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Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Egypt

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1998
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Egypt, February 1998, available at: [accessed 21 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Despite explicit constitutional guarantees of a free press, Egyptian authorities use a variety of tactics to hinder investigative journalism and muzzle reporting on sensitive domestic issues. Government officials and their family members often bring seditious libel and other lawsuits against newspapers in response to allegations of corruption. In one noteworthy example, Magdy Hussein, editor in chief of the bi-weekly Al-Sha'b – a muckraking journal which has led a crusade against official impropriety – was the target of several suits brought by Interior Minister Hassan al-Alfi and his sons. On September 10, a court suspended the publication of Al-Sha'b for three issues because of its coverage of a pending libel suit initiated by the minister against five Al-Sha'b journalists. The move reportedly marked the first time in Hosni Mubarak's 16-year presidency that authorities closed an Egyptian newspaper.

The prosecutions of Hussein and Al-Sha'b underscore the threat Egyptian law poses for the opposition press. Despite the government's revocation of a draconian press law in 1996, journalists remain vulnerable to prosecution under a host of highly interpretive charges – including "inciting hatred," "violating public morality," "harming the national economy," and offending a foreign head of state. These charges carry prison sentences of one to two years. Individuals charged with libel offenses face a maximum prison sentence of one year, and in cases where public officials are involved, journalists are subject to up to two years in prison. Fines reach as high as 20,000LE (US$5,900) for each offense.

Officials imposed three media blackouts in September and October: the first banning all local and foreign coverage of the libel suit between al Alfi and Al-Sha'b; the second, the military prosecution of individuals implicated in a deadly attack on tourists in Cairo; and the third quashing reports on the investigation of a Cairo prostitution ring allegedly involving noted Egyptian actresses.

Authorities continued a long-standing pattern of harassment and censorship of the English language-weekly The Middle East Times. Thomas Cromwell, the paper's editor and publisher, was expelled from the country on August 22, after Egyptian police detained him for three hours upon his arrival at Cairo International Airport and informed him that he could not re-enter the country. The Ministry of Information censored at least nine stories in the paper that dealt with such topics as discrimination against the Coptic Christian minority and the activities of outlawed Islamist groups. In recent years, CPJ has documented numerous instances of government harassment of the newspaper, including censorship of news articles and the outright confiscation of issues in response to what the government has viewed as unfavorable reporting on domestic issues in Egypt.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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