Is the Egyptian revolution a revolution of the press?

by Esther Wagner

Mubarak has been known to Egyptians, and to the world, as the president of Egypt for the last 30 years. For Egyptian journalists, however, the name also signifies a red line, a line not to be crossed. Through his rule, criticizing Mubarak and openly attacking the way he ruled the country was not an option for the majority of Egyptian journalists. While freedom of speech might not have been as truncated in Egypt as it was in many Gulf countries, ‘Mubarak’ was certainly not a name to be dragged through the mud.

Today, we live in a time where everything seems possible: dictators are brought down by the people they “controlled”; the military leaders of Myanmar seem to be warming up towards the idea of granting their citizens more rights; after the death of Kim Jung Il, even North Korea might get a chance to leave its past and start with a clean slate.

Still, there remains strong evidence to be wary of early celebration. In a time where anything seems possible, freedom of the press should be one of the easiest things to attain.  With this said, can we possibly talk about a revolution that has taken place in the Egyptian media sphere over the last 12 months, or did the revolution stop dead in its tracks before entering Egypt’s printing and publishing houses?

Once we get a closer look at the state of freedom of the press in Egypt, the picture we get has quite a sobering effect on our previously exhilarated idealistic minds. One thing becomes clear: with Mubarak gone, the red line of today’s news reporting has shifted to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), the ruling military council of today’s Egypt.

Within the last few weeks, the prominent talk-show host Reem Maged along with her guest Hossam el-Hamalawy, a known activist and journalist, appeared before SCAF, being accused of having portrayed lies about the military council. Maged and Hamalawy had expressed concern that the SCAF, who tries to portray itself as going hand in hand with the people and protecting the revolution for their own good, had actually physically attacked protestors.

While this recent public stunt was certainly done for the public eye, not only local journalists and activists fall victim to the SCAF. Only last Saturday, the Australian journalists Austin Mackell, along with his Egytian translator Aliya Alwi, was arrested by military officials while covering a general strike in the city of Mahalla.

Joseph Mayton, an American journalist, commented on the case of Mackell and Alwi in the following article from bikyamasr.com: “Now, my colleagues are being taken to a military prosecutor and could face an illegal military trial for doing their job. For attempting to show the world the truth. This is the face of SCAF. They have lost all credibility and their stalwart attempts to paint foreigners, and especially journalists, as the enemy of the revolution, must come to an end. […] Without their removal from power, journalism is dead; the revolution is dead.”

If one were to argue that this article so far has been solely based on observations and subjective experiences, here is a number that should make Egyptians as well as the rest of the world worry: According to the latest Press Freedom Index issued by Reporters Without Borders, since the beginning of the revolution, Egypt has fallen 39 places and now lands on rank number 166, on par with countries like Cuba.

It is time that Egypt again protects the right of its citizens and most of all, journalists who seek the truth, who question the institutions and certainly those who disagree with the institutions.  It is time for a revolution of the press.

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