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EGYPT: Journalists strike for return of editor at leading opposition paper

October 19, 2010 |  7:45 am

Egypt-editor-mRallying Monday night at the Journalists' Syndicate in Cairo, intellectuals, novelists, artists, opposition politicians and scores of Al Dustour journalists condemned what they called a crackdown on the media and called for Issa to be returned to his post.

"No Dustour without Issa," yelled reporters, who have been on strike since Issa was fired Oct. 4. 

Issa, one of the country's leading independent journalists, told the crowd that Al Dustour journalists' strike is a landmark in the history of Egyptian and Arab journalism.

"Al Dustour is much more than just a newspaper and its reporters are giving a great example of how they want to defend their honorable profession by refusing to work under the newspaper's current management and policies," Issa said.

The conflict began when Al Dustour was acquired in August by Sayed Badawi, a prominent businessman and head of Al Wafd political party, and his deputy Reda Edward. Despite being an opposition party, Al Wafd is known for its moderate stance toward the ruling National Democratic Party, which triggered speculation that new owners might soften the paper's editorials against the government.

Many regarded Issa's firing as an indication of just that and of the growing influence that politically connected businessmen have over media properties. "There is no financial freedom in a tyrant country like Egypt and no one can claim that there could be freedom of expression in an oppressed country," said Issa.

Al Dustour reporters were standing by their former editor: "Issa is the godfather of Al Dustour's experience, and no other editor is bold enough to secure us the same height of freedom we enjoyed under his management," Hazem Fouad told the Times.

Badawi and Edward have said that firing Issa was not a result of any disagreement over the newspaper's policy. But Al Dustour reporters believe that the new owners planned to oust Issa long before October.

"It was just a matter of time before Badawi and Edward got rid of Issa. The approaching elections hastened their decision but it was going to happen sooner or later," Fouad says.

Sacking Issa coincided with a number of events that are being regarded as a crackdown on Egyptian media one month ahead of the parliamentary elections. Five other satellite channels and a famous talk show by presenter Amr Adib, which occasionally criticized the government, were all stopped within the last two weeks.

The government cited contract violations with the state Radio and Television Union as the main motive for the closings.

--Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Ibrahim Issa. Credit: Agence France-Presse