New York, July 12, 2011—The reinstatement of Egypt’s Information Ministry that was abolished in February constitutes a substantial setback for media freedom in Egypt, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On Saturday, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), swore in the former editor-in-chief of the daily Al-Wafd, Osama Heikal, as minister of information. Tantawi asked Heikal to “reorganize the Egyptian media and draw up a plan that addresses all the shortcomings that came from abolishing the post of minister of information,” a military source told Agence France-Presse. The ministry and the post of information minister were scrapped in February, just days after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Doing away with the ministry–viewed by many journalists and press freedom advocates as the propaganda arm of Mubarak’s regime–was a key demand of members of the 18-day revolution that took place in January and February.
“Reinstating the Ministry of Information is an unambiguous setback for media freedom in Egypt,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “A government body whose primary function was to enforce media orthodoxy and punish dissent during decades of authoritarian rule is not a suitable entity to reform the media sector.”
On Sunday, the National Coalition for Media Freedom, an alliance that includes 13 human rights groups, research organizations, trade unions, and 20 media activists rejected the appointment, saying in a statement that it constituted “a step backwards with the liberalization of media policy and independence from the executive power, stressing that the Ministry of Information exists only in totalitarian states and dictatorships.”
The reinstatement of the infamous and unpopular ministry at this critical juncture is of particular concern. In recent months, the SCAF and other organs of the state, particularly military prosecutors and courts, have censored media, harassed journalists in an effort to intimidate and dissuade them from further critical reporting, and imprisoned at least one blogger for his critical writing.