“I want to send a message to the world; there is no need for defending honorable Egyptian journalists.” That’s what Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb said on World Press Freedom Day this year, speaking at Al-Ahram state newspaper. The same day, Al-Jazeera English Bureau Chief Mohamed Fahmy was roaring in an Egyptian court: “I want to defend myself, but I don’t know how!” He was later handed a seven-year prison sentence, and several of his colleagues also received jail time, in a sham trial.
This is the double face of Egyptian policy: try to appease the international community, arguing that the country is on track for democracy and justifying restrictive measures under an anti-terrorism banner, while at the same time showing zero tolerance for dissent or criticism. This approach is doomed to fail in the long run. In the meantime, we must continue to speak up and expose the contradiction.
On November 6, CPJ will release a documentary film, “Under Threat.” The film, produced jointly with See Media, an Egyptian production company managed by veteran journalists, shows the perils of working for Egyptian media across the political spectrum, examining killings and imprisonments of several journalists through personal testimony.
The film echoes Fahmy’s cry for help, but ends on a hopeful note from another jailed journalist, freelance photographer Mahmoud Abu Zeid, or “Shawkan.” The film offers no detailed look at how these journalists can be helped. That burden falls largely on those outside of Egyptian prison cells, and even outside of Egypt itself, given the increasingly oppressive environment within . That’s why today we are launching the hashtag #EgyptLastWord.
Nationwide acts of solidarity from Egypt’s polarized and beleaguered media are unlikely under President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s tight control. Last week, he explicitly instructed journalists to refrain from agitating the public, saying the media needs to “preserve the integrity of the Egyptian state.” On Sunday, the heads of 17 state- and privately-owned dailies announced that they have total confidence in the performance of state institutions and will refrain from publishing statements undermining them.
But individual and independent voices can still speak up and demand their own rights and those of their colleagues. If you are an Egyptian journalist, we want to hear from you. Tell us what you think and we will help convey your message to the world, so that al-Sisi’s government doesn’t get the last word on Egypt.
Here are some topics on which we’d like to hear from you, but please offer your opinions free from pressure. What can a press freedom organization such as CPJ do to help incarcerated journalists inside Egypt? How can we achieve justice for the journalists who have been killed? What can you and your colleagues do to support your peers?