Egypt: The Untouchables

Commentary

Egypt’s independent, nongovernmental press is trying to cope with government regulations that stifle freedom of speech and deny the public access to balanced news coverage. Last month some newspapers decided to write about Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his son, Gamal. Most of what was written was old news to the average Egyptian — Mubarak’s health is a serious question, and he is grooming his younger son, Gamal, to succeed him.

But what happened afterwards is the real news. The government sued all those independent newspapers and in less than a month, a verdict was in effect to jail 11 Egyptian journalists, five of them editors-in-chief. Last week nearly two dozen Egyptian newspapers struck and suspended publication to protest the jailings.

The latest crackdown on Egypt’s liberal media came soon after the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood movement. It sent a clear message to the Egyptian public that all forms of opposition, even peaceful ones, will be treated the same, although the amount and type of repression inflicted on different opposition groups may vary.

Mubarak has been in power since October 1981. He was re-elected in 2005 in a highly controversial election boycotted by most influential opposition parties. As a newly re-elected president, Mubarak then promised transparency and power-sharing and assured the wary public there is no plan whatsoever to appoint his son as a successor.

In no time, however, Gamal Mubarak was appointed head of the policies committee, which makes him in reality the second most powerful figure in Egypt. And he began to draft and dictate the country’s domestic and foreign policies as well.

As a friend of mine said, “Mubarak’s family owns the land of Egypt so they have every right to manage it their way. They are untouchables.”