“Easier to be a Journalist in Syria than in Egypt”

Published: 4 February 2014

Country: Egypt

By Lorena Martínez

freeegyptiansThe number of reports of arrests, harassment, detention and prosecution of national and international journalists in Egypt, as well as, violent attacks, has increased considerably in recent months. Therefore some could argue that media has become one of the main targets of the Egyptian government.

“The latest salvo in a propaganda campaign by the state-run and pro-military news media” in Egypt is a leaked video showing the arrest of two journalists in December 2013, reports The New York Times concluding that “the goal is to paint the arrested journalists as part of a terrorist conspiracy”. Both journalists shown in the video are established correspondents who were working for the English language affiliate of Al Jazeera.

Peter Greste, is one of Al-Jazeera journalists detained on suspicion of broadcasting false news in the service of the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood. He sent a letter from prison asking “how you do accurately and fairly report on Egypt’s ongoing political struggle without talking to everyone involved. (…) The state will not tolerate hearing from the Muslim Brotherhood or any other critical voices. The prisons are overflowing with anyone who opposes or challenges the government.”

Many professional associations and media outlets such as CNN, BBC, Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) and others, have condemned the arrests and called the Egyptian government to put an end to their “arbitrary imprisonment” of journalists that are seen as spies or supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egyptians see a journalist as a traitor, someone who has an agenda and plot to destroy the country. The situation has deteriorated to the point that walking in the street with a camera is one of the most dangerous things”, explains Sergi Cabeza, a Spanish freelance journalist who has covered the Egyptian revolution since its beginning, during an interview with MDI team.

Journalists working in Cairo denounce the hostility and violent attacks they suffer not only from the security forces, but increasingly from civilians. Sharif Abdel Kouddous, correspondent for Democracy Now in Egypt, tells the story of an Italian journalist friend who was “surrounded by an angry mob that set upon him with fists and sticks after a man began screaming that he was a member of Al Jazeera”.

Cabeza says “it is easier to work as a journalist in Syria than in Egypt, at least it was before journalists faced to be kidnap.” He explains, “in Syria, the threat is a bomb, but you can walk in the street with a camera and you can interview anyone without being attacked. However, in Egypt you face huge hostility from the society.”

The government and its supporters say foreign media are distorting the situation in Egypt, which they argue is on the path to democracy. The Egyptian authorities have always sent the message that they seek a broad consensus, hearing and representing all the voices of society, in particular since they deposed Mohamed Morsi from the presidency last summer.

But the reports from Egypt claim that even tourists who take a picture of the Nile can be taken to the local police station because someone has confused them with journalists and reported them to the Egyptian authorities.

These incidents are just some among many that journalists in Cairo can tell. Kouddous says that these acts against media professionals “are direct result of a state-sponsored vilification campaign against journalists in general, and Al Jazeera in particulars.”

With the new anti-terrorist law, journalists are now prohibited from having or disseminating Muslim Brotherhood publications or recordings and face a possible five-year jail sentence if they violate the ban. “This prohibition and the arbitrary arrests of media personnel constitute grave threats to freedom of information in Egypt,” affirms Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Media professionals asked the Egyptian Minister of Information if interviewing a member of the Muslim Brotherhood would be considered a crime but they have not received a clear answer, although some examples incline the scale to an affirmative answer. A Dutch Journalist fled Egypt after she was accused of “fabricating news” and being mcabember of a terrorist plot, reports The Guardian. She states that she was targeted because of meeting Aljazeera journalists in Cairo.

Where the country is heading is not very optimistic. Cairo Institute for Human Rights reports that during the referendum coverage in January the Egyptian media “have stigmatised those who hold opinions that differ from their own” and “deliberately abandoned standards of diversity and balance, choosing instead to wholeheartedly support and leaving no space for opposition or ambivalent voices.”

The Egyptian regime has silenced those voices that are critical and dissident and allowed only those that support its actions. These practices towards media and journalists remind of the ones used in another conflicts such as Yugoslavia, where divisions in society aggravated and moderate and minority voices were excluded. Cabeza defines that the current situation is seen by the Egyptian regime as a picture in black and white, “either you are with us or you are against us.”

Related articles:

Egyptians in Need of More Responsible Media

Egyptian State Media Turns a Blind Eye on Protests Coverage

MDI Study on How Inclusive are Media in Egypt