Egypt’s press fearful as repressive measures return

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Egyptian photojournalists hold signs in English and Arabic, including one reading “Freedom to the camera” (R), during a demonstration outside the Shura council in Cairo on March 19, 2013. (Photo: AFP)

By: Mohammad Abdel Rahman

Published Friday, October 17, 2014

In the absence of clear or declared legal criteria, journalists in Egypt are still subject to investigations and gag orders. The past few months witnessed several cases of censorship, where newspapers were forced to remove scoops from their first editions. Complaints filed by the government through Public Prosecutor Hisham Barakat against the press have once again become a common occurrence.

Cairo – Most recently, al-Masry al-Youm's editor Ali al-Sayyed and his colleague Ahmed Youssef were summoned to the State Security Prosecutor. This was based on an complaint by the Interior Ministry, accusing the newspaper of "disturbing public peace and misappropriating [public] prosecutor documents."

The summons took place following an announcement by al-Masry al-Youm – Egypt's largest private newspaper – of plans to publish new details related to violations in the 2012 presidential elections. The issue had been instigated by Ahmed Shafik, the primary contender against deposed President Mohammed Mursi during the 2012 elections. Shafik accused several sides of intervening in favor of Mursi.

Despite the political changes witnessed since that time, the case still evokes the curiosity of Egyptians. Shafik remains abroad and did not return to Cairo following the overthrow of Mursi. But as soon as al-Masry al-Youm announced its intentions, the public prosecutor reinstated the ban and the newspaper abided by the decision.

The gag order in this case had been imposed by the public prosecutor in the past two years. But the Interior Ministry was not satisfied with the ban, initiating a complaint to the public prosecutor, which was quickly sent to the State Security Public Prosecutor.

Immediately following the move, several journalists expressed fear that such practices would stifle future attempts by private newspapers to publish documents related to several suspended cases. Most of those instances are related to the grave events that have taken place in the country over the past four years.

The prosecutor released al-Sayyed and Youssef in the early hours of Thursday morning on a bail of around $300, without announcing a date to continue the interrogations. In similar cases, investigations are suspended and used as a tool to exert pressure in case the newspaper decided to return to the dossier in any manner.

Hosni Mubarak's media acolytes, who joined the Shafik fray following the January 25 Revolution, had insisted that the Muslim Brotherhood succeeded in rigging the elections in favor of their candidate. However, there is no legal proof of this accusation yet and the issue that brought the case against al-Masry al-Youm has not concluded.

Yet, none of the media personalities who made similar allegations were held accountable. This is despite the fact that the claims would incriminate the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which was in power at the time, and former Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who supervised the elections and was responsible for the results.

All these questions are raised by just one of the cases occupying Egyptian public opinion after the January 25 Revolution. But the complete answers are still missing and constrained by gag orders and Interior Ministry complaints against Egyptian newspapers.

Follow Mohammad Abdel Rahman on Twitter: @MhmdAbdelRahman

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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