Deporting voices of dissent in Egypt

Deporting voices of dissent in Egypt
5 min read
04 Jul, 2016
Comment: The fate of journalist Lilian Daoud speaks of a media landscape in which the regime will enjoy the freedom to shape the political climate it chooses, writes Mohamed ElMeshad
Liliane was seen by many as the only remaining credible voice of opposition [Facebook]
Often, when journalists or intellectuals complain about the deteriorating standards of freedoms in their line of work, supporters of the regime point to some of the few remaining platforms where some measure of criticism of the regime still seeps through, as evidence to the contrary. But even they will soon run out of such as examples, as these platforms continue to be worn away.

Last week, Lilian Daoud - perhaps the last primetime talk-show host who has consistently championed human rights causes, and maintained a level of objectivity in her reporting - was sacked and deported. The British-Lebanese journalist, who hosted a show on OnTV was seen by many supporters of the 25 January Revolution, as the only remaining media personality of significance on their side.

However, when OnTV was purchased by steel magnate, and staunch regime ally, Ahmed Abu Heshima, it seemed like only a matter of time before she would be shown the door. And in order to make an example of her, an hour after being informed of her redundancy, Daoud went home to find a full police operation tasked with her deportation, as she no longer had visa sponsor. 

The journalist was physically threatened in front of her 11-year-old daughter, and forced to leave without packing a bag. Within the day, the Lebanese/British citizen was on a flight to Beirut.

There isn't a country in the world, which legally enforces same-day departures for foreign nationals who have been fired from their jobs. Daoud's deportation sent a clear message, and speaks of a deep-rooted grudge against her.

Perhaps the scariest aspect of the affair, is the ease with which the animosity of the security forces (and that of their superiors) is carried on their sleeve. Their attitude is in line with a campaign that has been running since 2014 - mostly on the part of regime sycophants - claiming she is dangerous and must be deported.

The private media oligarchy in Egypt is not only dwindling, it is being strangled into submission on all sides

In the current climate of extreme paranoia, Daoud was being portrayed in these campaigns as a "foreigner" who came to Egypt in order to stir up unrest. Security forces and government officials have often used this argument to justify hostile actions and attitudes towards individuals who happen to not be Egyptian. 

A television advert sponsored by the Armed Forces' Department of Morale, called on Egyptians to exercise caution when talking to any foreigners about Egypt's problems, insinuating that they may be working for antagonistic intelligence forces. 

As well as serving a stark demonstration of the security forces' "stranger danger" attitude towards any non-Egyptian speaking critically of the current regime, last week's deportation is also a bleak reminder of what is happening more widely to the Egyptian media.

Abu Hashima's purchase of OnTV in May is just the latest structural adjustment within Egypt's media landscape, which is looking increasingly like a conformist block that the regime would approve of. Hashima's media company, "E'lam ElMasreyeen" which translates into, "Egyptians' Media", has already stated its intent to dominate the sector, and steer more towards entertainment production.

The company already owns Al-Youm Al-Sabe’a, a newspaper that tends to release breaking news from security and intelligence services, conspicuously earlier than everyone else. Abu Hashima is also said to own significant shares in AlNahar TV, which has recently enjoyed audience ratings in Egypt's top two or three. He also bankrolls the political party seen to be the most allied with the current president.

Telecom tycoon Naguib Sawriris, OnTV's erstwhile previous owner was not exactly an enemy of the regime. In fact, by his own admission, he had directed his media arm to play a role in bringing down the Muslim Brotherhood during Mohamed Morsi's presidency.

However, Sawiris has also been outspoken in criticising some of the current regime's major economic plans, and the defunct bureaucracy. At the very least, the current regime would not have seen him as an entirely dependable asset.

Last week's deportation is a bleak reminder of what is happening more widely to the Egyptian media

Just weeks before the OnTV acquisition, two of the five major television stations - AlNahar and CBC - also merged into one. Both had owners who are in general sympathetic to the regime, and in some cases said to be directed by executive apparatuses.

The private media oligarchy in Egypt is not only dwindling, it is being strangled into submission on all sides. Whether or not - as is rumoured - these major shifts are the result of direct orders from the presidency, or from security apparatuses, the trajectory of the sector is pointing towards a media system where the regime and its allies will enjoy the freedom to create the kind of political climate they choose. After Morsi's deposition, many of this regime's allies spoke of the need to create a patriotic opposition.

This hints of their need to assume the semblance of maintaining a climate of freedom of thought and expression, but without ruffling too many feathers. Patriotism, to them cannot exist outside the support of this regime. Journalists who do not adhere to this receive very unceremonious treatment and are made to live in a constant state of fear.

Any significant remnant of the 25 January Revolution (such as Daoud) is surely now unwelcome in mainstream media. Ironically the year immediately following that revolution was when private media really took off as the place to follow current affairs, and engage in discussions on the state of society and politics. It is clear that if the state maintains its current position towards the media, there is no way this status can be upheld, if it has not already disappeared altogether.

Mohamed ElMeshad is a journalist and a PhD candidate at SOAS, focusing on the political economy of the media. He worked extensively in Egypt, Bahrain, West Africa, the UK and US.

Recently, he contributed to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ book,
Attacks on the Press (2015).

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.