Egypt v. BBC? Press Freedom Threatened Ahead Of Elections

A file photo of TV news coverage in Egypt
A file photo of TV news coverage in Egypt
Rana Mamdouh

CAIRO — There are "forces of evil" that control Egypt's media outlets, according to a statement issued last week by Public Prosecutor Nabil Sadek. To protect "national security" and prevent "spreading fear throughout society," Sadek instructed public prosecutors and regulators to monitor media outlets and arrest anyone who disseminates or broadcasts false news.

However, it is unclear whom Sadek was referring to in his statement. And in the absence of clarity, media regulators and lawyers are left to speculate whether the term "forces of evil" is confined to the spat with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) over the critical report titled "The Shadow Over Egypt" on human rights violations in Egypt during President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's first term in office, or if it signals the beginning of a broader wave of future legal prosecution targeting journalists in the coming period in Egypt.

In his statement last Wednesday, Sadek wrote that certain media activities damage the public interest of the Egyptian state, and thus necessitate a legal response. The public prosecutor called on officials across media outlets and social networking platforms to inform the prosecution of any violations of the conventions of media and publishing.

The statement came hours after a call was issued by the State Information Service (SIS) to boycott the BBC, following the latter's publication of "The Shadow Over Egypt" by journalist Orla Guerin. That report details stories of torture, forced disappearances and activist arrests, and was accompanied by a short documentary film, Crushing Dissent in Egypt, which aired on BBC World and BBC News Channel on February 24 and 25.

The BBC report featured the case of Zubeida Ibrahim who, according to her mother's testimony, was forcibly disappeared by police authorities twice since 2015.

On Monday night, however, Ibrahim sat down for a nationally televised interview with media host Amr Adib, where she claimed that she had not been kidnapped or arrested. The episode was followed by a statement by the SIS falsifying the claims made in the BBC report, with Diaa Rashwan, the head of SIS, calling upon the British media outlet to apologize.

Head of the state-aligned Supreme Media Regulatory Council Makram Mohamed Ahmed asserts that the prosecution's statement was solely intended to apply to the BBC.

Ahmed tells Mada Masr that the BBC has refused to retract its "offensive" report, despite the "proof" provided by SIS falsifying the accusations. He describes Ibrahim's TV appearance as evidence that the BBC is "following an agenda that is aligned against the Egyptian state."

The head of the Supreme Media Regulatory Council continued to criticize the BBC, arguing that "it claims to be neutral, objective, and professional," but still uses the phrase "military coup against democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi" to refer to the events of June 30, 2013, arguing that, by doing this, the BBC ignores "40 million citizens who took to the streets during the June 30 revolution."

Let the prosecutor look himself.

However, human rights lawyer Negad al-Borai has a different interpretation of the public prosecutor's statement. "We are approaching a systematic campaign to silence what remains of media freedom," Borai says, pointing to a number of factors, including the timing and tone of the public prosecutor's statement, the SIS's calls to boycott the BBC, as well as the charges leveled against Strong Egypt Party head Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh for his interviews with "hostile" media outlets.

Last Wednesday's statement may indicate that the prosecution will take on an expanded police role, in Borai's eyes, one that is typically housed in the Interior Ministry. And although such a move is within legal bounds, monitoring media outlets does not fall within the general purview of the prosecution.

The rights lawyer says that this is the first time he has seen the prosecution ask its members to relinquish their powers of investigation in order to carry out arrests.

Ahmed asserts that the jurisdiction of the Supreme Media Regulatory Council and all other media bodies are limited to challenging the accuracy of content published by local and foreign media outlets in their coverage of Egypt, which includes reporting any violations. As for social media, Ahmed says that he does not know what the public prosecutor meant when he referred to "moderators of social media websites."

"Nobody in the world knows who is in charge of social media websites," he says. "I am not in charge of these websites. Let the public prosecutor search for them himself."

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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