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EGYPT: Handcuffing the media?

July 14, 2008 |  7:38 am

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The disclosure of an alleged draft bill that would grant the Egyptian government wider authority in controlling the media and silencing political opponents, including Facebook activists, has drawn quick condemnation from journalists and human rights groups.

The bill, which was leaked to the independent daily newspaper El-Masry El-Youm, would give the government of President Hosni Mubarak control over all visual and audio transmissions in the country, as well as on the Internet. It stipulates that the media should respect "social peace, national unity, citizenship, public order and morals" -- vague terms that journalists view as an attack on freedom of expression. El-Masry El-Youm reports that Parliament will deliberate the bill in the fall.

"The law aims at shutting up all mouths; it is a law to terrify, intimidate, control and destroy," wrote prominent broadcast journalist Tarek El-Shamy in independent daily El-Dostour. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights condemned the bill as "a new step to violate freedom of opinion and expression."

The government has not commented. However, government supporters contend that the bill aims at regulating rather than restricting the media.

Earlier this year, Egypt and Saudi Arabia sponsored an Arab League resolution to restrict private satellite channels, which in recent years have reported on uncensored news viewed as threatening to authoritarian Arab regimes.

The Egyptian bill would tighten the government's grip on the Internet, which has become an influential outlet for political opponents. In May, a Facebook activist was arrested for calling for a national strike against the Mubarak government. Mubarak's young detractors host several groups on the Facebook network that peddle biting criticism supported by mocking cartoons of the 80-year-old president. Some of their slogans: "I hate Hosni Mubarak," "Hosni Mubarak Lovers. Oh, Pardon Haters." 

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Facebook users condemn government attempts to regulate cyberspace. "Egypt has become like a big prison with no food, no water and now they want to forbid us from talking. This is not acceptable, we have to take a stand," wrote a Facebook activist commenting on the bill.

Bloggers are also in jeopardy. The bill would give the government leeway to crush the blogsphere. Over the last three years, Egyptian bloggers have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with by breaking all taboos and exposing beatings, harassment and serious human rights violations allegedly carried out by the state.

— Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo (top): Picture posted on a Facebook group condemning the law. The Arabic reads "No to shutting Egypt up."

Photo (bottom): Al Jazeera.

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