CAIRO // Ibrahim Eissa, one of the country's most vocal opposition writers, was fired from his newspaper job, in what some observers say is part of a government clampdown on private media a month before legislative elections.
Eissa, 45, on Monday was fired as the editor of the prominent opposition daily Al-Dustour, by its new owners. "I feel I've watched this movie before and I can handle it better now. "The regime is making a clear statement: instead of preventing vote rigging, they are silencing talking about it," he said. "I feel sorry for the Egyptian press and media." Eissa said he had argued on Monday with the new owners, who asked him not to publish a column by the opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei in the edition of the paper to be published today.
"I rejected [their argument] of course, and before I resigned, they fired me." Al-Dustour was purchased in August by ElSayed el Badawi and Reda Edward. Mr el Badawi is the owner of Al-Hayat, a private TV channel and the newly elected leader of Al-Wafd, Egypt's oldest liberal party. Mr el Badawi bought Al-Dustour shortly after he was elected to the party post. Al-Wafd is expected to field a large number of candidates in the elections next month.
Mr ElBaradei's column, which was published on the internet by groups supporting him, was to coincide with ceremonies marking the Arab-Israeli war of 1973. "Unfortunately, 37 years after October victory, we have progressed neither politically nor economically and our social and cultural problems have become deeper," Mr ElBaradei wrote. Mr ElBaradei, 68, is the former executive director of the UN nuclear agency. He returned to Egypt in February and has been demanding reform and calling for a boycott of the elections. Al-Dustour had been giving Mr ElBaradei a platform.
At the paper's Cairo office, reporters said they were the only ones who showed up for work yesterday; editors and management staff were absent. The paper's journalists criticised Eissa's dismissal. "Without Ibrahim Eissa the paper will be tasteless, colourless and odourless," they said in a statement posted on the paper's website. Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, a reporter at Al-Dustour, said the new owners had taken computers from the newspaper's offices to an unknown place so they could publish the paper.
Mr el Badawi held a press conference at which he resigned as the chief of the board of the newspaper, but he did not name a new editor. He said Eissa could write a weekly column in Al-Dustour. The paper has been critical of the government and been known for breaking political, social and religious taboos since it opened in 1995. The government closed it in 1998. The paper hit the newsstands again in 2005 amid the liberal reforms of that year.
Also yesterday, the weekly column by the novelist Alaa al Aswany was not published in the independent daily Al-Shorouk. Last weekend, Eissa was withdrawn as the host of a popular talk show on a private satellite TV station. That move was criticised by the Journalists' Union as "an organised attack on media freedoms". It also "expressing deep concerns about reported pressure from the regime" barring Eissa from the talk show shortly after Cairo Today, a prime time talk show, was taken off the Saudi-owned Orbit channel.
Anas el Fiqqi, the minister of information, said the Cairo Today decision two weeks ago had no political dimension and was only because the network had not paid its bills. Amr Adeeb, of Orbit TV, acknowledged there had been an "administrative misunderstanding", but said the network had since paid all its bills.
* With additional reporting by the Associated Press