Egypt Journalists Respond to Mursi’s Attack on the Press

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An Egyptian opposition supporter holds a crossed-out picture of President Mohammed Morsi as hundreds gather for a demonstration against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo's landmark Tahrir Square on 29 June 2013. (Photo: AFP - Gianluigi Guercia)

By: Medhat Safwat

Published Saturday, June 29, 2013

Cairo – It was just a coincidence that two events related to the freedom of the press took place on Wednesday, the same day that Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi gave a speech attacking journalists.

That day, the Federation of Arab Journalists held a press conference to read its annual report on press freedoms in 18 Arab nations. Meanwhile, the Supreme Press Council held a workshop titled “The Role of the Press in Uncovering Corruption.”

A few hours later, Mursi was attacking the press, which he claimed was “inciting sabotage and working on behalf of the former regime,” vowing to prosecute some journalists and opposition activists in military tribunals.

According to the Federation of Arab Journalists’ report, Egypt remained at the bottom of the press freedom index (ranked 158 out of 179 countries), as prosecution and physical assaults targeting journalists continued. The report mentioned the closing down of several news outlets like al-Shaab al-Jadid and al-Dustur. Other violations included the prosecution of 12 journalists on charges of “insulting the president.”

Meanwhile, accusations of “insulting religion” continue to be doled out against opinion-makers, and many writers were put on trial and sentenced to prison. This is civilian cases continued to be referred to military tribunals, totaling 53 in the first year of Mursi’s reign.

In his speech, Mursi singled out some journalists and media outlets, led by former president of the Journalists Syndicate Makram Mohammed Ahmed, whom the president said was one of the fulul or the holdovers of the deposed Mubarak regime. Mursi also attacked Mohamed al-Amin, CEO of al-Mustaqbal, the company that owns CBC television and the daily al-Watan, whom Mursi accused of tax evasion, shortly before the Egyptian prosecutor general issued a travel ban against Amin.

Later, Ahmed told al-Hayat TV that he would consult with the Journalists Syndicate to respond to Mursi’s allegations. “For most of the time, I preferred making reforms [to the existing regime]. But Mursi is the one to blame for turning me into a rebel, by issuing the constitutional declaration that gave him god-like powers,” he said.

Earlier that day, the council of the Journalists Syndicate declared that its members would take part in the June 30 protests. The syndicate will also establish a hotline to report any assaults on journalists in the country.

On Thursday, the syndicate’s council issued a strongly worded statement condemning Mursi’s accusations against the syndicate’s former president, who was elected by the journalists for five terms and who had habitually intervened to prevent military trials against Brotherhood supporters. The statement called Mursi’s tactics a sign of “political bankruptcy that is unbefitting of the presidency.”

For its part, Egypt's National Committee for the Defense of Freedom of Expression voiced its alarm by what it called a campaign to intimidate journalists. Yahya Qalash, a founding member of the committee, told Al-Akhbar that Mursi was mimicking late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, in trying to appear strong and threaten “those who uncover and expose the corruption of his regime.”

Qalash went on to say that Mursi is conducting himself as “the president of a party and not of a state as pivotal as Egypt.”

Meanwhile, the Committee for an Independent Press said that the president’s speech “contained a blatant assault against the press and unjust questioning of the patriotism of some journalists.” The committee’s secretary Bashir al-Adl pointed out that the Muslim Brotherhood’s first year in power saw the sacking of more than 500 journalists, while 12 newspapers were shut down.

The Electronic Journalists Syndicate also issued a statement in reaction to Mursi’s speech, and said that the president’s incitements “have ended the legitimacy of his regime, which had pledged not to confiscate opinions or persecute journalists.”

On Friday, TV anchor Jamal al-Shaer resigned on air (see video), in what was an unprecedented development in the history of Egyptian state television. Shaer said his move was motivated by the cancellation of his show and the meddling of Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Minister of Information Salah Abdul-Maqsoud in the affairs of Egyptian state media.

He said, “We tolerated a full year of this insanity. Because we are under a fascist information minister, and because of this insistence on imposing the Brotherhood’s ideology on Egyptian media, I hereby resign, on air.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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