Egyptian Newspapers Protest Govt Clampdown

gamal-mubarak.jpg

(Gamal Mubarak, son and likely succesor to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. MSNBC Images)
[Correction: According to Tarek Mounir, an Egyptian journalist, press freedom activist and member of the Egyptian Press Syndicate who has contacted me, there is no board member of the Egyptian Press Syndicate named Ahmed Enany, and the Reuters article i cited in this post has made a mistake. Thanks Tarek.]

Behind much of the rising tension between independent newspapers and the Mubarak regime is popular anger over Mubarak’s indefinite rule and the likelihood he will appoint his son Gamal Mubarak as his successor. The Mubarak regime is lashing out, and was pushed to its limits two months ago when the Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Dustour published two articles speculating that the 79-year-old leader was either dead or seriously ill. Such a scenario forced the inevitable question about Mubarak’s succession — but how mad could they be over this? Mubarak is no spring chicken and they will have to address this issue one day when his death is no rumor. Al-Dustour’s editor Ibrahim Issa faces up to 3 years in prison if charged over the articles.

I’m currently reading Fouad Ajami’s The Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation’s Odyssey (1998) and there is a good excerpt about the nature of Mubarak’s rule, in particular in regards to the critical year of 1993 when he opted for a third presidential term, breaking his pledge that he would limit himself to two terms in office. Nobody writes like Ajami does:

A healthy measure of the regime’s legitimacy seemed to vanish overnight in the aftermath of that third presidential term. That keen eye for the ruler’s foibles now saw all Mubarak’s defects. He had hung around too long. An inarticulate man, he had never bonded with the country. The national elections he presided over became increasingly irrelevant. Worse still, Mubarak ran afoul of his country’s sense of propriety by refusing to designate a successor or help develop a process of orderly succession. His two predecessors, much larger historical figures with far greater claims to political legitimacy, their personal histories deeply intertwined with their country’s never dared go that far. Supreme in the political domain, Nasser always ruled with a designated successor in place, and Sadat had chosen Mubarak in homage to generational change. Mubarak had no claim to inheritance when Sadat picked him from a large officer corps; it was Sadat’s will that made him. In contrast, Mubarak ruled alone…

(Reuters) — More than 20 independent and opposition Egyptian newspapers refrained from publishing on Sunday to protest what they call a government crackdown on press freedoms.An Egyptian court last month sentenced four newspaper editors to one year in prison for defaming President Hosni Mubarak and his politician son, drawing condemnation from human rights groups. “Independent newspapers have gained some space over the past few years but Mubarak is trying to roll that back,” said Hisham Kassem, former publisher of independent paper Al Masry Al Youm and the English-language Cairo Times.”A clear position has been taken within the independent papers that it won’t be accepted.”

The White House last month said it was concerned about what it called setbacks on press freedom and civil society in Egypt. The Egyptian government dismissed the criticism as unacceptable interference in internal affairs.

“We are calling on the government to implement the promise of President Mubarak to end the imprisonment of journalists,” said Ahmed Enany, board member of the Egyptian Press Syndicate.

“The government should not scare journalists and should let them work in a free environment.”

Egypt has stepped up what many critics say is a campaign against independent newspapers over the last month.

Some analysts have linked the cases to possible plans for a transfer of power from Mubarak to his 43-year-old son Gamal, who denies having presidential ambitions.

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