Egypt is one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists. The hopes for freedom that sprang from the 2011 revolution now seem distant.
Pluralism is essentially non-existent in Egypt. Al-Akhbar, Al-Ahram and Al-Gomhuriya are the three most popular state-owned national newspapers. Independent media are censored and targeted by prosecutors. As for television and radio, their popularity has locked them into serving as loudspeakers for political propaganda.
Virtually all media are under direct control of the state, of the secret services or of a handful of millionaire businessmen with influence in ruling circles. By contrast, outlets who refuse to submit to censorship are blocked, as in the case of independent news site Mada Masr, inaccessible in Egypt since 2017.
Amid the government’s anti-terrorism fight, journalists are commonly charged with “membership in a terrorist organisation” and “dissemination of false information”. A 2018 law explicitly formalises surveillance of social network accounts with more than 5,000 followers. In addition, journalists have been subject to harsher sanctions since the Covid-19 crisis: “dissemination of false information” about the pandemic is punishable by two years in prison.
Egyptian media are in crisis partly because of the country’s economic situation. After the 2013 coup, the government tried to nationalise the entire press sector by creating new media financed and controlled by the government. The move seriously destabilised the industry. Journalists’ low salaries make reporters susceptible to corruption.
Egypt is a conservative country, run both by the army and the religious establishment. Issues involving the rights of atheists or homosexuals are especially sensitive, and media who deal with them may be accused of publishing material “in violation of the country’s moral code”.
Censorship, police raids, office shutdowns, arrests, sham trials, forced disappearances and arbitrary detentions are a daily reality for Egyptian journalists. Defamation campaigns against them are common, and they live under omnipresent surveillance. Authorisation is required for travel to certain areas, such as the Sinai and the Suez Canal.