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memri
May 6, 2016 No.
6415

Egyptian State Newspaper 'Al-Ahram' Following Security Forces Raid On Journalists' Union Offices: 'When The People Rises To Take Its Freedom, Nothing Can Stop It'

On May 1, 2016, Egyptian security forces stormed the Journalists' Union offices in Cairo, to arrest two journalists who write on the "January Portal" website, Amr Badr and Mahmoud Al-Sakka. The two came to the offices to stage a sit-down strike in protest of the arrest warrants issued against them after they made public their opposition to the Saudi-Egyptian maritime border agreement, announced April 9, 2016, under which Egypt cedes control of the Red Sea Islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.[1] Opposition to the deal, signed during the visit of Saudi King Salman bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz in Egypt, gathered momentum among many sectors in the country, leading to opposition protests during April.

The security forces' raid on the Journalists' Union offices sparked intense criticism against the security forces and the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of them, especially considering that, according to Article 70 of Egypt's Media Law, the security forces may not enter the Journalists' Union building without the consent of the prosecutor general's office and in the absence of the union's chairman.[2]

The Journalists' Union council demanded the dismissal of those responsible for the raid, chiefly Interior Minister Magdy 'Abd Al-Ghaffar.[3] In addition, on May 4 some 1,000 members of the union's general assembly convened and passed a number of resolutions: they reiterated the demand to fire the Interior minister and also demanded an apology from the President and the Prime Minister; they decided to refrain from mentioning the Interior Minister's name in reports about him and mention only his title, and also to print his photo in the form of a negative. Furthermore, it was decided that Egyptian papers would print their front pages entirely in black next Sunday (May 8). Most of Egypt's papers agreed to comply with the assembly's decisions.[4]


Front page of Al-Maqal's May 5 issue, with Magdy 'Abd Al-Ghaffar's photo in negative

 

 
Front page of Al-Masri Al-Yawm's May 5 issue, headlined "The Journalists' Will Has Defeated the Coalition of the Interior Ministry and the Thugs"; "We Will Not Drop [the Demand] for the Minister's Dismissal and for an Apology by the President"

The union was joined in its protests by public figures, politicians and members of the media, as well as by the unions of doctors, lawyers, and engineers. All of these condemned the Interior Ministry, calling the raid unprecedented and unacceptable.[5]

Among the Egyptian media, the reaction by the official daily Al-Ahram particularly stood out. In its May 3 editorial the daily harshly condemned the raid and joined in the demand for the firing of the interior minister. It also warned that harming freedom of speech would cost the state dearly. It noted that the Egyptian people has learned that its destiny is in its own hands and that when it rises up nothing can stand in its way.

It should be noted that following the Journalists' Union's convention the paper took a more reserved position, perhaps out of fear that the affair would escalate into general protest against the regime. Al-Ahram's chief editor, Muhammad 'Abd Al-hadi 'Allam, expressed concern regarding the politicization of the union, and the paper did not join the others in printing Al-Ghaffar's photo in negative.[6] However, the decision by Al-Ahram - which is for the most part a loyal mouthpiece of the regime - to join the protests at all is indicative of the gravity of the crisis between the Interior Ministry and many elements, including media elements, in Egyptian society.

It should be noted that the outraged response to the raid extended beyond Egypt's borders. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about the arrest of the two journalists and stressed the importance of safeguarding the rights of the Egyptian media,[7] and EU Foreign Affairs Minister Federica Mogherini also condemned the arrests.[8]

The following are excerpts from Al-Ahram's May 3, 2016 editorial:

"...The Interior Ministry apparatuses carried out an illegitimate operation against freedom. Ministry officials and their supervisors did not grasp that the shameful raid on the Journalists' Union building is an unprecedented action that is unacceptable to journalists, other professional unions, and the public at large.

"The Interior Ministry has recently made a number of mistakes, the latest being this regrettable action against journalists and members of the media. [The ministry] will never manage to carry out its despicable intent to silence the people and to suppress the freedom of opinion and expression that are cemented in the constitution. Security apparatus officials who have not yet read it [the constitution] are falsely depicting themselves to the political leadership as defenders of the state's existence and security.

"Today they [the security apparatus officials] are indeed in positions of leadership, but who knows where they will be tomorrow? Experience has taught us something that the security mechanisms unfortunately don't understand - [namely] that it is the people that chooses its destiny, not the leadership, and that when the people rises to take its freedom, nothing can stop it, not even the strongest security barriers and weapons.

"The Interior Ministry, with all its mechanisms, erred by raiding the Journalists' Union building, the bastion of Egyptian freedom. Unfortunately, [the raid took place] just as the journalists are marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of their union, which includes all shades of the political and partisan spectrum. Journalists are not terrorists, and there is no justification for security personnel to raid their glorious bastion for any reason, and for the Interior Ministry spokesman to then deny that they had done so.

"The next step should be the interior minister's dismissal in response to this criminal action that caused outrage in all of Egypt - and at a time when many families are complaining that their sons have disappeared behind prison bars without benefit of a trial, on the false claim that they were working against the state. We do not yet know what state this is, of which the security apparatuses speak and whose security they claim to be making efforts to ensure. Have we and our sons become enemies of the state?

"They [the security apparatuses] need to stop this old game, because if it succeeds, it ultimately spells doom - not for us, our sons, and our people, but rather for those who play it. A true state, whose soil is loved by the journalists, should heal these wounds and swiftly investigate [the incident] in order to defuse this crisis between the press and the regime.

"In every one of his speeches, the president speaks of freedom of opinion and expression; this is also a fundamental constitutional principle that the security forces violated on baseless and obsolete pretexts. All we want [for] this state is reforms that can only be possible if freedom of opinion is preserved, [because] it is a fundamental element in the progress of a people. Otherwise, the state will be the first to pay the price of the violation of freedom [of opinion] and of the sacrifice of the principles of human progress.

"We must tackle this crisis wisely, and must prevent the agents of chaos and division from taking advantage of it in order to harm the state."

 

Endnotes:

[1] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Saudi Arabia), May 1, 2016.

[2] Al-Watan (Egypt), May 4, 2016.

[3] Al-Watan (Egypt), May 2, 2016.

[4] Al-Ahram (Egypt), May 5, 2016.

[5] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 2, 2016; Al-Shorouq (Egypt), May 2, 2016.

[6] Al-Ahram, Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 5, 2016.

[7] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 2, 2016.

[8] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 4, 2016.