Every time General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime arrests a journalist, the Egyptian question is repeated: “What deforms Egypt’s image, the press or repression?”

The Egyptian regime detains dozens of journalists and usually they are charged with publishing false news and defaming Egypt. But journalists insist that they do not spread false news, and that the repressive practices of some security services and corruption is what distorts Egypt’s image, not exposing bad behaviour.

It was not much different for the Associated Press correspondent in Cairo – security forces stormed Mustafa Al-Khatib’s home late Saturday evening.

Al-Khatib was surprised at night to hear heavy knocking on the door of his apartment. When he opened the door, dozens of armed men broke into his apartment, scaring his four children.

Security forces confiscated Al-Khatib’s personal computer, confiscated papers, books, and took his mobile phone and that of his wife and daughter.

Security services have not been informed him of any charges against him, nor has he been informed of any court order, and his whereabouts are not yet known.

When he was taken from his home, he told his wife (also a journalist) to tell the Journalists’ Syndicate, and the officer in charge of the arrest replied sarcastically and mockingly, “Oh, my God, you scared me.”

Sources told Egypt Watch that al-Khatib’s arrest was a punishment for preparing a report on the departure of eight students from the British University of Edinburgh from Egypt.

Al-Khatib wrote a report for Associated Press and revealed that the students were on  a scholarship as part of a university exchange with the American University in Cairo, but left after two British students were arrested by the Egyptian security services.

Al-Khatib is not the only journalist in prison but the latest journalist to be arrested by the al-Sisi regime.

In September, the al-Sisi regime arrested six journalists from the street as they were covering opposition protests called for by Egyptian businessman Mohamed Ali. 

Electoral bribes

In 2018, the Egyptian regime arrested the editor-in-chief of Masralarabia website, journalist Adel Sabri.

The arrest of Adel Sabri came after Masralarabia published a translated report from the New York Times. The report revealed widespread electoral bribery in the 2018 presidential election, in which al-Sisi won a second term. Sabri was accused of spreading false news and distorting Egypt, although the site only translated the New York Times article. Sabri’s arrest raised the same question, which distorts Egypt’s image, electoral bribes, or exposing those bribes.

The number of journalists currently detained in Egypt is 30, according to estimates by human rights groups. However, other estimates put the number of journalists in detention at more than 90.

The main reason these estimates differ is the membership of the Press Syndicate, because some associations merely count the number of journalists who are members of the Journalists Syndicate, while other human rights groups calculate all journalists whether they are members or not.

In most democratic countries, the press pushes regimes to remedy their mistakes, but in Egypt the Egyptian regime takes a completely different approach.

The Egyptian press pushes the Egyptian regime to try to cover up its mistakes, and to silence the press so that it does not talk about problems in the system.

The Egyptian regime believes that exposing corruption is what distorts the country’s image, not corruption itself.