Egyptian press revels in newfound freedom

Journalists enjoy more freedom after toppling of Mubarak regime; Egyptian papers focus on state security HQ raid, corruption cases.

By OREN KESSLER
March 8, 2011 02:14
2 minute read.
Egyptian shop owners read newspapers in Cairo.

egypt newspaper_311 reuters. (photo credit: Peter Andrews / Reuters)

 
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Since the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year regime nearly a month ago, Egypt’s press has undergone a revolution of its own.

The country’s media, freed from the government’s unyielding grip on the flow of information, has begun reporting stories that would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago. A substantial portion of the Egyptian press remains controlled by authorities, but the state of transition in which the government now exists allows journalists a freedom that their counterparts in other Arab countries can only dream of.

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Monday’s newspapers were dominated by three stories, according to a media roundup compiled by the independent newspaper Al-Masri al-Youm. The first was the simultaneous storming of several offices of the reviled state security forces, in which looters reportedly destroyed or smuggled out a large collection of classified documents. The others were newly installed prime minister Essam Sharaf’s announcement of six new ministerial posts, and the corruption cases now taking shape against former government officials.

Al-Wafd, an independent daily run by the liberal democratic party of the same name, ran the lead headline “State security conspiracy,” noting that the storming of state security headquarters in seven governorates at the same time “raises eyebrows.” The paper compared the incident to the 1952 great fire of Cairo, “when fires sprung up in 10 different parts of Cairo to divert people’s attention from the country’s situation” – namely anti-government disturbances against the British colonial authority.

The independent daily Al-Shorouk toured the burnedout state security headquarters in the Cairo suburb of Nasr City and reported finding underground cells that appeared to be torture chambers. The paper also quoted an unnamed state security official’s comments that the state security force would likely remain functional, though possibly in a different form or under a different name.

Another private daily, Al-Dostour, reported that US President Barack Obama was sending his defense secretary, Robert Gates, on an emergency mission to Cairo to try to contain the damage wrought by leaked files pertaining to US anti-terrorism practices in the region.

The state-run media – with superior resources and significantly higher readership – took a more positive tone toward the raid. Al-Ahram, Egypt’s widest-circulation paper, wrote that the incident “revealed many torture devices used by state security in their devilish sadism and criminal unaccountability. Someone needs to be charged for crimes against humanity, soon.”

The damning tone reflected a remarkable change for a paper that for decades served as the presidential palace’s mouthpiece. Its coverage of the government now taking shape in Cairo, however, was more akin to the cheerleader’s role the paper traditionally played. Al-Ahram praised the new prime minister for meeting with disaffected Cairenes staging a sit-in outside his office, and reported that after listening to their demands, he had convinced the protesters to disperse.



Corruption cases also figured prominently in Monday’s newspapers. Al-Dostour reported that Mubarak had altered laws to allow “foreigners and Arab princes” to own land in Egypt, and that former culture minister Farouk Hosny and long-time antiquities chief Zahi Hawass had illegally presented Mubarak’s wife with jewels belonging to Egypt’s former royal family. Interpol warrants for Mubarak’s finance minister Yousef Boutros Ghali (the nephew of former UN secretary Boutros Boutros Ghali) and trade minister Rachid Muhammad Rachid also filled the news pages, as did a corruption and cronyism case against Mubarak’s agriculture minister.

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