Two years after an Egyptian editor’s disappearance, no answers and few details

New York, August 11, 2005—
The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed its dismay today that an Egyptian editor is still missing two years after his disappearance in central Cairo. CPJ urgently called on Egypt’s government to locate Reda Helal, deputy editor for the semi-official daily Al-Ahram.

Colleagues said Helal left Al-Ahram‘s Cairo offices early the afternoon of August 11, 2003. A doorman at Helal’s apartment building on Qasr al-Aini Street in central Cairo reported seeing the editor return home later that day, according to news reports. But when the doorman and a food deliveryman arrived at Helal’s door soon after, there was no response and the door was locked, the reports said.

Family members reported the disappearance to Egyptian police, but the circumstances remain unknown. Egyptian authorities have said they have no suspects, although details of their official inquiry have not been made public.

“It’s shocking that a journalist can simply vanish in central Cairo,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “And it’s discouraging that after two years, authorities are providing no answers.”

Helal, 45 at the time of his disappearance, was known as a liberal writer who was critical of Arab nationalism and Islamism. Unlike most Egyptian columnists, Helal supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and backed Egypt-Israel relations. Still, his final column offers few clues about his disappearance and does not appear to be particularly controversial.

His last commentary, titled “The Crisis of Democracy in the Arab World” and published on the eve of his disappearance, criticized elections in the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate, a professional organization. The column used the election to draw a broader critique of Egyptian democracy, saying even free and fair elections can bring to power “non-democrats, whether they are Islamists or fascist nationalists.”

A group calling itself the Egyptian Islamic Jihad said in a recent e-mail that it had killed Helal in 2003. But journalists and rights activists have cast doubt on the veracity of the claim, noting the e-mail was sent long after Helal’s disappearance.

Said Cooper. “The Egyptian government should make public details of its inquiry into this matter and do everything in its power to locate our missing colleague. The failure to do so can only have a chilling effect on press freedoms in Egypt.”

Helal is among 20 journalists whose disappearances since 1982 may have related their work.

Read CPJ’s list of missing journalists.