Prosecutor-General Nabil Sadek took media circles by surprise on Saturday when he summoned Editor-in-Chief of Al-Maqal newspaper Ibrahim Eissa for questioning.
The prosecutor-general’s office said Eissa was summoned “following a complaint lodged by Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal on 1 March, for directing insults against parliament and MPs”.
The office said independent lawyer Samir Sabri had also filed a lawsuit against Eissa, accusing him of “publishing false news that might undermine national security and public peace”. Sabri’s complaint; referenced an article in Al-Maqal comparing the situation in Sinai with that in Syria and Iraq.
Eissa was released on Sunday on LE5,000 bail pending investigation. Eissa, who denies the charges against him, said human rights activist Hafez Abu Seada and lawyer Negad Al-Borai attended the questioning session with him.
On 28 February MP Mustafa Bakri accused Eissa in a plenary session of attempting to undermine parliament by tarnishing its image. He cited an article in Al-Maqal suggesting parliament should have received an Oscar for the best cartoon, adding that “Eissa claims the security apparatuses have now taken control of parliament, an allegation which represents a big crime against the people and MPs alike.”
During the session Abdel-Aal said he agreed with Bakri’s call for investigation, arguing that Eissa has become addicted to insulting parliament. “I decided that all the insults in Eissa’s article in Al-Maqal be referred to the prosecutor-general for investigation,” the speaker said. “The insults in Eissa’s article are a crime and deviation from press freedom.” Bakri’s attacks opened the way for other MPs to criticise journalists. Mortada Mansour, chairman of Al-Zamalek Sporting Club, said any newspaper questioning the dignity of parliament should be referred to the prosecution.
“Al-Maqal alleged that parliament has become a cardboard institution, that MPs were selected by the security apparatus and they should be called the president’s deputies,” said Mansour. “Such insults are not a part of press freedom. They are simply rudeness. Those who do not respect parliament should be hit with old shoes until they learn to be polite.”
Abdel-Aal pointed out that when elected MPs swore to respect the constitution and the freedom of the press. “But Eissa knows no respect… the only thing he knows is insulting parliament.”
“I said many times that I respect the freedom of the press. The problem is that Eissa has become interested only in attacking parliament.” It was for this reason, said Abdel-Aal, that he filed a complaint against Eissa.
Abdel-Aal refused Bakri’s request that parliament also file a complaint against Ahmed Al-Sayed Al-Naggar, board chairman of Al-Ahram, over an article published on Al-Ahram’s Arabic website pointing out grammatical errors made by the parliament speaker in his speeches. In a plenary session on 27 February Abdel-Aal had accused “Al-Ahram Establishment, which receives money from parliament” of “tarnishing parliament’s image”.Within days Abdel-Aal backtracked, saying that he fully respects Al-Ahram because of its “balanced and reasonable coverage” of events in Egypt and abroad. Abdel-Aal insisted there were no corrupt members of parliament. “This parliament is a democratically elected institution more than ready to rid itself of corrupt elements.” As speaker, Abdel-Aal said he was determined to safeguard parliament’s reputation.
Editor-in-Chief of Al-Ahram Mohamed Abdel-Hadi expressed surprise at Abdel-Aal’s attack on Al-Ahram. In a front-page article on 1 March he wrote that he was saddened that a lawyer like Abdel-Aal would exploit his influential position as speaker to attack the media.
“Abdel-Aal is fully aware that exploiting his position as parliament speaker to attack the media is an abuse of power,” wrote Abdel-Hadi.” That Al-Ahram is a public sector establishment does not mean it is not independent. The constitution guarantees the independence of public sector press organisations as they pursue the national and public interest.”
Journalist Abdel-Mohsen Salama, a candidate for chairman of the Press Syndicate, told Al-Ahram Weekly that he was shocked by Abdel-Aal’s anti-press comments.
“It is worrying that the speaker of parliament is so nervous he quickly moves against press freedom,” said Salama. “Some state officials continue to think the national media should somehow be prohibited from voicing any kind of criticism.”
On his Facebook account, board chairman of Al-Ahram Ahmed Al-Sayed Al-Naggar accused Abdel-Aal of arrogance.
It is not the first time Abdel-Aal has denounced what he sees as anti-parliamentary bias in the press. In August he threatened legal action against the privately-owned Al-Qahera Wal Nas satellite channel for providing Eissa with a platform to attack parliament. In January Eissa’s talk show with the channel was stopped.
Eissa resigned as editor-in-chief of Al-Tahrir newspaper in 2015 after it was bought by former Mubarak-era businessman Akmal Qortam.