A lurid account in a weekly newspaper alleging that some of Egypt's leading actors indulged in homosexual acts set the cat among the pigeons in the Press Syndicate, reports Gamal Nkrumah
Egypt's Supreme Press Council revoked on Monday the printing licence of an independent weekly newspaper Al-Balagh Al-Gadeed for publishing a story accusing actors of allegedly indulging in lurid homosexual acts. Besides, the prosecutor- general, judge Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, decided on Tuesday to refer Abdu Maghrabi, chief editor of the newspaper, Ahmed Fikri, executive chief editor, and Ihab El-Agami, the reporter who wrote the story, to trial on charges of publishing false news. The Sayeda Zeinab Criminal Court will start hearing the case on 14 October.
The Interior Ministry issued a statement refuting the authenticity of what was published and denied arresting any of the actors whose names were mentioned in the paper. The prosecutor-general, on his part, stressed in another statement that the prosecution did not conduct any investigation regarding such incident.
Ashraf Zaki, chairman of the Acting Professions Syndicate, praised the decree of the prosecutor-general and expressed his trust in the Egyptian judiciary.
Among the stars concerned is Nour El-Sherif, a highly respected veteran actor. According to the paper, the actors were ostensibly caught in flagrante at the Semiramis InterContinental Hotel, Garden City. The lawyer of Semiramis Karim Adel refuted the allegations of Al-Balagh Al-Gadeed. Other actors implicated in the affair included Khaled Abul-Naga and Hamdi El-Wazir.
"This has nothing to do with curbing the freedom of expression, this is sheer sensationalism and yellow journalism," Deputy Chairman of the Press Syndicate Abdel-Mohsen Salama told Al-Ahram Weekly. "The journalists concerned and the editor-in-chief of the paper were subjected on Wednesday to questioning at the Investigations Committee of the syndicate," he added.
"The Journalistic Practice Committee cannot permit fabricated information to be published. The rumour-mongers must be brought to book," Salama explained.
The paper, however, can still be published from abroad and circulated in Egypt. The weekly Al-Balagh Al-Gadeed is published in London, and, after all, the editor-in chief insisted in an interview with the Weekly that he will continue to publish relevant information, regarding not only this story, but other more pertinent issues pertaining to national security that he believes the public has the right to learn about. "These are public issues that need to be addressed, and only freedom of the press can guarantee that such issues are debated in public," Maghrabi told the Weekly. Moreover, he believes that certain officials deliberately leaked this particular story in order to deflect attention from far more serious issues.
"The interesting question is why was this incident surreptitiously slipped to the press? Why did an official leak it to my paper in particular? This is not the first time that officials have leaked such sensational news," explained Maghrabi.
"I suggest that the real reason for the slippage of the information by an official was deliberately to deflect attention from another far more important article that appeared in the same issue of the paper implicating top officials in the ruling National Democratic Party in cases of corruption, brutality and the abuse of authority," he claimed.
Maghrabi revealed that he has incriminating evidence. He insists that his source revealed in detail the intricacies of the homosexual incident. Al-Ahram daily edition stated that El-Sherif warned that he would sue for LE1 million in compensation for vilification and public humiliation. Semiramis also issued a public statement vigorously denying that it had hosted private parties for homosexuals.
There are obviously political motives involved in this particular case. There are many mysteries and cover-ups. "My dilemma is whether to come up openly and reveal my source. This is an ethical question," Maghrabi said.
He added that if he were going to be made a scapegoat then he would be forced to reveal his source. He hinted that the security authorities were involved, but would not name the actual source.
"The Press Syndicate and its Investigation Committee know all too well that I cannot be prosecuted twice -- by the Prosecution General and by the Disciplinary Committee of the Syndicate. Such action clearly contravenes Egyptian law," Maghrabi told the Weekly. "The issue is not whether or not some of our leading actors are homosexual -- their sexual orientation is a personal matter. What is of grave concern is the manner in which officials in mysterious circumstances deliberately leak personal information about high-profile individuals. And, what are we to do -- publish or not publish? Reveal our sources or keep mum?"
Of course, there was no one forcing Maghrabi to publish the rumours, however compelling or titillating. He could just stick to exposing public corruption and economic crimes. Perhaps he has learned a hard lesson, in the process setting a standard for Egyptian tabloid journalism a step higher than in the West, where such stories are a dime a dozen.