​ Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is alarmed by the roundabout nationalization of four independent media outlets – two daily newspapers and two websites – that is currently under way in Egypt. It is the government’s new method for seizing control of media with supposed links to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

The two newspapers, Daily News Egypt (DNE) and Borsa, and the two websites, Masr al Arabiya and Bawabat al Qahira (Cairo Portal), are the targets of a three-stage nationalization that began in mid-August.

In the first stage, the targets are added to a list of persons or entities suspected of supporting or belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood (now treated as a terrorist organization). On the basis of the blacklisting, the banks then freeze their assets, which starves them of funds and prevents them from continuing to operate.

In the final stage, the targeted media outlet is placed under the administrative control of the state-owned newspaper Akhbar al Youm, which relaunches it.

The freezing of the accounts of individuals or companies placed on the government blacklist takes place without reference to any court. It is conducted in a purely administrative fashion by the committee in charge of seizing and managing the assets of those accused of Muslim Brotherhood links.

This committee has seized the assets of thousands of persons without any prior judicial investigation or decision.

“Unconstitutionally freezing the accounts of media owners or the media themselves and putting a governmental media outlet in charge of running them is tantamount to forced nationalization and clearly endangers their editorial independence,” RSF said.

Nationalization by proxy

This procedure constitutes “nationalization by proxy,” said Khaled el Balshy, the editor of the opposition website Al Bedaiah and fonder of the Freedoms Committee, which defends journalists’’ rights. “Some of these media, such as DNE and Borsa, recently rejected takeover bids,” he said. “Now they are being controlled in another way."

Before this roundabout nationalization of four of the remaining independent media outlets, businessmen linked to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government and the intelligence services embarked on a campaign of media acquisitions that indirectly allowed the regime to tighten its grip on the media.

Daily News Egypt is an example of how the public sphere keeps on gradually being closed in Egypt,” said Amira el Fekki, one of this English-language daily’s editors. “Like others, it was wrongfully classified as an organization with a political bias towards a certain group, an accusation randomly used to create hostility towards independent media.”

Historically, DNE adopted a neutral stance towards the government, while opening its pages to investigative reporting, including coverage of extra-judicial executions. DNE and Borsa are owned by Business News, a company whose leading shareholder, Mostafa Sakr, suddenly found his name on the list of those whose accounts were to be frozen in December 2016.

The following month, DNE stopped putting in context the interior ministry’s positions on combatting terrorism. The frequency of its interviews with government opponents also fell sharply.

This new prudence did not however suffice to prevent the websites of DNE and Borsa from being blocked as part of an online censorship campaign. Access to more than 400 sites is now blocked, including RSF’s site.

Baseless accusations of support for the Muslim Brotherhood are used as partial grounds for blocking media websites, said Adel Sabry, the editor of the blocked website Masr al Arabiya, one of the four media outlets that are about to be taken under Akhbar el Youm’s wing.

Egypt is ranked 161st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Published on
Updated on 13.09.2017