Substantial setback for press freedom in EgyptNew York, April 13 2011- A new requirement by the Egyptian military that local print media obtain approval for all mentions of the armed forces before publication is the single worst setback for press freedom in Egypt since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in February, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.The director of the Morale Affairs Directorate of the Egyptian military, Maj. Gen. Ismail Mohamed Othman, sent a letter dated March 22 to editors of Egyptian publications demanding that they do not "publish any (topics, news, statements, complaints, advertisements, pictures) pertaining to the Armed Forces or to commanders of the Armed Forces without first consulting with the Morale Affairs Directorate and the Directorate of Military Intelligence and Information Gathering, as they are the authorities specialized in reviewing such issues, [in an effort to] ensure the security and safety of the homeland." CPJ has received a photocopy of the letter, and Human Rights Watch reviewed it and confirmed its authenticity.
Last night a journalist friend said a SCAF general had told him that "you can say anything you want in the press, as long as it does not have an impact on the military or the Egyptian citizen." Sounds familiar? That was basically the policy under Mubarak after 2004, when the press could attack the president but these attacks were not allowed to have a political impact. That didn't work out too well, did it?
To be fair, the military has always been a taboo topic in Egypt, even after the partial liberalisation of the media in 2004. What the SCAF generals don't seem to realize is that a lot of taboos are being broken at the moment, and there is an unprecedented thirst for information.