Now that Egyptians are done with voting for the constitution, many are waiting to see what comes next. If an Islamist constitution is voted in and Islamists consolidate their power
, is it possible that Egypt might be headed for curtailed freedoms under the pretext that some freedoms might offend Islamist sensitivities?
The indicators appear to point in that direction. Among the slogans shouted by Islamists in the recent demonstrations was one that especially enraged pro-democracy Egyptians: “It is not enough to get rid of the prosecutor-general; now it is the turn of the media”. They were alluding to President Mursi’s dismissal of the prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud
and his appointment of a new handpicked one, Talaat Ibrahim, in defiance to the judiciary. Incidentally, Ibrahim last week tendered his resignation, in response to protests against him from the members of the prosecution and the Judges’s Club (the body equivalent to a judges’s syndicate) on account of his appointment by the President being illegal and violates the judiciary’s independence. The draft constitution further curtails the independence of the judiciary.
Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) under siege
Sunday 2 December was the date the SCC was to pronounce its verdict on the constitutional validity of the Constituent Assembly which had written the draft constitution. Since the assembly had been formed by a parliament that had been dissolved by court order, it was expected that the assembly too would have been pronounced invalid. Islamist demonstrators converged on the court grounds through the night and besieged it so that the judges were unable to reach the court. The judges could not hold the court session; they issued a statement in which they described the day as a “black day for Egypt” and said they would not convene until its judges can operate free of “physical and moral pressure”. For many Egyptians, the Islamists were waging an act of terrorism not only against the court but against Egypt in its entirety.
To date, the SCC is besieged by Islamist demonstrators. Judge Maher al-Beheiri, the head judge of the SCC, made an attempt to go into the court last week following rumours that the siege had been called off, but found it still on and could not access the court. But what was further upsetting was that when Judge Beheiri called the police, he was told they could do nothing about the siege.
“Scaring” the media
The judiciary are not alone under Islamist siege. A sit-in held by thousands of Salafis in front of the Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC) in the west Cairo satellite town of 6 October extended for a full week and ended only on 14 December for the demonstrators to take part in the referendum on the constitution the following day.
The sit-in had been held in response to calls by the Salafi leader Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail, who had been disqualified from the Egyptian presidential elections on grounds that his mother held a US citizenship, for purging the independent media of anti-Islamist media figures.
Abu-Ismail said that Egyptian media organisations are corrupt and encouraged people to attack the State’s elected institutions. The sit-in turned into a siege when the protestors allowed no-one to go into the EMPC unless they had checked their IDs, and threatened to storm the buildings. They drew a black list of prominent media figures—including Emad Adeeb, Wa’el al-Ibrashi, Mona al-Shazli, and Ibrahim Eissa—and threatened to assault them.
The media as villain
Gamal Saber, the spokesperson for the protesters and coordinator of the Hazemoun Movement, a movement which derives its name from that of Hazem Abu-Ismail later said that “storming the EMPC was only a threat. We just wanted to scare the corrupt media persons who directed their corrupt pens against President Mohamed Mursi and the Islamists, in an attempt to show that the Islamic project led by Mursi is failing.”
“The private media is the chief impediment to the conclusion of the Islamist project, as it intentionally smears our image,” Saber said.
Mustafa Abdel-Moneim, a member of the Salafi calling, said the Media Production City represents the source of evil in Egypt; and that most TV shows broadcast from inside the city attempt to show Islamists as terrorists. “As a matter of fact,” he said, “we are here to protect legitimacy, while liberals and remnants of the old regime are attempting to topple the President who was elected by 13 million Egyptians.”
The demonstrators agreed that once the draft constitution is adopted, they would have powerful State institutions able to stop “corrupt media figures”.
Despite all that rhetoric, the decision to end the sit-in, according to coordinator-general of the protest Walid Haggag, was made in order to “grant full opportunity to TV channels to cover the two phases of the referendum without pressure”.
Almost a month earlier, a crisis erupted between the satellite TV channel Dream TV and the Media Ministry which halted the network’s broadcast in Egypt through the State-owned NileSat, on grounds that it was illegal for the network to televise in Egypt from anywhere outside the EMPC.
Media Minister Salah Abdel-Maqsoud denied that Dream TV’s political stance in opposition to the MB had anything to do with the decision. Many other channels that strongly criticised the MB were still operating normally from inside EMPC, he said.
Abdel-Maqsoud said that all satellite channels should also legalise their position, and that the
closure would not be restricted to Dream TV.
In media circles, the crisis at Dream TV was seen as a squaring of accounts between the MB and Dream TV, over a dispute which erupted not long before between the prominent MB figure Essam al-Erian and TV presenter Jihan Mansour. The closure was considered a warning to all media personnel to think twice before attacking the MB.
Dream TV general manager Mohamed Khedr described the decision to shut down the network as political thuggery.
Walid Hosny, owner of al-Tahrir channel said that the obstinacy of the successive presidents of the satellite operator company and the opposition of the post-2011Revolution media ministers Osama Heikal, Ahmed Anis and Salah Abdel-Maqsoud constituted the main obstacle to private satellite channels’ acquiring necessary permits and license. This has a direct effect on narrowing the circle of free and unbiased media, he said.
It took Dream TV a few days to prove their papers and permits were all in good order, after which it was allowed to resume broadcasting, this time from inside Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC). But the message was clear: those in the media who did not tow the line stood to pay a price.
The National Front for the Liberation of the Media (NFLM) expressed extreme concern at the EMPC siege by Abu-Ismail and his supporters; also of the threat to media figures.
The NFLM denounced the apathy of the police who took no action whatsoever to stop President Mursi’s supporters from terrorising his opponents and, as in case of Black Wednesday (5 December) in front of the Presidential Palace, killing them. The NFLM demanded that the Minister of Defense, General Abdel-Aziz al-Sisi should intervene to protect the EMPC and defend the freedom of media and the people’s right to know what goes on around them.
“The Islamist threats are both true and serious,” the NFLM statement stressed. As evidence, it
reminded of Black Wednesday and how the Islamists had no qualms about torturing and killing peaceful protestors. Throughout the last two weeks, the Islamists also assaulted and seriously injured three prominent opposition figures: Abul-Ezz al-Hariri, Hamdy al-Fakharani and Mohamed Abu-Hamed.
The NFLM insisted that they had definite information that the Guidance Bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood has plans to harass the members of the opposition once the constitution is passed. This includes arresting heads of opponent political parties, movements and NGOs; closing down satellite channels that stand against the Islamisation or Ikhwanisation (Ikhwan is Arabic for Brothers) of Egypt; and dismissing judges who oppose Islamistation. This plan would practically put an end to all real opposition in Egypt.
23 December 2012