Egypt newspapers to go on strike Sunday

A dozen opposition party and independent newspapers have announced they will not appear next Sunday to protest the government's new press laws: these include not only the predictably anti-government weeklies such as Al Sawt Al Umma (whose editor Wael Al Ibrashi was recently put on trial) and the Nasserist Al Arabi, both on which normally come out on Sundays, but also independent newspapers in some cases backed by businessmen close to the regime, such as Nahdet Misr and Al Alam Al Youm (both owned by Emad Adib, who ran the PR for Mubarak's re-election last year) or Al Masri Al Youm, which is financed by a several apolitical but well-connected businessmen. The bizarre weekly that is Al Osboa -- in some ways cozy with the security services, but stridently critical of the regime in other respects -- is also joining in, as are lesser tabloids such as Adel Hammouda's Al Fagr. I suppose that for press barons, it's easier to allow a strike that doesn't cost them much then upset editors and journalists.


These journalists are protesting the doubling of libel fines and the government's refusal to put an end to prison sentences (up to two years) for libel, which President Mubarak had promised to scratch in 2004. A few days ago the head of the Upper House of parliament, Safwat Al Sherif, said something along the lines that the president's promise did not oblige the government to comply, which surely is the first time any Egyptian politician suggests that the president is not a man of his word or that his word is of no consequence!

The government has backed down ever so slightly by agreeing not to only dole out suspended prison sentences (rather than full ones) to journalists who revealed the financial details of private individuals, which won't be enough to appease journalists. The Journalists' Syndicate, meanwhile, is furious and its board is threatening resignation among complaints that its head, Galal Aref, is not being aggressive enough in defending the syndicate's interests. Predictably there are internal splits along the lines we saw in the Judges' Club, with a more pro-government wing accusing others of politicizing the press.

All this, of course, should be seen in the context of a wider crackdown on the press after the opening of 2005. Journalists are not likely to give up their new-found freedom so easily, so we can expect more imprisonments and crackdowns to come as the regime hammers its u-turn on the press in. It now seems that the regime is going to make sure to lock up or minimize all avenues of dissent ahead of the coming transition from Mubarak to his son, or whoever else.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.