When they took to the streets in 2011, Egyptian protesters demanded greater freedoms, including free elections and freedom of speech. Now that President Hosni Mubarak is gone and the so-called Arab Spring has ushered in the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi, has the expectation of greater freedom to speak out been realized? Apparently not.
According to a new report from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, an Egyptian group, not only have press freedoms not improved with Morsi, they’ve deteriorated.
In fact, the report says the government has set a new record in the number of lawsuits filed for insulting President Morsi, a tool used to intimidate journalists.
The number of cases filed against reporters under Morsi is four times the amount filed under deposed President Hosni Mubarak. It’s also a whopping 24 times greater than those filed under the late President Anwar Sadat, who was gunned down by Islamic extremists in 1981 for signing a peace treaty with Israel. If accurate, the numbers are even more glaring considering Mubarak ruled for 30 years, from 1981 to 2011.
The report says Morsi’s government has filed more such suits than did all other Egyptian rulers since 1909 when insulting the king was criminalized, adding bluntly, “a new record has been set.”
Al Ahram provides examples of reporters who have been harassed in this way:
Members and sympathisers of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which President Morsi hails, have allegedly used the accusation to intimidate opposition figures in the media.
In early January 2013, Islamist lawyers filed a lawsuit against political satirist Bassem Youssef for 'undermining the standing of the president' after he poked fun at President Morsi's speeches and put his image on a pillow. The charges were dropped before the case reached court.
In December 2012, the president's office accused psychiatrist Manal Omar and TV host Mahmoud Saad of insulting the president on the latter's programme Akhir Al-Nahar. They discussed the psychological effects of suppression and jail on those in power, with reference to President Morsi who spent seven months in jail during the Mubarak era and was detained for three days during revolution.
And it looks like the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to export that approach overseas. Daily News Egypt reports that the Egyptian embassy in London filed a suit against the Times of London for reporting that Iran was advising the Muslim Brotherhood on how to create an intelligence service independent of the Egyptian military. It reports, “The complaint was made on the grounds of the violation of newspaper standards and accuracy.”
According to Al Arabiya, the human rights group’s 12 page report was released Sunday and focused on harassment of the press during Morsi’s first 200 days in office.