Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood crack down on Egyptian press


Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has been cracking down on journalists, targeting those who criticize the Muslim Brotherhood.

This development is a sobering indicator of Egypt’s regression toward theocracy in the year and a half since the Tahrir Square uprisings.

Apparently one issue of a newspaper has been banned for asserting that the Muslim Brotherhood is leading Egypt to “its worst decades … filled with killing and bloodshed.”

One journalist, Islam Afifi, has been sent to criminal court, charged with “insulting” Morsi and inciting overthrow of Egypt’s ruling system.

According to Reuters, another journalist, “Tawfiq Okasha, owner and the main host of an Egyptian television channel called Al-Faraeen … was also sent to a criminal court on accusations of inciting people to kill Mursi and insulting him. The prosecutor ordered the channel be taken off air.

The Reuters piece continues: “Al-Faraeen TV channel is privately owned by Okasha, a strong opponent of Mursi and Islamists. Okasha had previously said in one of his talkshows that Mursi and his group “deserve to get killed.”

“A Brotherhood lawyer also filed a complaint on Wednesday with a state prosecutor, accusing three prominent editors of Egyptian dailies including Afifi of insulting Mursi.”

“The Brotherhood’s recent actions against the media are harsh and unacceptable and tell us that we are going backwards and that things are managed the same way they were during Mubarak’s time,” Egyptian human rights activist Gamal Eid told Reuters news service.

Afifi accused the Brotherhood of trying to stifle dissent. “It is an orchestrated campaign against the media by the Muslim Brotherhood. They want to silence any opposition to their policies,” Al-Ahram online news website quoted him as saying.

An earlier issue of Dostour released on June 21, before the results of the presidential elections were announced, ran a front-page article accusing the Brotherhood of planning a “massacre in Egypt” if Mursi lost.

The newspaper was bought three years ago by the Wafd Liberal party, a party whose critics said allowed itself to be used as a “friendly opposition” under Mubarak while the Brotherhood was officially banned.

Many Egyptians were upset with the media after the revolution which toppled Mubarak, saying it had misunderstood the responsibility that comes with media freedom. Some said journalists had often crossed the line in making personal insults and accusations without proof.

However, many critics are asking for a mechanism to implement a code of ethics, rather than taking criminal action against journalists.

“There are certainly violations in the media, but there are also ways to punish journalists other than dragging them to courts or prisons,” rights activist Eid said.

Three Egyptian columnists including prominent novelist Youssef El-Qaeed said earlier this month their columns had been removed by a new committee of editors used to supervise state-run newspapers for including anti-Brotherhood opinions.

The editors were chosen by the upper house of parliament, which is dominated by the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups.

Others left their columns empty in protest at the selection of the new editors.

“This white space… is in protest against the Muslim Brotherhood’s conquest over the newspapers and media outlets that belong to the Egyptian people,” columnist Gamal Fahmy wrote on the top of his empty column in al-Tahrir newspaper on Aug.9.

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