Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
29 March - 4 April 2001
Issue No.527
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Al-Shaab to take battle outside the courtrooms

After winning yet another appeal against the ban on Al-Shaab, editors of the Islamist-oriented opposition newspaper say they will escalate their campaign to force the government to respect the court rulings, reports Khaled Dawoud

Since the government-controlled Parties Committee decided late last May to suspend Al-Shaab, mouthpiece of the Islamist-oriented opposition Labour Party, the party's lawyers have won no less than seven court rulings ordering the immediate lifting of the ban. In one ruling after the other, judges have repeated that newspapers in Egypt can no longer be suspended by administrative decisions, saying such orders violate the Constitution and its stipulations emphasising freedom of the press.

Yet, by making use of legal loopholes and complicated procedures, government lawyers and the Parties Committee have gone to great lengths to delay implementing the rulings. Al-Shaab's editor-in-chief Magdi Hussein, who is also a member of the Press Syndicate board, strongly denounced the government's delaying tactics at a news conference a week ago. He claimed the decision not to allow Al-Shaab to make a come-back on the news-stands was primarily political and linked to the confrontation with Islamist groups.

Hussein's statements came on 22 March, two days after the Administrative Court ruled that the government's tactic of resorting to the lower courts in order to delay the implementation of the judgments issued in Al-Shaab's favour was illegal, and said that the newspaper should be allowed to reappear immediately.

Hussein said six opposition and independent weekly newspapers had declared their full support for Al-Shaab, and decided not to appear on their regular day as a solidarity gesture. He said Al-Haqiqa, one of a few newspapers issued by the decaying Liberal Party would start the campaign on Saturday 31 March. It would be followed by Al-Arabi, mouthpiece of the opposition Nasserist Party, on Sunday, and the independent Al-Osbou on Monday. Three newspapers which appear on Wednesday -- Al-Qarar, mouthpiece of the opposition Wifaq Party, the independent Afaq Arabiya and Hadith Al-Madina -- would also refrain from printing in solidarity with Al-Shaab.

The day after the Administrative Court issued its 20 March ruling, the Parties Committee met again and decided to continue imposing the ban on Al-Shaab. They claimed there were other cases before the courts investigating alleged violations by the leadership of the Labour Party. The Committee added that since the Labour Party was suspended, its mouthpiece Al-Shaab could not be allowed to print.

"They [the Parties Committee] want us to enter the same circle again, and appeal their latest decision," Fayrez Ali, a Labour Party lawyer, said. "But we are not stupid, and we are not going to do that. We have enough court rulings in hand ordering the return of Al-Shaab, and our mission is to force the government to respect those rulings."

Ali told Al-Ahram Weekly that the court cases Al-Shaab had won made a clear distinction between the Labour Party and its mouthpiece. "The rulings made it clear that the laws relating to the press are different from those concerning political parties. This means Al-Shaab should be allowed to reappear while the court case concerning the suspension of the party goes on in the courts."

Observers noted that neither the Wafd Party, considered Egypt's largest liberal opposition party, nor the leftist Tagammu' Party had joined the solidarity campaign with Al-Shaab. The Wafd Party is led by No'man Gomaa, who served until his election to the post last year as lawyer of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture, Youssef Wali. Wali was especially targeted by a fierce campaign which Al-Shaab launched more than two years ago against several top government ministers and officials. After a libel action was filed against Al-Shaab, a court ordered the imprisonment of the editor, Magdi Hussein, and two other journalists on the paper for periods ranging between one and two years. The leftist Tagammu', meanwhile, is considered the closest opposition party to the government in its hostility to the Islamist movement.

Opposition circles were hoping the government would show more flexibility towards Al-Shaab following the sudden death two weeks ago of the Labour Party's Secretary-General, Adel Hussein. Adel Hussein was seen as the architect of the alliance established between the Labour Party and the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood in 1987. It is this alliance that has permitted the Brotherhood a legal channel through which to air its views, particularly through the pages of Al-Shaab.

Al-Shaab's suspension by the Parties Committee was first ordered a few weeks after the newspaper led a heated campaign against the Ministry of Culture for printing a novel by a Syrian writer which they claimed contained phrases insulting to the Prophet Mohamed and Islam. Students at Al-Azhar University joined in the Al-Shaab campaign by holding violent protests during which they clashed with police.

Al-Shaab lawyers immediately appealed against the suspension, winning the case. However, the day before the first ruling was issued, in July, the Parties Committee met again and decided to dissolve the Labour Party, alleging violations by the party's leadership of the existing laws organising the activities of opposition parties. The lawyers appealed against that decision too, and again the courts said Al-Shaab must be allowed to reappear. The last tactic of the government lawyers was to seek the suspension of the verdicts in the lower courts. In an unprecedented ruling in September, the Administrative Court sharply lashed out at the government for resorting to this tactic while knowing in advance that the lower courts had no mandate to look into the dispute. Appeals of Administrative Court rulings should be taken to the Supreme Administrative Court, and not anywhere else, the court said.

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