THEIR VIEW: Free press is under attack

Published on Thursday, 28 November 2019 18:31
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As Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has stifled the country’s media in recent years, one organization has stood out for its continued independence and valuable reporting. That is the website Mada Masr, which appears in Arabic and English. Though the government has blocked it in Egypt for two years, it is still accessed by Egyptians using tools such as VPN connections, and it is closely read by diplomats, journalists and government officials outside Egypt.

A good example of why came on Nov. 20, when Mada Masr published a blockbuster storyabout Sissi’s son Mahmoud, who has been a senior official in the powerful General Intelligence Service. Mahmoud el-Sissi, the report said, would soon be reassigned to the Egyptian embassy in Moscow because of “his failure to properly handle most of the responsibilities assigned to him.” The son’s incompetence, Mada Masr said, “had significantly harmed the public image of the president and his family and constituted a threat to the stability of the administration.”

The regime’s reaction to this scoop came when one of Mada Masr’s senior editors, Shady Zalat, was arrested. Another squad invaded the offices of Mada Masrand, after confiscating phones and laptops, detained its editor in chief, Lina Attalah, and staff members Mohamed Hamama and Rana Mamdouh. The officers refused to identify themselves but almost certainly represented the same intelligence agency that employed the president’s son.

The four journalists were released and so far have not been charged with any offense. But the intent of the detentions is clear - to punish and intimidate a group that still dares to report on the most repressive government in Egypt’s modern history. The raid came amid what Mada Masr has described as the largest arrest campaign in five years. According to human rights groups, more than 4,000 people have been rounded up since the eruption of anti-government demonstrations Sept. 20. Mada Masr has doggedly reported on the repression, which has touched political opposition activists as well as lawyers, academics and journalists.

Now the most prominent independent media organization is the target. “We are often asked how we’re still able to work through the years of crackdown and pressure that have forced most media into closure or clear alignment with those in power,” Attalah said in an article posted on the site Saturday. “Journalists have no protection other than the integrity of their work and the value that others place in it. We are all in danger, and if we do not stand up, we will all be their prisoners.”

The U.S. government ought to be foremost among those standing up for Mada Masr. Sadly, the journalists can expect little from President Donald Trump, who has described Sissi as his “favorite dictator.” But Congress, which must sign off on the more than $1 billion in U.S. aid Egypt receives annually, has leverage. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., spoke up Monday, tweeting that the raid on Mada Masr was “an unacceptable attack on the free press and what is left of Egyptian democracy.” Others should follow his example.

The Washington Post

Posted in New Britain Herald, Editorials on Thursday, 28 November 2019 18:31. Updated: Thursday, 28 November 2019 18:33.