14 - 20 September 2000
Issue No. 499
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Islamist mouthpiece remains closedBy Khaled Dawoud
In a precedent-setting sentence, the Administrative Court ruled on Saturday that a four-month-old ban imposed by the Political Parties Committee against Al-Shaab, mouthpiece of the Islamist-oriented Labour Party, should immediately be lifted. Presiding judge Magdi Agatti ruled that, according to the Press Law approved by Parliament in 1996, newspapers in Egypt can no longer be shut down by administrative orders.
Al-Shaab journalists hailed the ruling as a victory and declared that their publication would hit the newsstands again on Tuesday. However, government lawyers appealed the ruling at the Supreme Administrative Court, forcing the newspaper to remain closed in the meantime. The Higher Press Council explained that Al-Shaab is not allowed to appear while the case is being heard by the courts.
Following a fierce campaign by Al-Shaab against the Ministry of Culture in late April for re-printing a novel by a Syrian writer which the newspaper considered blasphemous, students at Al-Azhar University staged violent demonstrations and clashed with riot police. More than 50 students were injured, and five were sent to Germany on a presidential order to receive treatment for rubber bullet wounds.
The Political Parties Committee _ a semi-governmental body in charge of licensing political parties _ ordered in June the suspension of the Labour Party's activities and publications because of alleged internal divisions, with two men contesting Ibrahim Shukri's leadership. The Committee also requested the Socialist Prosecutor-General to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by the party's leadership. The party appealed the decision and won.
However, just one day before the ruling in Al-Shaab's favour was handed down on 24 July, also by Judge Agatti, the Political Parties Committee decided to dissolve the Labour Party and refer the alleged malpractices of the party's leadership to the Political Parties Tribunal. The accusations included changing the party's name from the Socialist Labour Party to the Islamic Labour Party, numerous financial irregularities, and forging an alliance with an outlawed group (the Muslim Brotherhood) If convicted, Shukri and other Labour leaders could face up to 15 years in prison.
The Labour Party announced an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood in 1987, and the two groups together contested the parliamentary elections under the slogan "Islam is the solution" in 1987, 1990 and 1995 without government objections.
Judge Agatti on Saturday said the Administrative Court had no jurisdiction to rule on the decision of the Political Parties Committee to dissolve the party and referred this section of the case to the Political Parties Tribunal. Yet, Agatti said the ban on the party's mouthpiece, the biweekly Al-Shaab, should be lifted.
"Banning newspapers by administrative orders violates the Constitution, which enshrines freedom of the press and expression, as well as Press Law No 96, approved by the People's Assembly in 1996. After the approval of this law, it became impossible for any administrative authority to ban newspapers," the judge announced. According to the Press Law, only the Supreme Press Council, affiliated to the consultative Shura Council, is empowered to ban newspapers on the authority of a court order, and not an administrative one.
Although Agatti's ruling was a big boost for the Labour Party and its leader, Shukri, the government's lawyers filed an appeal on Monday, which meant that Al-Shaab would not be able to resume publication soon.
"This is intransigence on the government's part. We should have been able to resume publication immediately," asserted Talaat Rumeih, managing editor of Al-Shaab. "The judge said the ruling should be carried out without delay, even if the government filed an appeal."
Rumeih alleged the government wanted to deprive the party of its newspaper during the upcoming parliamentary elections, which will begin on 18 October. Newspapers are an indispensable tool for opposition parties in their election campaigns because of the limited time they get to air their views and platforms on state-owned radio and television. Al-Shaab, which used to appear on Tuesdays and Fridays, also provided an opportunity to political Islamist groups to express their views at a time they continue to face an official ban on their activities.
The newspaper was also in the habit of launching fierce campaigns against cabinet ministers, particularly the interior and agriculture ministers, accusing them of corruption or advocating the normalistion of relations with Israel. Editor-in-chief Magdi Hussein is currently serving a two-year prison term after he was convicted of libelling Agriculture Minister Youssef Wali. Another journalist at Al-Shaab is also serving two years and its cartoonist is serving one year.
Labour in limbo 10 - 16 August 2000