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EGYPT: Opposition newspaper sacks chief editor, reporters strike in protest

October 5, 2010 | 11:58 am

ALeqM5gCH6M3pIU4aLecif-DgvVo0MsTCQIbrahim Issa, one of Egypt's most colorful editors and a constant irritation to the ruling party, was fired from his independent Al Dustour newspaper in a dispute with his new publisher over whether to print an article by Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize winner and leader of a national political reform movement.

The sacking comes amid recent speculation over Issa's future in the month since Al Dustour was acquired by two businessmen, including Sayed Badawi, a media mogul and head of the Wafd political party.

Despite its status as an opposition party, Badawi's Wafd is more moderate than Issa and many opposition parties when it comes to attacking the President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party. Under Issa's management, Al Dustour has frequently published news about ElBaradei's emergence on the Egyptian political scene last February. Al Dustour has similarly published opinion columns which were written by members of the politically banned Muslim Brotherhood group.

"I was informed of the [firing] decision hours after a phone call with the new owners, in which they asked me to stop the publishing of an article written by Mohamed ElBaradei in the memory of the Oct. 6th war," Issa said. "I rejected their request, so they asked me to hold back the article for two days.... Hours later, I was stunned by the sacking decision."

Issa's dismissal coincides with his departure from the television show "Baladna Belmasry," which was aired on the private channel ON TV. While Issa cited his focus on newspaper work as the reason for leaving the show, the Egyptian Journalists' Union accused the government of closing the program as part of its crackdown on media critical of the regime ahead of the November parliamentary elections.

"It is no coincidence that the two shows have stopped," said Mohamed Abdel Qudous, head of the freedoms committee at the Journalists' Union. "As for the rest of the programs and talk shows, the owners were given orders to tone down."

Elections for Egypt's lower parliamentary house, the People's Assembly, are scheduled for the final week of November.

Known for his ferocious criticism of Mubarak's rule, Issa was sentenced to one year in prison in 2006 for running an article about a lawsuit filed by a citizen against Mubarak, accusing the president of misusing public money. The sentence was later reduced to a fine of a few hundred dollars.

In 2008, Issa was sentenced to two months in jail for "publishing false information and rumours" when he wrote in 2007 that Mubarak's health was deteriorating. The editor was spared prison by a presidential pardon.

ElBaradei's article and news stories condemning the firing of Issa were published on the paper's online version by Al Dustour's angry staff members, who sounded their dismay at the sacking by going on strike.

"We, Al Dustour reporters, strongly reject Issa's sacking. We reject the new owners' destructive way of running the paper. It shows that it was previously planned to oust our colleague Issa and terminate Al Dustour's experience," the statement read.

The reporters added that they will not take part in issuing any edition of Al Dustour without Issa's name on it. Badawi could not be reached for comment.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Ibrahim Issa. Credit: Amr Nabil / Associated Press

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