How now free­dom of ex­pres­sion?

Watani International - - News - D D G G O

Any­one fol­low­ing the western media may re­ceive the mes­sage that Egypt is a coun­try where free­dom of e pres­sion is dead. Egypt, the media im­plies, is ruled by an au­to­crat who as hief of Egyp­tian Armed )or­ces de­posed a demo­crat­i­cally elected pres­i­dent and then sat in his place, and where no crit­i­cism what­ever is al­lowed.

This may be what the media in the West says, but what do Egyp­tians say Is this the same coun­try we live in that they are talk­ing about asked one young Egyp­tian woman. The Egypt where we are in­un­dated with crit­i­cism ev­ery minute of the day There is not one news­pa­per, even State- owned ones; not one T9 chan­nel; not one online news site that is not full of crit­i­cism of prac­ti­cally ev­ery­thing and any­thing that takes place in Egypt, and of Pres­i­dent Sisi and his regime.

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A mid­dle-aged Egyp­tian teacher told : We’re sick and tired of crit­i­cism. It’s as though the media lives by the slo­gan, I crit­i­cise, there­fore I am’. Why don’t they talk about all the things that have taken a pos­i­tive turn since Egyp­tians over­threw the post-Arab Spring Is­lamist regime of the Mus­lim rother­hood M The se­cu­rity that now reigns in our streets, and the se­ri­ous ef­forts to re­vive the econ­omy Why don’t they ap­pre­ci­ate the huge ef­fort that goes into bat­tling Is­lamist ter­ror­ism on our soil, on our borders, and in our re­gion es, there are plenty of prob­lems in Egypt some of them al­most chronic but, un­der Pres­i­dent Sisi, we’re on the right road to tack­ling them. And if crit­i­cis­ing the regime has noth­ing to do with free­dom of e pres­sion, what does

Early last -une, just a year af­ter Ab­del-)at­tah al- Sisi as­sumed the pres­i­dency, the colum­nist An­war al- awari who has in­ces­santly crit­i­cised Pres­i­dent Sisi on ac­count of his mil­i­tary back­ground, be­gan his daily col­umn with the sen­tence: I must ad­mit that the man who with­stands my crit­i­cism for a full year dur­ing which I en­joy all the free­dom to at­tack him is a man wor­thy of re­spect. e then went on with his usual crit­i­cism of the Pres­i­dent.

Ob­vi­ously the western media is turn­ing a blind eye to pos­i­tive changes in Egypt in the wake of the down­fall of the post-Arab Spring Is­lamist regime. It in­sists that Egypt is a coun­try where no crit­i­cism is al­lowed and where free­dom of e pres­sion is dead. And since Pres­i­dent Sisi is de­picted as the army chief who de­posed Egypt’s first freely- elected pres­i­dent and sat in his place, the pic­ture of a despot­i­cally ruled Egypt where ac­cord­ing to al--a eera crit­i­cism is not al­lowed’, is com­plete.

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Egyp­tians, how­ever, see their coun­try in a dif­fer­ent light. They see Mursi as the Mus­lim rother who rode the wings of democ­racy to nar­rowly win Egypt’s pres­i­dency then, five months later, made a grasp for power and is­sued de­ci­sions that ef­fec­tively put an end to all demo­cratic prac­tice. They see him as the pres­i­dent who cared so lit­tle for Egyp­tians or was so in­ept that he let the econ­omy plunge into a free fall, did noth­ing to re­store the post-Arab Spring se­cu­rity break­down and un­prece­dent­edly alarm­ing rise in crime, and ru­ined Egypt’s pre-Arab Spring in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and fos­tered dis­ad­van­ta­geous ones. Worse, he at­tempted to Is­lam­i­cise Egypt, a move ut­terly re­jected by Egyp­tians fa­mous for their time- hon­oured tol­er­ance and mod­er­a­tion.

As to Pres­i­dent Sisi, Egyp­tians see him as the army chief who tried hard to avert a loom­ing civil war in Egypt on ac­count of the in­tran­si­gence of the Is­lamist rul­ing regime in face of public de­mands for democ­racy, free­dom, and non-Is­lam­i­ci­sa­tion. When all ef­forts failed and mil­lions of Egyp­tians took to the streets on 0 -une 01 to de­mand that Mursi steps down, the army had to step in and side with the peo­ple. Sisi be­came an Egyp­tian icon, a na­tional hero to this day, and rose to be pres­i­dent by a land­slide vote. They see that, what­ever his faults or fail­ings, he is lead­ing Egypt to a demo­cratic, pros­per­ous fu­ture through hard, ded­i­cated work and leg­endary lead­er­ship.

With the view of Egypt from the in­side so sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent from the one prop­a­gated from out­side the coun­try, can Egyp­tians be blamed for imag­in­ing some sort of western con­spir­acy against them Some con­spir­acy that goes along the line of the no­to­ri­ous 8S reater Mid­dle East Pro­ject which Egypt broke away from the day it ousted the Is­lamists

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' espite the in­ces­sant crit­i­cism of any­thing and ev­ery­thing by the media in­side Egypt, that same media ad­mits that, over­all, Egyp­tians are happy with the change in their coun­try af­ter oust­ing the Is­lamist M . A lot may re­main to be de­sired, but another whole lot has been achieved. A aseera poll that mon­i­tored public opin­ion on the one-year long per­for­mance of Pres­i­dent Sisi re­vealed that per cent of Egyp­tians fully ap­proved of his per­for­mance dur­ing that year; per cent said they would re- elect him as pres­i­dent; per cent said that se­cu­rity had been re­gained on Egypt’s streets; per cent said job op­por­tu­ni­ties are more abun­dant; per cent said there had been an im­prove­ment in the liv­ing stan­dard of the un­der­priv­i­leged; and per cent saw an im­prove­ment in so­cial jus­tice. Why is it that such in­for­ma­tion is never re­ported and cir­cu­lated in the West

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The western media ap­pears to be only in­ter­ested in the N O law and the protest law which have come in for harsh crit­i­cism by a num­ber of Egyp­tian rights groups and po­lit­i­cal par­ties. Even these laws are poorly re­ported in the West, with many of the facts de­lib­er­ately or mis­tak­enly ob­scured. The N O law re­quires full trans­parency as to the fund­ing of N Os and places re­stric­tions on for­eign fund­ing since, un­der the prete t of pro­mot­ing rights and democ­racy, sev­eral rights or­gan­i­sa­tions in Egypt were e ploited by for­eign pow­ers dur­ing the Arab Spring to fur­ther agen­das that worked against Egypt.

As for the protest law, it opens with: iti ens have the right to hold and join public meet­ings, marches and peace­ful protests in ac­cor­dance with the pro­vi­sions and reg­u­la­tions of the protest law. The law con­sists of ar­ti­cles that out­line in de­tail the con­di­tions that must be met be­fore a protest, po­lit­i­cal meet­ing or march is held. It also de­tails the penal­ties for vi­o­la­tions of the law.

The law re­quires three days’ no­ti­fi­ca­tion be­fore protest­ing; in ad­di­tion, the In­te­rior Min­istry has the right to can­cel, post­pone or move the protest if it de­ter­mines that pro­tes­tors will breach ... the law . The or­gan­is­ers have the right to seek ur­gent court de­ci­sions on the mat­ter, so the protest may not be de­layed or can­celled. If the pro­tes­tors in­sist on de­mon­strat­ing with­out pre­vi­ous no­tice, they can do so in var­i­ous ad­e­quate public spa­ces des­ig­nated for protest with­out prior no­ti­fi­ca­tion, as the law stip­u­lates.

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i a gov­er­norate has des­ig­nated a spa­cious open area at the end of )aisal 5oad as a venue for public gath­er­ings, pro­ces­sions, or peace­ful protest with­out prior no­ti­fi­ca­tion. The area can ac­com­mo­date some 10,000 in­di­vid­u­als, lies close to main thor­ough­fares, and is easily ac­ces­si­ble by public trans­port. It is also de­tached from residential or com­mer­cial ar­eas, thus en­sur­ing no dis­rup­tion to the daily lives and ac­tiv­i­ties of the public. Sue has as­signed a sta­dium for a sim­i­lar pur­pose, and other Egyp­tian gov­er­norates have fol­lowed in the same foot­steps.

The law was is­sued in Novem­ber 01 and was signed by the in­terim pres­i­dent Adly Man­sour. Whereas it has been harshly crit­i­cised by rights ac­tivists, many in Egypt see it as a life­saver.

Sameh Salah, an engi­neer at a soft­ware com­pany, be­lieves that with this law the coun­try has re­gained sta­bil­ity and dis­ci­pline.

We’ve had more than enough of M demon­stra­tions and vi­o­lence; they crip­pled the coun­try and spread fear in our hearts. They clashed with the po­lice and in­no­cent lives were lost. Now that farce, con­ducted in the name of free­dom and democ­racy, is fast com­ing to an end, Salah says.

Muhammed al-Masry, a young graphic de­signer, dis­agrees. The protest law is not con­sti­tu­tional, he says. The on­sti­tu­tion stip­u­lates that in­di­vid­u­als have the un­con­di­tional right to assem­bly. This law aims at get­ting rid of demon­stra­tion in first place. It is a law of bad re­pute that would only be passed un­der an au­thor­i­tar­ian regime.

Ab­dul­lah . halil, an in­ter­na­tional e pert on hu­man rights, re­jects some of the protest law ar­ti­cles, since, as he says, they con­fuse the demon­stra­tion law with the pe­nal code. Mr . halil, who sup­ports peace­ful protest, says that ri­ot­ing leads to crimes which should be sub­ject to the gen­eral pe­nal code, not crim­i­nalised by the protest law.

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The young jour­nal­ist Mi­lad anna told that de­mon­strat­ing was a right for all pro­vided it does not vi­o­late the rights of oth­ers nor bring pro­duc­tion to a halt.

The protest law is a prete t for ac­tivists to have their own chaotic way re­gard­less of ev­ery­one else, Mr anna said. Those ac­tivists call for a State of law’, but they do not re­spect the law. They want to have the right to protest when­ever and in which­ever way they wish, which does not e ist in any re­spectable coun­try.

May od pro­tect our Pres­i­dent Sisi, says Amm as­san, a mid­dle-aged ta i driver. e rid us of the child­ish’ be­hav­iour of some pro­tes­tors; they act like they have no idea that their demon­stra­tion and road­blocks de­prive us of our liveli­hood.

Sally, a univer­sity stu­dent, agrees and says she feels happy with the protest law. In the wake of the Arab Spring upris­ing and dur­ing the M rule of Pres­i­dent Mursi, I used to be ter­ri­fied of be­ing on the street be­cause I might get caught in a vi­o­lent demon­stra­tion. Even on cam­pus, there was no feel­ing of se­cu­rity. Is­lamist stu­dents de­stroyed ev­ery­thing in their way as they protested against the fall of Mursi.

8mm Ahmed, a veg­etable ven­dor in a street mar­ket, says she knows noth­ing about any laws, but is e tremely happy that the M demon­stra­tions are more or less over. They were full of vi­o­lence and blood, she says.

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A blog­ger who iden­ti­fied him­self as Sam, wrote in English: To all the kids who think they are the youth of the revo­lu­tion’, I have lived in anada for more than 10 years now. If you did in anada what you are do­ing in Egypt you will be in jail the same day and will find NO ONE to sup­port you. Stop this child­ish be­hav­iour.

ut another ana­dian com­mented: ere in anada we con­sider the po­lice bru­tal to de­mon­stra­tors, and I speak first hand be­cause I have been on an­ti­shale gas protests and seen the way the po­lice and author­i­ties be­have, I could send you a video of the way they ar­rested an in­dige­nous woman el­der, and that wasn’t an iso­lated case. Sure they would put you in jail at once

If any­thing, both com­ments prove the point that protest is not treated in any cle­ment man­ner by western States. The whole world saw how de­mon­stra­tors in the 8S and Europe have been dis­persed. Po­lice bru­tal­ity should be taken to ac­count by the law, as it has been in Egypt when a po­lice of­fi­cer ac­cused of killing a pro­tes­tor was handed a life sen­tence in prison. ut laws reg­u­lat­ing protest do e ist in var­i­ous free’ coun­tries, and demon­stra­tion is not an ac­tiv­ity to be con­ducted with­out con­fines.

Egyp­tians in the main­stream see no point in the West’s at­tack against the protest law. They see that free­dom of e pres­sion in their coun­try is alive and kick­ing, whether in the form of the free­dom they have to crit­i­cise the author­i­ties or of­fi­cials con­cerned or to protest against them, Western al­le­ga­tions that free­dom of e pres­sion in Egypt is dead is seen by Egyp­tians as grossly er­ro­neous and reek­ing of dou­ble stan­dards.

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