Saturday, January 4, 2014

Egyptian Journalists at the Crossroads

By Rabin Man Shakya

Generalissimo and press freedom are antagonistic to each other. When generals rule the country, the Fourth Estate is always fragile to the caprices of the generalissimos. That is what happened in many military regimes in Africa and Latin America and in countries like Pakistan and Myanmar and that is what is happening right now in Egypt.

According to New York Times news story datelined January 1, 2014, "Egyptian prosecutors on Tuesday ordered three detained journalists from the news channel Al Jazeera English to be held in custody for 15 more days, on charges that include belonging to a terrorist group and harming the country's reputation abroad.

The NYT story went on: "Four journalists from Al Jazeera were arrested on Sunday, and one, an Egyptian cameraman, was later released.  Prosecutors began interrogating the three remaining in custody, including the bureau chief, Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian citizen, Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer."

In many countries, threats and attacks to journalists mainly come from the corrupt tycoons, underworld dons and political organizations. But it looks like the scenario is totally different in case of Egypt where journalists are vulnerable to the idiosyncrasies of the generalissimos.

Ever since long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power by a popular uprising and then the democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi was removed from power by the generalissimos, Egypt  has always been in political turmoil. The activities of the Egyptian generalissimos have posed and still posing serious threat to the independent journalism in Egypt.

Press freedom which is a hallmark of a pluralistic and civilized society is now vulnerable to the generals in Egypt.It looks like the Egyptian generals are solidifying their grip  on power. The dictators and generals hate the free press. There is no doubt the generals will not allow the free press to flourish in Egypt.

Yes, Egypt is a deeply polarized nation, but this should not be an excuse for generals to stick to power. Democracy should be restored and generals should pave the way for the elected government. Democracy cannot sustain itself without an independent press. By the same token, press freedom and freedom of expression can be guaranteed only in a democratic society.

According to the independent media reports, several Egyptian journalists from both the English-and-Arabic language services have been detained since former president Morsi's ouster, and two Al Jazeera Arabic journalists have remained in prison for months.

The harassment and detaining of the Egyptian journalists is outrageous and unacceptable to the civilized world. As long as the generals stay in power, Egypt will always be in the grip  of tense stalemate in its media sector.

Therefore, even though the long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak was toppled couple years ago, the independent Egyptian journalists are not safe and secure. As a result, couple years after the spring revolt, Egyptian journalists are still stuck at the crossroads of military regime and democracy.

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