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Ed Webb

Egypt falls again in World Press Freedom Index, now ranked 159th | RSF - 0 views

  • Amid growing hostility to media criticism of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government, Egypt has fallen one place in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index that Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published today.
  • the media reflect the country’s polarization between support for Sisi and opposition, but the authoritarian regime has used the fraught security situation to crack down on critical journalists in the name of stability and national security
  • Now ranked 159th out of 180 countries, Egypt had fallen steadily in the Index since the end of the Mubarak era, when it was ranked 127th out of 173 countries
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  • in the anti-terrorism law adopted in August. Under article 33, the media are now obliged to limit themselves to the government’s version of terrorist attacks
Ed Webb

Egyptian activists bemoan 'attack on media' - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 3 views

  • Journalist Khaled El Balshy — a keen defender of freedom of expression and a democracy advocate, deputy head of the Egyptian Press Syndicate and head of the syndicate’s Freedom Committee — has been vigorously campaigning for the release of jailed journalists in Egypt. This week Balshy himself faced prosecution and risked being imprisoned on charges of “inciting protests, insulting the police and inciting to overthrow the regime.”
  • On April 6 the Interior Ministry, which had filed the legal complaint against him, was forced to withdraw the lawsuit following an outcry from fellow journalists, free speech advocates and rights organizations
  • Minutes after hearing of the warrant for his arrest, he boldly declared in a Facebook post: “If they want to arrest me, I’m in my office. I’m not better than those who are imprisoned.”
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  • he hoped that his prosecution would “throw the spotlight on the cases of others unjustly detained in Egypt, especially the jailed journalists." Since the military takeover of the country in July 2013, tens of thousands of political opposition figures have been arrested and detained as part of a sweeping security crackdown on dissent that has targeted Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters as well as secular activists, researchers, journalists and intellectuals
  • Balshy on April 4 published a list of some 40 journalists in Egypt who were either imprisoned or under threat of being detained
  • While there has hardly been any noise over the jailing of journalists with alleged links to the Muslim Brotherhood, the verdicts against Naaot and Nagy and the arrest warrant against Balshy provoked outrage in Egypt. After an outcry in Egyptian media over the conviction of Naaot, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last week urged parliament to review the country’s blasphemy laws, which critics have denounced as outdated and harmful. Meanwhile, in an outpouring of anger on social media over Nagy’s conviction, activists have campaigned for the novelist’s release using the Arabic hashtag that translates into #CreativityOnTrial.
  • Twenty-two rights organizations, six political parties and nearly 100 individuals signed a strongly worded petition condemning the warrant for Balshy’s arrest as “an attack on the media.”
  • Until recently, much of the Egyptian media and the majority of Egyptians had also rejected international criticism of the restrictions on the media in Egypt, perceiving the criticism as “part of the foreign conspiracy to destroy Egypt.” Lately however, there has been an almost abrupt turnabout with more journalists — including regime loyalists and those who had previously practiced self-censorship — becoming increasingly vocal in their criticism of “the muzzling of journalists through intimidation tactics” and “the unfair detention of writers and researchers.”
  • The regime clearly has not learned the lesson from Mubarak’s unplugging of the Internet during the 2011 uprising — a move that fueled the anger against the former dictator, leading to his ultimate overthrow. The government must acknowledge that the right to information and freedom of expression are basic human rights.
Ed Webb

Arab Media & Society - 1 views

  • A prolific writer, Heikal penned dozens of books, chronicling events as a witness to history, his legacy linked with his association with Nasser. He was not just a journalist, newspaper editor, and later historian. Heikal was Nasser’s emissary with Western diplomats, a champion of Nasser’s brand of socialism and pan-Arab nationalism. He composed his speeches and ghost wrote Nasser’s political manifesto, The Philosophy of the Revolution. As the president’s alter ego, Heikal’s writings were read for clues to Nasser’s thinking. His influence derived from his proximity to power.
  • Heikal blurred the line between the role of a journalist and that of a politician. “He introduced a model in Egypt and the Arab world about what your ambitions should be as a journalist. In the West or Europe, you gain your reputation from your independence as a journalist,” explained Dawoud. “When I am the president’s consultant and I attend his close meetings and I write his speeches, there is definitely a lot of information that I would have to keep secret. That goes contrary to my job as a journalist, which is to find as much information as I can.”
  • The state media wholeheartedly embraced socialism and pan-Arabism, becoming a filter of information and propaganda, instead of the promised transformation of the institution into one that supposedly guides the public and builds society. Critical voices were muted, the military junta was sacrosanct, and Nasser was fortified as a national hero. The failings of the regime were not attributed to the president, but to the reactionary and destructive forces of capitalism and feudalism. Nasser’s personal confidant Muhammad Hassanein Heikal was appointed chairman of the board of al-Ahram, then later of Dar al-Hilal and Akhbar al-Youm publishing houses.
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  • Long committed to a free media, Mustafa Amin was imprisoned for six months in 1939 for an article in Akher sa‘a (Last Hour) magazine deemed critical of King Faruq. An advocate of democracy and Western liberalism, he was arrested in 1965, tried secretly in 1966, and convicted of being a spy for America and smuggling funds. Sentenced to a life sentence, he spent nine years in prison before being pardoned by Nasser’s successor, President Anwar Sadat. Ali Amin, accused by Heikal of working for British and Saudi intelligence, went into exile in 1965.
  • Room for expression existed mainly in the literary pages of al-Ahram, where writers under Heikal’s wings, like Naguib Mahfouz, could publish works of fiction that could be read as challenges to the status quo.[5] As far as the press was concerned, censorship was directed at politically oriented news and commentary rather than the literary sections
  • During the conflict, as the Egyptian army, under Field Marshal Abd al-Hakim Amer’s command, was hastily retreating from Sinai, broadcast outlets aired invented reports of fabulous victories against the Zionist foe. At no other moment did the state media prove so woefully deficient, contributing to a deep sense of public betrayal.
  • The speech was written for him by prominent journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal and tactfully framed a romp of Arab armies as a “setback,” displaying Heikal’s knack for being both a propagandist and political powerbroker.

     

    It was a moment that brilliantly served to shore up Nasser’s support. Egyptians took to the streets demanding that their leader stay in power. “The People Say ‘No,’” declared Akhbar al-youm (News of the Day) in large red writing. In smaller black lettering the headline read, “The Leader Discloses the Whole Truth to the People.” It is difficult to say how populist and genuine the appeal was and how much of the public display of support for Nasser was behind-the-scenes political machinations of the regime and its media. While Nasser did stay in power, it was only later that Egyptians could comprehend the true extent of the defeat—especially in light of official propaganda—and the institutional failures that placed the whole of Sinai under Israeli control.

  • slogans shouted and scrawled on building walls that demanded: “Stop the Rule of the Intelligence,” “Down with the Police State,” and “Down with Heikal’s Lying Press.”
  • Student periodicals posted on the walls of the campuses emerged as the freest press in Egypt. Nasser for the first time became the object of direct criticism in the public space. A campaign against student unrest was waged in the state-owned media, which labeled the activists as provocateurs and counter-revolutionaries goaded by foreign elements
  • “A centralized editorial secretariat, called the Desk, was founded, as well as the Center for Strategic Studies and the Information Division. To his detractors, these innovations appeared to be spying sessions of an extensive empire dedicated to intelligence gathering
  • Nasser appointed Heikal to the post of minister of information and national guidance, a role he assumed for six months in 1970 until Nasser’s death. Yet the self-described journalist confided his frustration of being assigned a ministerial post, perhaps intended to distance him from the publishing empire he built, to a colleague, the leftist writer Lutfi al-Khouli, at his home. The encounter was surreptitiously recorded by the secret police, leading to the arrest and brief imprisonment of al-Khouli, and Heikal’s secretary and her husband, who were also present. “Now, Nasser’s regime had two aspects: it had great achievements to its credit but also it had a repressive side. I do not myself believe that the achievements . . . could have been carried out without some degree of enforcement,” Heikal wrote in The Road to Ramadan. “But after the 1967 defeat the positive achievements came to an end, because all resources were geared to the coming battle, while repression became more obvious. When Nasser died the executants of repression took it on themselves to be the ideologues of the new regime as well. They held almost all the key posts in the country. The people resented this and came to hate what they saw as their oppressors.”
  • after his increasing criticism of Sadat’s handling of the October 1973 War and appeals to the United States to address the impasse, Heikal was removed from al-Ahram in 1974. He remained a prolific author. In May 1978, Heikal was one of dozens of writers accused by the state prosecutor of defaming Egypt and weakening social peace and was subject to an interrogation that extended three months
  • Sadat attempted to bring the dissident cacophony into line through the mass arrest in September 1981 of more than 1,500 intellectuals, writers, journalists, and opposition elements of every stripe. Among those arrested were leading members of the Journalists’ Syndicate and prominent figures like the political writer Muhammad Hassanein Heikal and novelist Nawal El Saadawi. Sadat’s crackdown against his opponents culminated in his assassination by Islamic militants on October 6, 1981 during a military parade to commemorate the start of the 1973 War. Soon after Hosni Mubarak assumed power, Heikal was released from prison
  • When Dream aired the lecture Heikal gave at the American University in Cairo, direct pressure was placed on the owner’s business interests, and the veteran journalist found a new forum on pan-Arab satellite broadcasting. The influential writer has made opposition to Gamal Mubarak’s succession a staple of his newspaper columns.
  • With the rise of satellite television, Qatar’s Al Jazeera commanded audiences not only with news but with popular discussion programmed, like Ma‘ Heikal (With Heikal), a program by Heikal that began the year after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and which was watched by the Arab public with eager interest. Seated behind a desk and looking into the camera, Heikal gave his narrative of historical events and commentary on Middle Eastern and world affairs, exposing the intrigues of regional and global powers from his perch, having privileged access to leaders, diplomats, and decision makers. He has been a critic of Saudi diplomacy, its ballooning regional influence given the power of petrodollars, and its confrontation with Iran. Saudi pundits have consistently taken potshots at Heikal.
  • A couple of months before Morsi’s ouster on July 3, 2013, Heikal was contacted by Morsi’s defense minister Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi for a meeting, which had led to speculation that the Heikal devised the behind-the-scenes scenarios for an elected president’s removal as the dominant political player, the Muslim Brotherhood, was sinking in popularity. After Morsi was expelled from office, Heikal suggested to the military leader that he seek a popular mandate to lead the country, mirroring Nasser-style populism. Attired in full military regalia, al-Sisi at a July 24, 2013 graduation ceremony of the naval and air defence academies, broadcast live, warned that national security was in peril and summoned nationwide rallies two days later. Heikal supported al-Sisi’s bid for the presidency viewing him as the candidate born of necessity.
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