A battle for freedom
Just two months in office and President Mohamed Mursi is facing demands to make good his pre-election pledge to protect the freedom of press, Mohamed Abdel-Baky reports
The appointment of a Muslim Brother as minister of information, the replacement of editors-in-chief of state-owned papers by the Islamist dominated Shura Council, and now the closure of a satellite channel and sequestration of a daily newspaper: is the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) simply replicating the tactics once used by Mubarak's National Democratic Party against its opponents?
On Monday, the state security prosecutor referred Tawfiq Okasha, head of Faraeen TV channel, and Islam Afifi, the editor-in-chief of Al-Dostour newspaper, to the Cairo Criminal Court on charges that include insulting the president.
Several complaints were filed earlier this month against Al-Dostour's chairman, the Coptic businessman Reda Edward, and Afifi, accusing the newspaper of insulting Mursi and inciting sectarian strife.
"It is an orchestrated campaign against the media by the Muslim Brotherhood. They want to silence any opposition to their policies," says Afifi.
Al-Dostour's 21 June issue ran a front-page article accusing the Brotherhood of planning a "massacre in Egypt" should Mursi, its candidate, failed in his bid for the presidency.
Although many activists are critical of Al-Dostour's editorial line, it is the judicial moves being taken against the paper that they condemn.
"Using the same laws Mubarak used to jail his opponents sends a clear massage. The FJP and the new president are waging a war against press freedom," says activist Negad El-Borai.
A few days before Al-Dostour was sequestered FJP lawyers filed a lawsuit against Faraeen, accusing Okasha of inciting Mursi's assassination. The authorities immediately halted all Faraeen transmissions.
Okasha, says FJP legal adviser Ahmed Abu Baraka, "resorted to the lowest means of delivering his media message" and used the channel to "take revenge on the Brotherhood on behalf of the ousted Mubarak regime".
In one broadcast Okasha had accused the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mursi of planning to "eliminate him" in one of the presenter's trademark rants.
"I am saying to Mursi: you are not my president, if you and your group have plans to waste my blood so your blood is free to be wasted. I have supporters everywhere who can wage a war against you and the Muslim Brotherhood," Okasha said on air on 6 August.
Demonstrations demanding the closure of Faraeen were immediately staged outside the Media Production City. Protesters prevented employees from going to work and the guests of other TV channels from reaching the studios and attacked Khaled Salah, editor-in-chief of the daily Al-Youm Al-Sabei and talk show hosts Amr Adib and Youssef El-Husseini.
The protesters refused to disperse until two programmes -- one hosted by Okasha and the other by Lamis El-Hadidi on the privately-owned CBC channel -- were taken off the air. Both programmes, they claimed, had spread malicious rumours about Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Following the attack Salah accused Brotherhood supporters of assaulting him and attempting to smash his car, and FJP head Essam El-Erian of encouraging party members to carry out the attacks.
On Thursday the Brotherhood denied any involvement.
"We encourage the journalists that have been attacked by the protesters to file complains with the prosecutor-general about the incident," said the Brotherhood's Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein, adding that any ensuing investigation would exonerate the group.
Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan insisted the whole incident had been fanned by the media which was intent on "fabricating crises".
Okasha, whose ultra-nationalist rhetoric has long caused outrage, turned his bile on Mursi and the Brotherhood following their electoral successes. Last month he branded Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi the "Muslim Brotherhood's man" on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). This week El-Sisi replaced Tantawi in Mursi's reshuffle of Egypt's top brass.
The latest Muslim Brotherhood's moves to close Faraeen are part of a longer campaign. In May the FJP lodged a complaint with the prosecutor-general demanding the closure of the channel on the grounds that it was being used "as a tool to defame, slander and commit crimes".
In January Faraeen was temporarily closed following a dispute over its licence.
Last week the FJP-dominated Shura Council announced the replacement of the heads of many state-owned publications.
Leading columnists with three independent newspapers left their columns blank in protest at the move which they say is an attempt to assert Islamist control of the press.
Press Syndicate board member Gamal Fahmi says a majority of journalists oppose the way the replacements were selected.
"The Shura Council has dominated the press for far too long. Journalists need to be freed from the pervasive influence of the ruling party," says Fahmi.
Press Syndicate Chairman Mamdouh El-Wali, a well-known Brotherhood sympathiser, insists the selection process was transparent.
"The committee responsible comprised 14 people known for their support of freedom of speech," said El-Wali.
Ragaai El-Mirghani, a member of the committee appointed by the FJP-dominated Shura Council, denied the Muslim Brotherhood played any part in the selection process.
He claimed the political views of candidates played no role in their applications which were judged solely on the grounds of the candidates' competence.
In March the Muslim Brotherhood's Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie attacked journalists, comparing them to the "Pharaoh's magicians" who "gathered to bewitch people and turn them away from the true faith".
Salah Eissa, secretary-general of the Supreme Press Council, a semi-governmental body, says it is now clear the Muslim Brotherhood is seeking to co-opt the independent press and impose its supporters on state-owned newspapers.
He warned that the renaissance of the Mubarak-era's policy towards the press would backfire and turn public opinion against the FJP. The Muslim Brotherhood, he added, had promised to foster democracy in Egypt if they were elected yet within less than eight weeks they have prosecuted two journalists and closed a TV channel.