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Egypt: The Murder of Dissent

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On August 14, two young bloggers, Asma Mahfouz and Loay Nagaty, were arrested on charges of defaming Egypt's military rulers. In a blogpost that went viral on YouTube, Mahfouz called them a "council of dogs."

Both were referred to a military court. That prompted activists, as well as presidential hopefuls including Mohamed ElBaradei and Ayman Nour, to protest their being charged in a military court.

(To date, more than 12,000 Egyptians have been charged before military courts, whose use has become the subject of a major point of conflict and contention between the pro-democracy forces and the military council.)

The outcry of popular support for the two was deafening. It was particularly strong for Mahfouz, a 26-year-old university student who was well known as one of the founders of the April 6 movement and credited with major contributions to the incredible revolution that begin in Tahrir Square.

On August 18, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) caved to the will of the people and ordered the military prosecution drop all charges.

But other voices of dissent have not been so lucky. Bloggers are routinely arrested - and NOT released. Instead, they are scheduled for trials before military courts. The more traditional journalistic communities - newspapers, magazines, radio and television channels - expected that the overthrow of the Mubarak regime would open a new avenue to press freedom. And they are deeply disappointed since the country's military rulers have changed almost nothing to improve on Mubarak's hawk-eyed censors.   

One of the most revelatory of the military's attitudes toward press freedom came this week with the military council reactivating the emergency law. In effect under Mubarak for three decades, it gives the state security apparatus broad powers to arrest and detain, without charges, and with the victims having no access to lawyers or to their families.

As reported in The Guardian, journalists fear that this law, ostensibly reintroduced in the wake of the storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo, will be used to muzzle the media.

Earlier, the military council committed to annul the law by September -- this has always been central to the demands of the protesters.

The Guardian reported: "A day after the old law was re-introduced, police raided the offices of an Al-Jazeera affiliate, Mubasher Misr, and shut it down. Broadcasting equipment was seized and the station's chief engineer, Islam al-Banna, was arrested and detained overnight. The authorities also jammed the station's live broadcasts from another location, at the media production city, outside Cairo."

The Al-Jazeera affiliate began broadcasting in February. Its director, Ayman Gaballah, said it had been promised a license. But the license never appeared and Al Jazeera's staff say they were "repeatedly told by the ministry that they could go on broadcasting without a problem."

The Guardian reports that research by local representatives of the New York-based press freedom watchdog, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), indicates that this was merely a pretext to silence the critical broadcaster.

The nation's military rulers have now placed a "temporary freeze" on issuing broadcasting licences for new satellite television stations, the news channel Al-Arabiya reported.

Al Jazeera reports that hundreds of people have gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square to protest against the recent expansion of the Egypt's emergency law, amid palpable anger over the military's handling of transition from autocratic rule. Earlier this week, following a violent attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo and attempts to storm security buildings, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said it would enforce the Emergency Law at least until the end of this year, on articles relating to the spreading of misinformation, arms possession and interfering with traffic.

The highly respected Reporters Without Borders (RWB) organization says it is "very disturbed by information minister Osama Heikal's 7 September decision, after consulting with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, to temporarily freeze the granting of satellite TV licences to recent applicants without saying how long the freeze will last."

RWB also charged that Heikal threatened other TV stations, accusing them of indiscipline and saying he was asking the relevant agency to "take legal measures against satellite TV stations that jeopardize stability and security." He said the measures were needed to restore order to the "increasingly chaotic media scene" and because of "concerns over incitement to violence."

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WILLIAM FISHER Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)
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