There's No Free Press in Egypt

December 16, 2009

That’s some bad timing U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey had last week.  Speaking at a public conference in Egypt, Scobey declared that “Egyptians are very free to speak out. The press debates so many things.” She then implied human rights organizations are free to investigate human rights abuses.

Activists call for the release of imprisoned Egyptian blogger Karim Amer
Activists call for the release of imprisoned Egyptian blogger Karim Amer

It didn’t take long for the Egyptian government to undercut the ambassador’s comments.  Today, Egyptian human rights activists announced their support for one of their own, blogger Hani Nazeer Aziz, when the government refused to implement for the fourth time a court order demanding his release from jail.  Aziz has been detained without charge at Borg AlArab prison since October 2008, activists say because the government wanted to silence his pro-democracy writings.

Scobey didn’t mention Aziz in her conference.  Nor did she mention arrested blogger Karim Amer, who is an Amnesty prisoner of conscience; nor did she cite a former POC Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, a journalist and blogger detained for more than a month in 2007 for denouncing torture ; nor did she mention novelist Musaad Suliman Hassan Hussein, known by his pen name Musaad Abu Fagr, who is a subject this month of Amnesty International’s Write-a-Thon.  Earlier this month, one of the most famous bloggers in Egypt, Wael Abbas, was convicted in absentia to 6 months in jail on charges of sabotage.

Let’s be clear: There is no freedom of the press in Egypt. The nearly three decades of State of Emergency powers continue to be used by the government to muzzle civil society.  Journalists, writers, bloggers and human rights activists in particular continue to be subject to arrest and harassment, often in the name of national security.

The question for Ambassador Scobey and the Obama Administration is whether it will continue to be complicit in this state of affairs.

When President Obama gave his historic speech in Cairo earlier this year, many activists welcomed the promise of change while noting that acts had to follow words. 2010 is almost here, and no real acts have been seen.  Ambassador Scobey’s bad timing would make a good time for the administration to show that the promise of the Cairo speech will be translated into policy and action.