Jonathan Fryer

Egypt’s Paradoxical Press Situation

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 29th June, 2008

Compared wth several other Arab countries, Egypt has a varied and robust press. Almost every day, not least in the independent and English-language newspapers, one sees articles highlighting human rights abuses (notably torture and extortion/bribery at the hands of police) or criticisms of the way that the Emergency Law — in place for the last 27 years! — gives the president the right to arrest and detain inidividuals without abiding by basic guarantees enshrined in the constitution. But behind the superficial impression of freedom of expression lies a much more complex reality.

For one thing, journalists are sometimes subject to detention or assault and there are ‘red lines’ which anyone working in the mainstream media knows (s)he must not cross, notably not mentioning the elephant in the room: namely, what will happen when the 80-year-old President Mubarak dies or is incapacitated or decides to retire. With each month that passes, this is a matter of growing concern, not least because many people fear that there is no viable political alternative. Uneasy at the prospect of a hereditary succession by Mubarak’s son, Gamal, they see either a surge by the Islamists (who have 88 members of parliament, sitting as independents), or a military takeover once again.

The increasingly vibrant blogging scene in Egypt shows that many young people, in particular, have very little confidence in politicians, whatever their party. It’s in the blogs that one finds some of the most trenchant analysis of the current situation, as well as the reporting of events which might not otherwise get accurately recorded. One brave journalist, Kamal Murad, notably collaborated with bloggers to produce evidence that led the a policeman guilty of torture being brought to justice. But for his efforts, Mr Murad, of the opposition newspaper Al-Fajr, was reportedly subsequently physically and verbally assaulted by three policemen in a revenge attack, had his mobile phone memory card (including pictures of police beting peasant farmers)  and notes confiscated, and was then charged with attacking police officers. He was later released, but his material was retained.

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