Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, the direction of the Middle Eastern revolutions this year has been a concern. Attempts by the new governments to shut down media coverage of demonstrations suggest that freedom of the press cannot be taken for granted. Without law and order, the future of the Arab revolutions is in question.
Conditions in Egypt have from the beginning been among the most troublesome. And now the violent mob attacks on the Israeli embassy in Cairo over the weekend have spurred a new round of trouble for the local and international press. It is no coincidence that violence against the embassy of the Middle East’s only true democracy should go hand in hand with attacks on freedom of the press.
Ironically, it is reporting of the atrocious violence against the Israeli embassy that seems to have caused the Egyptian authorities most concern, not the attacks themselves. Egyptian police has come under criticism for its passivity. In return, according to Reporters without Borders, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has threatened to clamp down on all journalists “threatening social peace.” But the reporters are hardly a threat to the peace here. The particular target, as it has been for Egyptian authorities from day one, is Al-Jazeera Mubasher Egypt, the Egyptian Al-Jazeera affiliate.
“We fear a security clampdown in Egypt, with the use of all the provisions of the state of emergency law to impose order and gag the media,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “We urge the Supreme Council to reverse the decisions taken in the past few days and to ensure that media freedom becomes a reality six months after Hosni Mubarak’s fall.”
A raid on the station’s offices were carried out Tuesday by culture ministry and public broadcasting agency personnel and members of the security services. Using an old well-worn totalitarian tactic, the security forces cited a lack of proper paper work and licensing and hauled off the mobile broadcasting equipment as well as a technician. The operation came just four days after the Supreme Council’s information minister temporarily froze all television licenses, accusing stations of “indiscipline”—not exactly a crime in an open society and actually an essential feature of most real reporting.
Reporters Without Borders also noted that the media and the public have been barred from the court that is trying former senior officials for ordering men on camels to charge protesters last February. Journalists have also been banned from covering the latest hearing in the Mubarak trial.
The U.S. State Department and the international community ought to come out strongly against the Egyptian assault on the elemental human right of freedom of expression. Egypt today is at a dangerous pivot point, and it shows disturbing signs of taking the wrong direction.