In short, they want to destroy the bridges between the media and the ordinary citizen, considering the citizens to be the private property of the ruling authority. No one is allowed to talk to, approach them, or address their concerns and aspirations in any way.
This is what Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s government sought to do when it passed the new law that completely eliminates the concept of press that possesses even the minimum level of freedom and professionalism. We could call this law the retroactive revenge law against journalists, going back 22 years, when the press syndicate fought until it wrestled Law 96 of 1996 out of the clutches of Hosni Mubarak’s government.
Around this same time in 2016 the first measure taken by the military authority was to eliminate what was left of Law 96. They sent in MP Mostafa Bakry with a number of amendments to the law. The main amendment was to strip the Egypt Supreme Council of the Press from its authority to appoint editors and boards of directors in press institutions, instead putting the authority in the hands of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi personally. At that time, the Journalists’ Syndicate was still holding up the spirit of struggle and mobilisation against the political power’s invasion of the fourth power, a term commonly used to describe the Egyptian press.
Read: The Egyptian Fantasia
The scenario played out as follows: the speaker of the so-called House of Representatives decided to defer consideration of the amendments temporarily until the finalisation of a unified law for the press and the media. He pointed out that if the new law is not completed, the amendments proposed by Mostafa Bakry would be considered. Following this, Al-Sisi decided to issue a decision to establish a higher media council, ending the existence of the Supreme Council of the Press and its actual role. A national press body would emerge from it, ending the command of the syndicate over the profession and those practicing it.
The government agencies then engaged in the battle of liberating the syndicate from the hands of the journalists and appointing a new head who is against the profession and carries out all of the political authority’s orders. This was followed by a process of disciplining the syndicate members on their position towards the issue of Tiran and Sanafir. This ultimately ended with the syndicate becoming a lifeless corpse and its declawing, turning the profession from a fourth authority called Her Majesty to a 10th class servant in the court of the sole authority, represented by one person named Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. He acts as the security’s baton, the judiciary’s platform, and the media’s microphone.
This is evidenced by the fact that before the new law was passed in the “legislative booth” called a parliament, the press and its syndicate did not bother the authority. This likely suggests that the goal behind the legislation is to send a frightening and intimidating message to ordinary citizens: do not interact with the media more than approved by the authority and its security agencies. If we were to look at the clause that requires journalists to “obtain the necessary permits” before attending conferences, meetings, and assemblies in areas other than those where photography is banned, we would realise that it is the citizens who are being targeted. These citizens saw in the phenomenon of free video journalism an opening in the wall of silence and repression through which they could express their pain. It is no surprise that bloggers, such as Wael Abbas and Mohammed Oxygen, are now in prison cells as punishment for direct contact with the people on the street. This also happened with the BBC correspondent after reporting on Zubaida Ibrahim and her mother, which means that the government were extremely agitated by the press reports made about ordinary citizens that found their way onto channels and newspapers that the government classifies as hostile and evil.
This vision is supported by the expansion of the powers of the Supreme Council of Media Regulation, headed Makram Mohamed Ahmed, who opposes the press and the syndicate. This allows him to prevent issuing licenses and to revoke them, as well as censor public and personal sites. This also indicates that the goal is to eliminate “citizen journalism”.
It is worth noting that in the days leading up to passing the “law drying up the sources of the press”, the state media outlets all read from a single script. They addressed what they referred to as the rumour war waged by the bad guys against Egypt. This expresses the panic and fear in the state circles of any voice from alternative press after the state had believed that it succeeded in snapping the pens and drying up the newspapers. Therefore, it had no other choice but to confiscate the actual receiver of the news after confiscating the sender.
Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadid, 18 July 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.