyptian media has suffered under a tight security grip. This aims to reverse the unlimited media freedom that followed the Arab Spring, which made everyone, even the President of Egypt, subject to public criticism.
Restructure by force
In 2015, many Egyptian newspapers witnessed an arbitrary dismissal of journalists, allegedly as a part of a restructuring process. One of the reasons behind this was the declining sales of the print press. On the other hand, it aimed to control the journalistic discourse in a way that agrees with the vision of the new regime, and the messages it crafts for the masses.
The first step came when Akmal Kertam, the owner of Al-Tahrir newspaper, decided to cancel the printed version due to financial issues. The newspaper continued its online version, however after four years the board declared that it would halt all business in two months as its website had been banned by the Egyptian government for a whole year without an official reason.
Al-Masry Al-Youm, another independent newspaper, suffered a deep financial crisis in 2015. Its owner, Salah Diab, announced that it needed to significantly reduce its staff and restructure the publication. However, the website was also banned a year ago.
Financial concerns alone cannot explain these decisions, especially given that Kertam and Diab are not so close to the ruling regime. Diab was jailed in 2015 on corruption charges; Kertam, who is also a member of the parliament, was put under political pressure that forced him to resign, but he later withdrew his resignation.
Other newspapers took similar decisions in 2015. For example, Youm7 dismissed 130 journalists, Al-Ahram fired 200, and Agel News, 15.
The crisis of Al-Tahrir is in line with efforts by the security forces to control all media outlets in Egypt. This raises concerns over what will happen to the remaining private newspapers, such as Al-Shorouk which is owned by Ibrahim El Moallem, and Masrawy which is owned by Naguib Sawiris.
Monopoly of TV
If 2015 was the year the Egyptian regime hit newspapers, 2016 was definitely the year it exerted control over TV channels. It all started when Naguib Sawiris sold ONTV to Egyptian Media Company, which is owned by Ahmed Abou Hashima, who is strongly linked to the Egyptian regime.
Sawiris said that the reason behind the deal was the “political headache” the channel caused.
Later, Abou Hashima bought a stake in Al-Nahar TV, and acquired the newspapers Sout Alomma and Dotmsr. He also bought half the stocks of Synergy Films, which gradually controlled the TV drama and advertising markets afterwards. It was clear that Abou Hashima was only a façade for the Egyptian regime to control the broadcast media.
In 2017, Abou Hashima quit the market and sold his company to Eagle Capital, which is presided over by ex-minister Dalia Khorshid, who is currently married to Tarek Amer, governor of the Central Bank of Egypt.
This allowed Eagle Capital to control the media market, as it owns Youm7, Sout Alomma, Dotmsr, ONTV, Presentation Sport which monopolises the sports media in Egypt, and Synergy.
Mada Masr, an independent website currently banned in Egypt, reported that Eagle Capital is an investment fund owned by the General Intelligence and runs all its civilian investments. The report added that Abou Hashima did not own the majority of stocks in Egyptian Media, and that the General Intelligence was the main stakeholder.
Falcon, which is a different company widely known for controlling security services in Egyptian universities, airports and stadiums, as well as donating 25 per cent of its income to Tahya Misr Fund, in September 2017 acquired Al Hayah TV Network, previously owned by businessman and former president of Wafd Party, Alsayed Albadawi, in a deal worth EGP 1.4 billion.
Reporters without Borders have raised concerns over the General Intelligence’s control over the media market. Many shows have been cancelled, including but not limited to, “90 Minutes” by Moataz al-Demerdash after he interviewed Hisham Genena, the former president of the Accountability State Authority, on financial and administrative corruption cases. In addition, ONTV terminated the contract of anchor Rania Badawi, after she criticised the Egyptian Minister of Investment on show.