Feb 09 2014

Egyptian Revolution Will Fail if the Press Is Not Free

Published by at 1:35 pm under Arab Issues,Articles,Media Activism


By Daoud Kuttab

I was part of a delegation of the International Press Institute that visited the Egyptian capital last week to try and plead the case of some 12 Egyptian and foreign journalists who are being held behind bars.

The new powers in Egypt seem to have very little tolerance for anyone with an opinion that is not favourable to the June 30 events that led to the ouster of Egypt’s president Mohamed Morsi.

Meetings with journalists, lawyers and human rights activists revealed a culture of physical violence and intimidation against journalists in general and especially against members of the press covering anti-government protests.

The Qatari-owned Al Jazeera satellite station appears to get the lion’s share of thisanti-journalist behaviour.

The culture of impunity has encouraged many citizens and local groups to lash out against journalists, especially camera operators.

The Arab Human Rights Network declared that under the new rulers in Egypt, eight journalists were killed, while only one was killed during Morsi’s one-year reign.

When we were in Cairo, we were informed by human rights lawyer Gamal Eid that 12 journalists, including a Turk and an Australian, were detained.

Egypt’s foreign minister, who had agreed to meet the international press delegation, voiced concern about what is happening to journalists and promised to do his best to help out. Two days later, the Egyptian authorities announced that they were prosecuting 20 Al Jazeera reporters on accusations of belonging to a terrorist organisation.

Al Jazeera case appears to be a special source of anger and frustration. A number of professional journalists who were very critical of the government refused to defend Al Jazeera, saying that it had crossed the line between journalism and activism.

The crackdown on journalists continued despite the fact that Egyptians overwhelmingly approved the amended constitution, which provides for freedom of expression and other press guarantees.

Articles 71,72 and 73 of the new Egyptian constitution are a strong undertaking to respect the work of professional journalists.

Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy agreed with the IPI delegation that these new articles provide a perfect vehicle to defend the freedom of the press and journalism, but noted that it will take time before these guarantees are converted into operative laws and regulations.

In addition to defending the rights of journalists, the new constitution allows for the development of a vibrant, independent audiovisual industry.

Article 72 obliges the state to guarantee the independence of the state-owned media and journalistic institutions to ensure objectivity and representation of all opinions, ideologies and social interests.

The constitution allows Egyptians, individually and as companies, to secure radio and TV licences. The implementation of articles like this last one will revolutionise the audiovisual field, especially radio, which has been controlled almost exclusively by the government.

Until these articles are implemented, journalists will continue to suffer violent attacks and intimidation, unless there is a political will to ease up on the press.

It is unclear whether the current intimidating atmosphere is a result of a short term policy by a panicking power or a long term one.

It was expected that once the Egyptians vote for the new constitution, the ruling power would act less paranoid.

The success of the new Egypt is no doubt dependent on many political factors. However, no real democracy or legitimacy can be won if everyone is expected to support the rulers only.

Dissent, pluralism and different points of view are essential to guarantee democratic rule.

Absent the guarantee of a free and independent press, Egypt will not be able to enjoy the results of its revolutions.

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