According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in 2021 Egypt became the world’s third most notorious “jailers of journalists” with 25 journalists imprisoned in 2021. Egypt’s repression on journalists emerges from the government controlled press and broadcasting structures put in place to repress political activism and liberatory journalism (Sakr, 2013). Imprisoned journalists such as Alaa Abd El-Fattah, Ahmed al-Bahy, and Bhaa Eldin Ibrahim have all been charged with the “spreading of false news” which exposes the strong grip of the Egyptian government and the military on the media.
The targeted journalists are independent reporters who, as Media Policy professor Naomi Sakr describes, deploy a “different breed of journalism” that aims to destroy the Egyptian propaganda machine controlled by the Arab Media elite. “Since 2016, the authorities in Egypt have subjected dozens of journalists and other media workers to a catalog of violations. Journalists have been arbitrarily detained on spurious terroism related charges or had their workplace raided (Amnesty International, 2020).” Imprisoned journalists not only include newspaper reporters but also radical activists who use a variety of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to publicize their political beliefs.
Alaa Abd El-Fattah defiantly held a hunger strike while detained in Tora prison located in Cairo, Egypt to protest the inhumane conditions he was being held captive in. El-Fattah, a prominent figure in the Egyptian pro-democracy movement is a political activist, blogger and software developer who is being held as a political prisoner for almost a decade. He was first jailed in 2013 for protesting the coup that brought current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to power. El-Fattah was granted temporary release in March 2019 but was re-arrested in September 2019 for posting a retweet and charged with “spreading false news.” In 2021, he was sentenced to a five year sentence that he is currently serving. However countless human rights organizations and the foreign secretary in the UK where he also has citizenship are denouncing his arrest and demanding the Egyptian government release El-Fattah.
Ahmed al-Bahy, a reporter for Masrawy, an independent news website, was arrested on April 15, 2022 for filming the execution of a young Egyptian man at the hands of police. Al-Bahy was warned by authorities not to publish the brutal encounter and despite complying with authorities, al-Bahy was still arrested on “inciting violence charges”. CPJ’s Middle East coordinator made the following statement regarding al-Bahy’s detention: “ “It has become the norm that Egyptian authorities shut down journalistic investigations into political and human rights issues and imprison journalists covering them. However, shutting down an investigation into a seemingly non-political incident marks a clear attack against the journalism sector in Egypt as a whole.”
Bahaa Eldin, Mohamed Said Fahmy, and Hisham Abdelaziz are Al-Jazeera journalists who were arrested between 2018 and 2020 on terrorism charges. Eyptian current president, el-Sisi accused the Qatar based broadcaster Al-Jazeera of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood a strong ally of former outsted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. “On July 3, 2013, the day that Egypt’s military seized power from Morsi, it raided the office of Al-Jazeera Mubasher, one of Al-Jazeera’s channels, to interrupt its coverage of pro-Morsi protests.” As a result, all Al-Jazeera journalists are targets, Fahmy, Abdelaziz and Eldin are only three journalists of many more journalists arrested in acts of retaliation because they work for Al-jazeera. The frightening steps taken by the Egyptian state of incarcerating journalists and wiping out entire broadcasting entities is a relentless act of suppressing not only freedom of the press but all freedom of thought and expression in the midst of a authoritarian rule.
Sakr, Naomi, Transformations in Egyptian Journalism (Oxford: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2013).