Amid growing concerns that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is monopolizing power, a former U.S. government official warns that the Islamist group’s approach to the media is “reminiscent not only of the Mubarak days but of Iran and Cuba.”
“Human rights groups in Egypt have condemned a recent clampdown on media critical of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood amid concerns the new Islamist government is starting to imitate the practices of Hosni Mubarak, the dictator ousted by a popular uprising last year,” writes the FT’s Heba Saleh in Cairo:
Al-Faraeen, a television channel owned and largely hosted by Tawfik Okasha, was taken off air for 45 days and warned it could be closed permanently. The authorities also temporarily stopped production of al-Dostour newspaper and slapped a travel ban on its editor-in-chief, Islam Afifi, as well as on Mr Okasha.
On Monday, the state prosecutor referred both men to trial in a criminal court on charges including insulting Mohamed Morsi the president, spreading false rumours and inciting violence.
“We note that these attacks have come at the same time as statements from the president’s office and from leaders of the Freedom and Justice party [the Brotherhood’s political wing] which have warned against criticizing the president. These statements implicitly give a green light to attacks against media freedom using legal and security methods,” said a joint statement by eighteen human rights groups.
Journalists and rights groups also protested at the censorship of an op-ed in Al-Akhbar, another state-owned paper, after senior writer Abla al-Ruweini refused to delete a reference to “the Brotherization of the press” in an article critical of the Islamist group.
“Recent developments suggest that the Brotherhood is committed not to a free press but to the kind of press that Hosni Mubarak had: supportive, uncritical, and controlled by the ruling party,” writes Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations:
Al-Dostour has been accused of sedition and of “harming the president,” charges reminiscent not only of the Mubarak days but of Iran and Cuba. And the actions against Al-Dostour are only the tip of the iceberg: Last week the Shura Council, the upper house of Egypt’s parliament, named new editors for the country’s 50 state-run newspapers despite protests from journalists and their union, who wanted a freer press. Here is the analysis from the Atlantic Council in Washington:
The union accused the Muslim Brotherhood–dominated Shura Council of trying to regulate state-owned media in the interest of their party, earning a comparison to Hosni Mubarak and the National Democratic Party’s (NDP) stranglehold on the press.
The appointments also come shortly after President Mohamed Morsi named a Freedom and Justice Party (FJP [the Brotherhood’s party]) member, Salah Abdel-Maqsoud, as his new Minister of Information. The announcement dashed the slim hope that the archaic propaganda ministry would be abolished, one of the many unfulfilled demands of the January 2011 uprising. The latest moves highlight a concern that the FJP aims to take control of state media outlets, put an end to unfavorable reports about their officials and instead ensure a press more sympathetic to the dominant party.
“We may not be able to prevent that, but we ought to see what is happening and call it by its proper name,” Abrams suggests – a power-play by the Brotherhood.
“They are following in Mubarak’s footsteps and trying to buy loyalty,” said Sayed Mahmoud, literary editor of the online al-Ahram:
Traditionally, the state press in Egypt has functioned as the mouthpiece for whoever is in power. Although some criticism of the ruling establishment, if not of Mr Mubarak himself, was in the past tolerated in government newspapers, editors had to demonstrate their loyalty by writing pieces praising the president’s decisions
“The difference is that under Mubarak, a degree of professional and administrative ability was required, and then loyalty was bought after the appointment was made,” Mr Mahmoud said.
The Brotherhood’s consolidation of power is raising fears about the integrity of the country’s democratic transition.
With his weekend presidential decree, Morsi conferred on himself the prerogative to form a new parliament if an administrative court orders the dissolution of the former assembly in hearings scheduled for 24 September.
“This is very dangerous and warns of a new phase where powers will be concentrated in one hand and decisions will be made in a very dictatorial way,” Justice Tahani al-Gebali, vice president of the Supreme Constitutional Court, told Egypt Independent.
Any new assembly should draft a constitution in three months from its date of formation, and the final outcome should be put to a public referendum within 30 days, read Morsy’s declaration as written in the official Egyptian Gazette, which publishes new laws.
“This means that now the Brothers have all the powers, whether inside the existing Constituent Assembly or in any future one, in case Morsy decides to form a new one,” complained Bahey el-din Hassan (above), director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
“As a matter of democratic principle, the concentration of political power represented by President Morsi’s constitutional decree is wholly objectionable,” Michael Wahid Hanna, a fellow at The Century Foundation, writes in Foreign Policy:
These actions are even more objectionable coming as they do in the midst of a transition that will define the parameters and fundamentals of a new political and constitutional order. As a result of the self-granted authority to appoint a new constituent assembly if the current body fails to produce a constitutional draft for ratification, Morsi will have vast coercive authority to influence the drafting of the constitution. In light of the decisive role of his Muslim Brotherhood colleagues and other Islamist allies on the assembly, the work of the current assembly could be intentionally undermined in the hopes of a more compliant body selected by the president. While political constraints might curtail the practicability of this threat, it nonetheless might influence the contours of discourse and debate within the assembly.
“Furthermore,” he adds, “the domineering approach of the Muslim Brotherhood to the transitional period and their exercise of political power should give pause to those beguiled by assurances of inclusion and broad-based political consensus.”
The Project for Middle East Democracy adds:
Morsi Meets Ahmedinejad During Saudi Summit
President Morsi arrived in Saudi Arabia for an international summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Mecca. Morsi will give a speech at the summit ahead of Egypt’s role as the new head of the organization for the next three years. On the agenda for the summit are Syrian and Palestinian issues as well as the fears of persecution of Muslims in Myanmar. On Monday the OIC suspended Syria’s membership, a move that Iran staunchly opposed. Meanwhile, President Morsi met Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmedinejad for the first time at the summit. An anonymous source told the media that the two leaders may hold a meeting during the summit. Ahmedinejad’s vice president visited Egypt earlier this month.
Morsi Awards Medals to Dismissed Generals
On Tuesday, President Morsi awared medals to Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi and Chief of Staff Sami Anan and praised the two in a speech. Before being pushed into retirement by Morsi in a decree on Sunday, Tantawi and Anan were the country’s top two generals having headed the military for years. Tantawi, who held the position of defense minister since 1991, was awarded Egypt’s highest state honor, the Nile Medal and Anan received the State Medal.
Sources “Egyptian president shown awarding medals to ex-generals ,” Egypt Independent (English) 8/15/2012. “Egypt’s Morsi honours retired military brass Tantawi and Anan,” Ahram Online (English) 8/14/2012. “Egyptian president awards dismissed generals medals,” Aswat Masriya (English) 8/14/2012.
The Project on Middle East Democracy is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.