The dark era of journalistic repression continues as journalists in Egypt find themselves at the receiving end.
Press freedom in Egypt has become a thing of the past.
In 2014, Egypt was ranked as the third deadliest country for the media by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). In recent years, Egyptian authorities have deliberately tried to muzzle the press through arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression. Journalists have continuously found themselves on the receiving end of state repression. They have been repeatedly intimidated and face tremendous challenges in reporting about the country.
Egypt appears to be going back to a past that was laid to rest through an 18-day revolution orchestrated by young activists in 2011.
In retrospect, the struggle for freedom and democracy seems little more than a farce. Activists had the world believe that putting an end to the reign of a dictator would automatically infuse democratic values into the country’s system of governance.
Unfortunately, media professionals did not realize that press freedom cannot be achieved overnight. On its part, the state needs to understand the significance of media freedom and incorporate it into its list of priorities.
Three years later, the sticking points of the Arab Spring have emerged as fresh challenges which are threatening to distort the progress made so far.
Press freedom in Egypt has deteriorated substantially and become a thing of the past. Television channels have been closed down and many journalists have been arrested and killed. Several media professionals have been booked for slander and collaborating with the Muslim Brotherhood, a terrorist organization.
The state’s attempts to intimidate the press have raised questions of proportionality. For instance, the level of involvement shown by the media in this regard appears to be of a particularly mild nature. As a result, staying abreast with the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood has been misconstrued as an attempt to collaborate with them.
The informal sanctions imposed on press freedom reflect the state’s mounting insecurities about retaining political authority. The current regime has labeled the Muslim Brotherhood as a militant outfit. However, the organization once ruled the country and could potentially create competition for the incumbent government.
Although the attempts made to curb media freedom in Egypt are, at best, a politically motivated move, they need to be tackled in a holistic manner. The government must adopt a serious stance in addressing these grievances. However, this appears to be a long shot, especially in light of the current political scenario.
From the moment Abdel Fattah alSisi was sworn-in as Egypt’s president, media professionals have constantly come under fire.
In 2011, Mohamed Badr, an AlJazeera professional, courageously reported on the people’s reawakening in Egypt and Libya. He was taken into custody and incarcerated for over 200 days without any formal charge. Although Badr was released, he was termed a traitor for working for a media group which is not viewed in a favorable light by the regime.
Similarly, other correspondents have paid a heavy price for their affiliation with Al-Jazeera. Their nationality is immaterial to the state. The state’s repressive policies have led to strict action against an Australian correspondent of AJ, Peter Greste.
A large number of media professionals have been implicated on the basis of absurd evidence by prosecutors who are perpetuating the state’s authority.
At this critical juncture, history is the only means whereby this practice can be understood and challenged. Over the years, Arab regimes have done their best to establish their monopoly on the media.
Egypt’s military dictatorship is
following a similar tactic to ensure that the media does not realize its significance as the fourth pillar of the state. Consequently, the press has been embroiled in a senseless blame game. The state has tailored this narrative to suit its own purposes. When the need arises, it blames the media for orchestrating a conspiracy and engaging in unethical practices.
Apart from the anti-state sentiments that loom large, there are countless misperceptions about Al-Jazeera. Many leaders have accused the media organization of allegedly serving the interests of the Zionists. Although these allegations have never been verified, doubts and suspicion have existed for a long time.
However, there is a silver lining to this issue. In the past, the attempts by Arab countries to muzzle the press with senseless restrictions have failed and the miscreants have paid a price for such intrusive practices. Revolutions have emerged as a means for challenging the state’s dogmatic efforts to censor and dictate.
What is more, the digital age has given a new lease on life to the revolutionary spirit. The internet, social networking sites and the rapid development of news has prevented the state from defining limits and boundaries.
It is equally interesting to note that regimes which vehemently targeted the freedom of expression could not defend themselves against mass revolts as effectively as they should have. Tunisia was the first country to encounter street violence after the state stopped Al-Jazeera from carrying out its operations.
Egypt functions in a similar manner. The Arab Spring may have produced mixed results, but it has raised awareness among the people that they are being short-changed by a political system.
As a result, they are unlikely to believe newspapers and television channels which support the military dictatorship when they laud the government’s efforts to bring a positive change. More often than not, such media organizations have a tendency to fabricate facts and instigate protesters. Since media literacy has improved in Egypt, the new generation is likely to separate the grain from the chaff and make informed decisions.
Despite the wave of optimism, the state needs to find an immediate solution to the restrictions imposed on media organizations in Egypt. Analysts believe that a relapse into the circumstances which triggered the Arab Spring is just a short-term hiccup. However, if the state continues to act this way, the road to democracy and freedom will continue to be blocked by endless restrictions and repressive practices.
In the past, the attempts by Arab countries to muzzle the press with senseless restrictions have failed and the miscreants have paid a price for such intrusive practices.