Journalism in Egypt: hushed voices

No voice to raise, no pencil to write and no cameras to observe; this is the current reality of Egyptian journalism. On the morning of June 25 we woke up to news published in several Egyptian newspapers that the Ministry of Interior had issued a statement entitled “defeat the plan of hope.”

“Under the security efforts against the subversive movements of the terrorist Brotherhood, the National Security sector succeeded in tracking the hostile plan prepared by the escaped leaders of the Brotherhood, in coordination with loyal agitators who are alleging that they are among the representatives of civil political forces, entitled ‘the plan of hope’,” said the statement.

The statement hinted that the Muslim Brotherhood is working on providing financial support through the revenues of several economic entities and so-called “agitator elements” to target the state and its institutions in conjunction with the anniversary of “June 30 Revolution,” in the words of the ministry.

It seems that no single journalist has verified that the accused belong to the Muslim Brotherhood and it seems that they do not intend to do so. Among the arrested are Ziad Al-Alimi and journalist and founder of Al-Karama newspaper Hosam Moanis. Moanis ran the presidential campaign of Hamdeen Sabahi. Businessman Omar El-Shenety, and the left-wing journalist Hesham Fouad who works for the Russian press agency Sputnik, were also arrested.

Journalist Tamer Abu Arab commented on his Facebook account, “If you googled these names and reviewed their history, you should know that they cannot be combined with the Muslim Brotherhood in the same phrase, however it’s normal that they has been arrested and accused with being members of the Brotherhood unequivocally.”

The JournalistsSyndicate expressed surprise

The liberty commission of the Journalists’ Syndicate issued a statement in response to the arrest of the journalists Hesham Fouad and Hosam Moanis for the accusation of “being members of a terrorist group.” 

The statement indicated that the commission closely followed the news of the arrest of its two fellows Fouad and Moanis, members of the general assembly of the syndicate, by decision of the State Security Prosecution and that they had been brought before the prosecutor for interrogation. 

The statement confirmed that the syndicate, represented by its president, the leader of the commission and many other council members, has assigned one of the syndicate’s lawyers to follow the interrogation. However, the journalists were sentenced to 15 days custody for the accusation of “working with a terrorist group to achieve its purposes and broadcasting false news and threatening national interests intentionally.”

The commission expressed its “surprise at the accusation of the two fellows because it was contrary to their known practices, while the commission respects the prosecutor’s decision.”

The commission also expressed its “regret for the several attempts to defame the two fellows through alleged charges.”

Blocking, shutdown and arrest

El-Tahrir Foundation, the publisher of El-Tahrir website and newspaper, issued a statement on June 23 declaring the newspaper had shut down after exhausting all the attempts to unblock it since May.

“Journalists and workers of the foundation, all of you know that on May 9 2019, all of us were surprised that the website was blocked and the service had been suspended without warning. Over the days after it was blocked until now, the institution knocked at every door of officials to inquire about the reason and to understand which body is behind it.”

The Journalists’ Syndicate issued a statement declaring its solidarity and advocacy of the website. The syndicate council indicated that it called the president of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation requesting an explanation for why the website had been blocked. The council asked the SCMR to inform the website staff and the Egyptian public about what had happened.

The council emphasised that it will remain a supporter of the newspaper and the website. It also asserted its advocacy for the legal rights of the fellows who work for it, and said it would take all measures to prevent it from shutting down.

“The shutdown and displacement of journalists is a red line that the syndicate won’t tolerate with its consistent commitment to its positive role assisting in conflict resolution for newspapers and websites to do their job without any obstacles or restrictions,” said the statement.

It seems that the syndicate hasn’t received any official response about the blocking of El-Tahrir website until now. The blocking of websites began in December 2015 with Al-Araby Al-Jadeed. A further 500 websites and blogs have been blocked since then, according to a report by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.

Among the blocked websites that have been shut down are Masr Al-Arabiya,  which had a staff of 100 journalists. The website, which worked legally, has exposed different kinds of oppression including the shutting down of websites and arrests. Egyptian security forces arrested the chief editor of the website and member of Al-Wafd party and the journalist Adel Sabry. Then in April 2018 security forces shut down the website headquarters alleging that it had been managed without a license. 

The Interior Ministry has indicated that the General Administration of Censorship on Artistic Works arrested Sabry for managing the website without a license which is breaking the law.

The website administration accused the authorities of targeting the website. The raid comes in the context of a campaign against the website because it published a translated report from The New York Times mentioning violations during the last presidential elections.

Ahmed Abdel Gawwad, the editorial manager of Masr Al-Arabiya, said that the last raid was the fourth on the headquarters by the police to check their license. “The website administration has all the required permits and clearances,” said Abdel Gawwad. He also hinted that Masr Al-Arabiya is an Egyptian joint stock company registered by the authorities and working under the law with approved commercial registration and taxpayer registration.

Actually, the arrest of Sabry wasn’t for administrative reasons as the interior ministry alleged, as the prosecutor detained him for “broadcasting false news.” Although the criminal circuit no. 22 decided to release him on $10,000 bail, a sudden decision has been taken by the State Security Prosecution to initiate an investigation with Sabry in connection with case no. 441 for the same accusations. 

The arrest of Sabry comes after the decision of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation that fined Masr Al-Arabiya website EGP 50,000 because it published a translated report from The New York Times entitled “for as little as $3 a vote, Egyptians trudge to election stations.” 

A regulation to eliminate whats left of journalism

Three days after the last Journalists’ Syndicate elections and specifically on 18 March 2019, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation issued a penal regulation that includes among its article fines which could amount to EGP 250,000 and temporary or permanent website blocking. In addition, the regulation punishes media that publishes fake figures.

The Journalists’ Syndicate opposed this restrictive regulation while the president of the Supreme Council Makram Mohamed Ahmed stated that the regulation is legal and doesn’t conflict with the law or the constitution.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has classified Egypt among the top four countries in the world that arrest journalists with 25 detained journalists on record. In 2019 the Press Freedom Index issued by Reporters without Borders, ranked Egypt as 163.