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Journalism Is a 'Crime' in Egypt; Pens and Cameras Behind Bars

May 9, 2023 at 11:00 pm

Egyptian journalist Mohamed Salah talks on the phone in Cairo following his release from the police station in al-Abassya district, on April 24, 2022 [MOHAMED EL-RAAI/AFP via Getty Images]

The Egyptian political scene is witness to clear confusion, which is, apparently, demonstrated by the arbitrary arrests of journalists and human rights activists. At the same time, dozens have been released through presidential pardons – a situation that could hint at disagreements between the country’s sovereign and security institutions.

This confusion became glaringly apparent when Egyptian security forces raided the home of journalist, Hassan Al-Qabani in the Giza governorate (west of the capital) last Wednesday morning, taking him to an unknown destination, coinciding with World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.

The suspicious move coincided with the beginning of the national dialogue in the country, which the ruling regime is promoting as a roadmap towards what it calls the “New Republic”. This development shocked the journalistic and human rights communities, shedding light again on the state of journalism and the restrictions imposed on freedom of expression in Egypt.

Among the ironies is that the arrest of Al-Qabani, who was released on the same day after trade union and government interventions, came after the release of Al Jazeera Mubasher channel journalist, Hisham Abdel Aziz, who spent four years in prison, and Raouf Abid, a journalist with the government-affiliated newspaper, Rosaelyoussef, after ten months of detention.

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Al-Qabani had been arrested twice before; the first time, in January 2015 and released in November 2017; and the second time, on 18 September 2019, and released on 7 March 2021. His third arrest, however, coincided with a day internationally celebrated for freedom of opinion, perhaps to emphasise that journalism has become a “crime” in Egypt.

Dozens of Detainees

The list of journalists held in Egyptian prisons is filled with dozens from various political currents. Some of them have been arrested twice, while others have exceeded the maximum two-year pretrial detention period stipulated by Egyptian law, without being referred to trial in their main cases.

During the last year, 2022, the non-governmental organisation, Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, based in Cairo, documented the arrest of no less than 14 journalists.

According to the Arab Media Freedom Monitor (based in Istanbul), there are about 43 trade union and non-trade union journalists detained in Egyptian prisons.

Among the most prominent journalists detained in connection with political nature cases are Mustafa Al-Khatib, Karim Ibrahim, Ahmed Sabia, Hussein Karim, and Safaa Al-Korbeigi.

Among the elderly journalists over the age of sixty, who may face the risk of death due to their suffering from various illnesses, was Tawfiq Ghanem, (66) the former regional office director of the Anadolu Agency in Cairo; former editor-in-chief of El Osra El Arabeya newspaper, Badr Mohammed Badr (65) and former MP, Mohsen Radi, (66).

The list of detained journalists who are not members of the syndicate includes Mohammed Oxygen, Hamdi Al-Zaim (a photojournalist), Ahmed Allam, Mohammed Saeed, Ahmed Abu Zeid, Abdullah Samir, Aliaa Awad, and Medhat Ramadan.

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The dilemma of journalists who are not members of the syndicate exacerbates, as security authorities treat them as impersonators of a journalist. The syndicate’s actions in favour of them were limited to moral support only.

Al Jazeera Journalists

The Al Jazeera journalists’ file is considered one of the significant issues in Egypt, with ongoing difficulties in resolving the file definitively. The recent breakthrough, which is reducing the number of the network’s detainees from four to just two journalists, should be noted, after the recent release of Hisham Abdel Aziz and Ahmed Al-Najdi, before.

The Qatar-based network (headquartered in Doha) is calling for the release of two of its journalists who were arrested while they were spending a holiday with their families. The journalists are Bahaa Ibrahim, detained since 22 February 2020, and Rabie Al-Sheikh, detained since August 2021.

The reasons for the intransigence of the Egyptian regime in ending the file of journalists of Al-Jazeera are not yet known, despite its rapprochement with Qatar, the exchange of visits at the highest level, and Doha’s contribution of a deposit of billions and significant investments in the Egyptian economy.

Last May, the Supreme State Security Criminal Court (emergency), issued an in absentia sentence of fifteen years rigorous imprisonment against the reporter of the Al-Jazeera Mubasher channel, Ahmed Taha, on charges of publishing and broadcasting false news and statements in case No. 1059 of 2021, state security criminal court (emergency).

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‎In addition to the crisis of Al Jazeera channel journalists, three women journalists from the Madamasr website, (independent), after publishing a press investigation sheds light on the involvement of political figures close to authority in financial irregularities. They have been accused of abusing members of the Egyptian Parliament affiliated with a pro-government party and misusing means of communication.

The Egyptian authorities blocked the Madamasr website within Egypt and stormed its offices in Cairo in 2019. Moreover, its editor, Lena Attallah, is accused of setting up a website without authorisation.

In most cases, journalists detained in Egypt are charged with publishing and spreading false news and abuses.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.