SHUBHDA CHAUDHARY | 28 MAY, 2017
NEW DELHI: In an attempt to further squash press freedom, the Egyptian government has blocked the website of Mada Masr, an independent Egyptian news website on May 24. The government has also blocked 20 other such news sites along with Al Jazeera and warned them of legal action. These sites have been charged with ‘spreading lies’ as well as ‘supporting terrorism.’ A complete legal report including the charges against these media outlets has yet not been announced.
Since its very foundation in 2013, Mada Masr has acted final bastion for press freedom in Egypt by questioning the government strategies, revealing the conflicting domestic issues and reflecting on the fissures in the authoritarian society. Functional in both English and Arabic, Mada Masr is now also expecting immediate raids on its various publication offices. The Editor-in-chief of Mada Masr, Lina Attalah stated how the blocking of the website was initially considered an internet problem but it later became serious when the site lost accessibility from various other locations. Additionally, the team of Mada Masr has no idea how much of fight is involved in their survival and if there is a way to avoid the blocking.
It is still not certain if a very specific article led to the blocking. Nevertheless, Mada Masr has been carrying out investigating reporting on few controversial issues for the past few months and hence would have led to the blocking without any forewarning. The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement on May 26 asking the Egyptian government to stop these measures immediately.
The concept of online censorship evolved in Egypt since 2011 during the nascent phase of the Arab uprising. During that time, several journalists were arrested, detained and tormented. Even now 25 journalists are imprisoned in Egyptian jails awaiting their trial. The office of Al Jazeera had been closed down. In fact, internet access had been also curtained for the local population so that they could not assemble and protest in front of the Tahrir Square, a measure that definitely lacked in its impact.
Interestingly, the Egyptian police had also arrested members of various left political parties such as Bread and Freedom and Dostour, earlier this week. These arrests are witnessing massive media blackout. Mada Masr had reported about this form of police intimidation and how police arrests are taking place without arrest warrants. It is also a build-up to increase pressure over Dostour party so that they do not participate in the upcoming 2018 elections.
Thus, the confiscation and nationalization of press in Egypt is a warning sign. It reveals how deep-rooted the state machinery has become. Critical questioning, freedom of speech and expression and investigative reporting are being an alien concept for the Egyptian media. It’s quite difficult to predict if these measures would lead to further protests in the coming future or further act as a threatening tool to silence dissent. Definitely, it is a turbulent time for the free press in Egypt and shall continue to be so in the coming years.
(Cover Photo: A file picture of an editorial meeting at Mada Masr, a young journalists project to keep news independent of control)