In a New Republic, Freedom of Press is in Peril

It has been two years since the Egyptian people took to the streets to protest the corrupt and autocratic rule of their former president, Hosni Mubarak. With the help of the smartphones and the Internet, dissidents swarmed into Tahrir Square, confronted loyalist opposition, and eventually forced Mubarak to resign his post under threat of international intervention or a violent overthrow.

While the ensuing presidential elections strained Egyptian society—which operates under a culture historically unaccustomed to the notion of popular sovereignty—the growing political activity convinced many that the North African nation of 80 million was on its way to modernity and democracy. However, Muhammad Morsi, the victor of the presidential election, is a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a moderate right-wing party with a history  (albeit abroad) of limiting rather than propounding civil freedoms. True to reputation, over the past year and a half, this party has outraged Egyptians by enacting policies meant to severely limit the freedom of speech and freedom of press.

President Morsi has proved that Egypt's highest political office can be influenced by small special interest groups.

President Morsi has proved that Egypt’s highest political office can be influenced by small special interest groups.

In recent months, President Morsi, with the full backing of the Muslim Brotherhood, has stepped up his censorship policies. In early February, Morsi upheld a one-month national YouTube ban allegedly out of fear that anti-Muslim videos on the site would incite angry rioting from Egyptian Islamists. Never mind that during the Arab Spring and the Egyptian presidential elections YouTube had served as a key medium for political discussion and advertisement.

Morsi has also struck out against the Egyptian free press; several political talk show hosts, including Mr. Bassem Youseff (also known as “the John Stewart of Egypt”) have had lawsuits filed against them for supposedly speaking critically of the Brotherhood. Now many news networks are being faced with the choice of whether to submit to what protesting journalists call “Brotherization”  or risk being shut down entirely.

The Muslim Brotherhood is only able to justify their actions by citing the new Egyptian constitution’s anti-sedition laws. This constitution—a document drafted soon after Morsi took power—was rammed through parliament by a Muslim Brotherhood majority despite protests by a majority of Egyptian voters.

Although there have been four times as many federal lawsuits filed against journalists in the past two years than there have been in the previous thirty, a majority of the work being done to challenge Egyptian journalistic freedom has been done at a much lower and more intentionally subversive level. The Muslim Brotherhood has, in multiple instances, employed police forces and even armed thugs to help obstruct journalists reporting on the more recent anti-brotherhood protests in and around Tahrir Square. Allegedly to improve Egyptian national morale and unity, these journalists have been barred from the recent spate of crime scenes where politically charged attacks have left many secularists and moderate Muslims injured or dead.

Perhaps Morsi is simply trying to instill a sense of stability into Egyptian society. Perhaps the Muslim Brotherhood does indeed support the free exchange of political ideas over the latest social mediums. Perhaps these issues are simply the birth pangs of a successful new Arab republic. For now, the international community can only look on and hope that the Morsi government leads Egypt to the heights of democracy rather than back into the depths of unshakable autocracy.

 

— Mac Zech, World News Editor

Posted by on April 25, 2013. Filed under World News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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