Egypt ranked 168th in the Reporters Without Borders index of press freedom out of 180 countries included in the index, declining two places in the classification compared to the situation in 2021. This is the worst rank recorded by Egypt in the press freedom index since it was first launched in 2002. This reflects the poor conditions of the press and journalists under the dictatorial rule of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
One of the largest prisons in the world for journalists
There is no precise, agreed-upon number of journalists detained in Egypt, but all estimates agree that Egypt is one of the largest prisons in the world for journalists. Reporters Without Borders estimated the number at 21 imprisoned, while the Committee to Protect Journalists, in its annual report issued last December, monitored the presence of 25 journalists detained in Egypt, making it the third-largest prison in the world for journalists after China and Myanmar.
Mahmoud Kamel, a member of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate Council, estimated that there are 30 unionist and non-unionist journalists imprisoned in Egypt in statements dating back to last March. We can say that this number is the most accurate since Kamel is primarily responsible for following up on the file.
Among the prominent detained journalists, Ismail al-Iskandarani, who was arrested in 2015 because of his writings on the security situation in Sinai, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in a military trial that lacked all elements of justice on charges of “preparing research on the demographic nature of the Sinai Peninsula and the spread of tribes and their views on the performance of Armed forces”.
Tawfik Ghanem (66 years old) has been arrested since May 2021 because of his previous work in the media. He held the regional director of the Turkish Anadolu Agency in Cairo until his retirement in 2015. Ghanem is still being held in pretrial detention without trial for “joining a terrorist group.” A terrorist organization established in violation of the law with knowledge of its purposes, spreading false news, and misusing social media.
The Egyptian press is dying
Since July 2013, the Sisi regime has launched a systematic, multi-level campaign to suppress the press and journalists in Egypt. The campaign began with the arrest of dozens of journalists and continued over the following years to affect every journalist who wrote a word that did not satisfy the regime. The list of accusations was prepared and known in advance, namely, “joining a terrorist group and spreading false news.”
In parallel with the arrests of independent journalists, the authority has sought to nationalize the entire media field, with almost all Egyptian media operating under orders and subject to direct control either from the government, the General Intelligence or some influential businessmen who invest in the media to serve the interests of the Sisi regime. On the other hand, only a very few independent press websites left in Egypt seek to cover the reality with impartiality amid an enforced siege by the regime, occasional attacks, and a constant threat of repression and abuse. On top of that, these websites have been blocked in Egypt.
On another level, the regime worked to suppress any foreign press coverage of the situation in Egypt, prevented many journalists from entering Egypt, and foreign journalists were deported from Egypt because of articles they wrote that did not appeal to the regime. The last of these incidents occurred last August, when the Italian journalist Gaston Zama was prevented from entering the country to prepare a video report on the detained researcher – at the time – Patrick George Zaki.
These conditions forced many independent journalists to flee the country, recently journalist Solafa Magdy and her husband, photojournalist Hossam El-Sayed. They had to travel to reside in France after the regime released them after spending two years in prison on charges of practising journalism! Therefore, we are facing a fierce systematic campaign aimed at suppressing any media voice that gives a different version of the regime’s understanding of the situation in Egypt, which undermines the regime’s claims about the existence of an independent press that writes what it wants without fear or apprehension.