The house of Mekameleen TV presenter Hossam El-Shorbagy has been set on fire in the city of Arish, North Sinai, in retribution for his role as a journalist.
“This is payback,” El-Shorbagy told MEMO from his house in Istanbul.
Mekameleen TV, which is based in the Turkish capital, is largely run by exiled Egyptians and openly criticises the Egyptian regime. In April last year the channel leaked a video capturing Egyptian soldiers extrajudicially killing unarmed children in the northern Sinai region.
Since October 2014 the Egyptian regime has waged a war on terror in Sinai that has been described by locals as a war on civilians. Some 3,000 homes have been destroyed in Rafah City to create a buffer zone with Gaza and 90 per cent of farms have been razed in Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid.
Food, medicine and cooking gas have been restricted, schools and universities closed. Thousands have been killed and arrested yet until now, burning down the house of a journalist was unprecedented.
At 7.30am this morning El-Shorbagy received a telephone call from a family member to say that security forces had entered their house at 3am, searched through their belongings and then set fire to their possessions.
“They pushed my mother against the wall when she tried to stop them and she fell,” says El-Shorbagy. “They used all sorts of profanities against her which I cannot repeat.”
The five-storey building houses the wives of El-Shorbagy’s brothers and his 60-year-old mother – in total four families live there including a number of children; the youngest is just six-months-old. Only women lived in the house.
For now, the building is still standing but all the contents inside have been destroyed, including their mobile phones and the children’s toys and clothes. Security forces warned the family that what was left of the building would be bombed within a few hours.
“The houses in Arish have courtyards, the whole family are gathered there, waiting to find out what will happen. They have nowhere else to go,” says El-Shorbagy.
They received no warning that this would happen:
The regime doesn’t treat people the way Israel does. There is no warning, they just turn up and destroy things.
“When I heard the news I started to cry,” he continues; “I felt paralysed, there was nothing I could do. I haven’t seen my mother for five years.”
El-Shorbagy left Egypt in September 2013 because he is a journalist – since the coup the countries’ reporters have faced draconian restrictions on their work. Egypt is ranked 161st out of 180 countries on the Press Freedom Index.
In Sinai, the Egyptian military is pushing a narrative that its counter-insurgency efforts are successful and heroic. It has severely restricted access to the region for media and human rights workers and punish anyone who deviates from the official line. Sinai expert Ismail Iskandarani was recently sentenced to ten years in prison for reporting critically on operations in North Sinai.
El-Shorbagy is an expert on Sinai yet since February 2016 he has not published any of his studies on this particular region in an effort to protect his family.
“This hasn’t stopped the regime coming after my family,” he says. “It’s become a demented regime, that’s why it’s coming after me.”