Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Egyptian paper Al-Dustour sacks editor amidst signs of growing repression of the press

The independent Egyptian daily Al Dustour has fired its chief editor, an outspoken government critic. It happened amidst what journalists are calling a state crackdown on the media ahead of parliamentary elections.The dismissal of Ibrahim Eissa (picture), which was announced in the paper on Tuesday, comes less than two months before parliamentary elections.
Eissa had long been a vocal critic of the government. Last month he was pulled from a popular talk show he hosted on a private satellite TV station. The Journalists' Union condemned  it  as "an organized attack on media freedoms."
Before his firing from the newspaper, Eissa warned of a government campaign against any criticism in the media, especially in light of approaching elections."The Egyptian regime cannot give up cheating in elections, so the only solution for the authorities is to stop any talk about rigging, rather than stopping the rigging itself," Eissa wrote in an editorial in Al-Dustour on Sunday. "So the result is the silencing of satellite channels ... and then the turn of the newspapers will come."
Al-Dustour reported on its website early Tuesday that the paper's mogul publisher El Sayed Badawi fired Eissa on Monday. Eissa later told the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV that he was told by the publishers they were firing him because they are under government pressure over his writings. "They want us to shut our mouths and be silent," he said.
Journalists at the paper issued a statement saying that they rejected Eissa's dismissal. "Without Ibrahim Eissa the paper will be tasteless, colorless and odorless," said the statement posted on the paper's website.

El-Badawi, a businessman who heads the opposition Al-Wafd Party, bought Al-Dustour in August shortly after he was elected to the party post. At the time, there was speculation he would fire Eissa in a move that would bring him and Al-Wafd closer to the government.
Al-Dustour has been sharply critical of the government and often breaks political, social and religious taboos in commentaries on Egyptian society. In 1999 it was shut down by the censors for seven years. In 2008, Eissa was sentenced to two months in prison on charges of insulting Mubarak after he reported about the president's health, but Mubarak later pardoned him.
The first sign of the latest media crackdown came in early September, when private and opposition newspapers were ordered to pull reports of a street poster campaign supporting the powerful intelligence chief Omar Suleiman for president. Journalists and editors were barred from writing about the story in subsequent issues and the posters were removed.
The question of who will succeed Egypt's ruler of almost 30 years has gained added urgency since Mubarak traveled to Germany earlier this year for surgery to remove his gallbladder and a benign growth in the small intestine.

Another program, the 12-year-old "Cairo Today" was also shut down Monday. Like Eissa's talk show, it was broadcast on a private satellite TV network. Information Minister Anas el-Fiqqi told The Associated Press the closure of Orbit TV's "Cairo Today" had no political dimension and was only because the network had not paid its bills, though officials from the station have disputed that.

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