North Africa, West Asia

Egypt shuts down more media channels

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The vaunted reputation of the military-led government for neutrality is rather easily exposed, when we realise that the decision to close Al-Faraeen came only after Okasha's harsh criticism of both the Egyptian Defence Minister and the Minister of Information.

Ahmed Magdy Youssef
2 October 2013

Some Egyptians show concern, while others deem it necessary to restore order and rebuild a national sense of unity among citizens during these decisive, modernising moments in the history of Egypt! The decision of the military-led government to shut down media channels is not without sceptics and advocates.

On September 14, the privately-owned Al-Faraeen satellite channel was abruptly closed and the arrest of controversial TV anchor and station owner Tawfiq Okasha, ordered by Egypt's authorities. According to the London-based Asharq Alawsat newspaper, the channel was shut down for "violating the media code of honour, offending both January 25th and June 30th revolutions, and disturbing public peace."

Al-Faraeen channel was taken off the air last year for a 45-day period of suspension by an administrative court for inciting opposition  against the-then president Mohammed Morsi. But this time it is different.

It was patently obvious that the rather unprofessional Al-Faraeen and its owner, Okasha, had an ideological slant against the Islamists and Muslim Brotherhood group during president Morsi's rule and even after his "popular" ouster by the army's generals on July 3. That's why when Okasha returned to the screen, many hailed him as a national hero! But, this time Okasha's way of criticizing those who rule the country has backfired on him.

Only two days before having his channel taken off air on September 14, Okasha had attacked the Egyptian Defence Minister and armed forces chief general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, along with his Minister of Information Doria Sharaf al-Din. He even issued a statement commenting on his channel's closure, saying that this criticism might have contributed to Al-Faraeen's fate. Now, the same people who used to heap praises on Okasha for his bravery in criticizing the ousted president Mohamed Morsi, have failed to utter a single word on what has now befallen him and his channel.

Part of this silence has been prepared  by an earlier court decision to close another four television channels for, “insulting the armed forces ... and inciting foreign countries against Egypt.” Among the channels that went off air are the Muslim Brotherhood's own station, Ahrar 25, and Al-Jazeera Mubashir Misr, the Egyptian arm of the Qatari-funded network, along with two other Islamist channels, Al-Quds and Al-Yarmuk.

Soon after this court decision, Egypt's authorities raided Al-Jazeera’s offices in Cairo and expelled three foreign journalists working for Al-Jazeera's English language channel, claiming that they didn't have correct press credentials! In fact, the Egyptian officials laid the blame for shutting down Al-Jazeera Mubashir Misr at the feet of the Qatari-funded network's policy of only boradcasting Muslim Brotherhood protests against the government, and thus, spreading,  “rumours and claims that are harmful to Egyptian national security and threaten the country's unity."

On the face of it, the Egyptian authorities wanted to deliver an important message, that is: we don't only close channels with political views and stances different from ours, but the same policy applies to every single media platform that violates the media code of honour. In other words, though Okasha is known for his harsh criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood on Al-Faraeen's programming, this doesn't mean that the Egyptian authorities will turn a blind eye, once he violates the laws!

But this vaunted reputation of the military-led government for neutrality is rather easily exposed, when we realise that the decision to close Al-Faraeen came only after Okasha's harsh criticism of both the Egyptian Defence Minister and the Minister of Information.

But when the Egyptian authorities shut down Islamist-run TV stations after the overthrow of president Morsi on July 3, many Egyptians including the so-called elites, applauded this move. Yasser Fouad, a member of the Tamarrod movement, told Deutsche Welle that these channels were inciting unrest and violence. "I think shutting down these channels was to protect their personnel from the public uproar," he added. Fouad also pointed out that the case of Al-Faraeen is totally different from those Islamist channels. "Okasha has no influence; he is not regarded as a revolutionist, but those on the Islamist channels are very much adherents to the Islamists," Fouad elaborated. However, it seems that two months after this interview, Okasha has finally been regarded as a revolutionist!

When the Egyptian authorities raided Al-Jazeera Mubashir Misr's office in Cairo and confiscated some of its equipment in September 2011 during the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' reign, the April 6 Youth Movement harshly condemned the authorities. They  threatened to take legal action against the decision of the SCAF and cabinet to temporarily suspend the granting of new permits to satellite channels. The April 6 Youth Movement considered the raid on Al-Jazeera Mubashir Misr offices a "setback to the Egyptian Revolution". But, nearly two years later, when the same scenario is repeated, the April 6 Youth Movement too has decided to tone down its criticism and condemnation. Mohammed Moussa, the spokesman of the independent movement, reaffirmed the necessity of creating a media code of honour to be adhered to by everyone: "Only a court decision should be made to say a channel violates the media laws, not the mere personal opinions; as Al-Jazeera and Al-Yarmuk are very much inciting violence and there are other channels that incite violence as well, so there must be a media code of honour everyone adheres to."

It seems that the so-called elites who are regularly hosted on talk shows and television programmes, and who are shoring up the idea of detaching religion from the political and civic domains, are not only afraid of criticizing the military-led government and its controversial decisions, but, are ready to vindicate its most unwarranted actions, even if they harshly condemned the same actions not so long ago.

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