x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Morsi reminiscent of Mubarak with media crackdown

In recent weeks, the government has confiscated newspapers and appointed an information minister from the Muslim Brotherhood's ranks.

CAIRO // Islam Afifi, editor-in-chief of Egypt's Al-Dostour newspaper, is in the same place today that his predecessor was in four years ago: a courtroom facing charges of insulting the president.

"I'm worried about everything now - my freedom as a journalist and my freedom as a citizen," Afifi said in an August 23 interview while in detention in Cairo. "This is an old scenario that has been rehearsed before many times" under ousted leader Hosni Mubarak. It's an "attempt to silence the voice of freedom", he said.

Afifi isn't the only journalist facing pressure. In recent weeks, the government has confiscated newspapers and appointed an information minister from the Muslim Brotherhood's ranks. It also named new editors-in-chief of state-run newspapers, spurring criticism from journalists that President Mohammed Morsi is filling the industry with backers and Islamists.

Egyptian journalists and rights groups say the government, which is backed by the Brotherhood - itself outlawed during Mubarak's 30-year rule - is attacking critical media while turning a blind eye to those that support Morsi.

Information Minister Salah Abdel-Maqsoud has vowed to protect media while admonishing journalists - some of whom have accused Morsi's party of planning massacres and attacking security forces - to be accurate and unbiased. freedom

"The government and the president welcome constructive criticism," Abdel-Maqsoud told state-run Al-Ahram in an August 26 interview. "What we don't want are campaigns of skepticism, image-distortion and distracting the public away from the main issues."

Afifi was released on August 23 after Mr Morsi issued a decree barring the detention of journalists awaiting trial. His trial resumes Sept. 16. His predecessor, Ibrahim Eissa, was sentenced to two months in prison in 2008 for spreading rumors and inciting fear by writing about Mubarak's health. Mubarak pardoned him. Eissa is now the editor-in-chief of Al Tahrir, an independent newspaper that's critical of the Brotherhood.

"There have been cases of violations by some publications and television channels, but there have also been violations by the state through the use of laws that must be reviewed" in a country that now says it's committed to freedom and democracy, said Ayman Al-Sayyad, an executive consultant at the Cairo-based Mohamed Hassanein Heikal Foundation for Arab Journalism.

Television talk show host Tawfik Okasha faces allegations of inciting supporters to kill Mr Morsi. Okasha in June accused the Brotherhood of coordinating with Hamas, Hizbollah and Qatar to set fire to buildings and police stations during last year's revolt, under the supervision of US, Iranian, British and Turkish intelligence agencies.

His privately owned Al-Faraeen channel was ordered off the air August 9. It was an expected decision "given the battle between me and the Brotherhood," Okasha said in an interview.

State media, which for decades was used by Mubarak and his predecessors, Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser, to attack the opposition, have lost much of their credibility, said Shahira Amin, the former deputy head of state-run Nile TV. Amin announced in the final days of last year's uprising that she was quitting because of restrictions on her ability to report. The government this month banned state-run media from interviewing Israeli commentators. In June, seven board members of the Egyptian Syndicate of Journalists withdrew from a meeting with the speaker of the Shura Council after objecting to the upper house's interference in state media.

"It's an all-out war by the Brotherhood against liberties," said Gamal Fahmy, a deputy at the syndicate, which represents the industry's workers.