Prominent show canceled as Egypt moves to monitor Internet use

New York, June 2, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by reports that a popular Egyptian TV host has taken his show off the air, citing harassment. CPJ is also disturbed by reports that Egyptian authorities are moving to monitor social media.

Bassem Youssef announced today in a press conference that he had taken his show, “El-Bernameg,” off the air permanently as he and broadcaster MBC Masr have faced pressure and harassment, according to news reports. He did not specify the source of the harassment, but the move comes as more than a dozen journalists are in jail and dozens more been detained and released, according to CPJ research.

Youssef said he had refused to “water down” the content of his show and that the “present climate in Egypt is not suitable for a political satire program.” He said he has refused offers of airing the program from outside Egypt, according to media reports.

“El-Bernameg” stopped broadcasting in the run-up to the presidential elections held last week, according to news reports. It was supposed to resume on Friday.

Youssef and his show gained prominence after President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011. The show criticized the Egyptian government’s institutionalized control over editorial content. In subsequent years, Youssef has been pressured to cancel or delay broadcasts several times and, at one point, he was the subject of a criminal investigation that accused him of insulting former President Mohamed Morsi. CPJ honored Youssef with its International Press Freedom Award in 2013.

“A series of Egyptian governments have tried and failed to silence Bassem Youssef,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “The fact that he now chooses to censor himself is a resounding vote of no confidence in the likelihood that the next administration will support and foster freedom of expression.”

In a separate case, the Egyptian daily Al-Watan on Sunday published what it said was a leaked document from the Interior Ministry. The document urged tech companies to propose software for monitoring social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, that the Interior Ministry could use to search for evidence of criminal activity.

Subsequent news reports analyzing the document said that it called for monitoring posts that, among others, may include “degrading and acerbic ridicule, slander, insult, and demonstrations, sit-ins, and illegal strikes.”

Protests and social media campaigns erupted in Egypt following the Al-Watan story, news reports said. Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim responded to the outcry by saying authorities simply wanted to monitor security issues, such as terrorism, manufacture of explosives, and assassinations, according to reports.

“The government is raising the banner of anti-terrorism, but the signs point to a wider crackdown on political dissent in social media,” CPJ’s Mansour said.

In a vote last week, former Army Chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi was elected in a landslide victory, according to preliminary results published by state media. The official results will be announced on Tuesday, according to news reports.