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Egypt Journalist Syndicate Chief on Media Freedoms - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT
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Egypt Journalist Syndicate Chief on Media Freedoms

Egyptian newspapers at a kiosk in Cairo
Egyptian newspapers at a kiosk in Cairo. (AFP/Marwan Naamani)

File photo of Head of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate Diaa Rashwan. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
File photo of the head of the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate, Diaa Rashwan. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Egypt Journalists Syndicate head Diaa Rashwan discussed the political and media situation in the country post-July 30, denying that the military-backed interim government had imposed further media restrictions on Egypt’s journalists.

Rashwan, who is also a political expert at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, spoke of his intervention in the cases of syndicate journalists who have been arrested in post-Mursi Egypt, including those working for Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr and other Islamist channels shut down by the interim government.

This interview has been edited for length.

Asharq Al-Awsat: In your opinion, how can Egypt get out of the difficult situation it finds itself in today and achieve stability?

Diaa Rashwan: Without doubt, the political situation is going through a crisis period and this is something that nobody can deny. The political arena in Egypt obviously contains a large pool of various sectors of the Egyptian people along with almost all of the political forces, except the so-called National Alliance in Support of Electoral Legitimacy that is comprised of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as some minor Islamist forces. Apart from these Islamist forces, the main Islamist forces are participating in the political arena, including the Al-Nour Party which gained 25 percent of seats in the last parliamentary elections. There are also other Islamist forces from the National Alliance in Support of Legitimacy trying to bridge the gaps with the major blocs, such as Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya and some elements from the Watan Party. Therefore, the picture is clear, there is a large majority made up of popular and political forces and there is a minority that is comprised of the Brotherhood and some elements that are viewed as affiliated with the Brotherhood or coexisting with the group. This minority seems to be declining, day by day, not only in the number of protesters or the way they stage protests but also, more significantly, in their demands.

At their rallies, pro-Brotherhood protesters now raise the Rabaa Al-Adawiya logo, not Mursi’s picture. They have the right to do so; and it is our right as well to carry out a criminal and political investigation into all of the confrontations that have taken place since July 30. However, Mursi as a political symbol has fallen among the Brotherhood members. Recently, there has not been serious talk about this issue except from some of the Brotherhood figures, such as Essam El-Erian and others who adopt slogans that seem to be psychologically isolated from reality. This attitude is intended to impede and obstruct the path of stability by way of staging protests or causing confrontations and clashes. Fortunately, such incidents are decreasing day by day.

As for the majority, whether in state institutions, the street or political forces, they seem to have completely made up their mind to move forward towards the future and we are already making progress. There is a government that, although I can make many remarks about this, has started for the first time to issue resolutions of a significant social nature, addressing issues that are important to people as well as [promoting] freedoms.

Q: Do you expect to see more unrest in Egypt in the near future?

Egypt is in a transitional period and there is a small trend that wants to impede it and which will persist with its attempts to obstruct it. But society is intent on moving forward, and it is normal that problems should arise every now and then. However, with the passage of time, these problems will subside. Without doubt, the largest trend has decided to move forward with absolute determination, despite all of the existing obstacles.

Q: What’s your view of the international community’s responses to the June 30 events and Mursi’s ouster?

On the international level, there is not one state claiming that what happened in Egypt was a coup, apart from Turkey. In addition, the key countries in the world deal with Egypt on the basis of how much progress has been made towards the future. This means they approve of Mursi’s removal and all of the measures implemented in the June 30 revolution.

Q: Do you think that the transitional roadmap suits Egypt’s needs and requirements?

The map has been set and approved by the entire Egyptian people.

Q: Do you think that this may lead to positive results in the future?

In light of the points I mentioned earlier, we are heading in the right direction towards positive results.

Q: As a member of the 50-member constitution-drafting committee, do you find any justifications for the public’s concern over freedoms, particularly media freedoms?

First of all, I will not speak about the constitution or the founding committee because there is an official spokesman, who is Mohamed Salmawy. Nevertheless, if you clarify what you mean regarding media freedoms I will try to answer.

Q: For example, some journalists have been arrested.

I have all of the documents and there is no truth in the rumors about this issue. I would like to clarify that when it comes to journalists, this is legally defined in Egypt as members of the Journalists’ Syndicate. Nevertheless, after I took charge of the syndicate I decided, along with the members of the Journalist Syndicate’s council, not to confine ourselves to this definition and work to secure the freedom of all of our colleagues who work for newspapers, especially the youth, and even those who work in other mediums. In March, we filed a suit regarding an attack on five journalists, four of whom were not members of the syndicate. We stand with all of our colleagues.

Regarding the current situation, I confirm that no newspaper has been shut down in Egypt, including Al-Hurriyah wal Adalah, the Brotherhood’s mouthpiece which is being distributed and printed daily by the Al-Ahram institution despite the fact that its accumulated debts exceed EGP 3.5 million. That is, the newspaper is printed and distributed for free.

Q: But there is a sense that the government has stepped up its security measures against journalists, particularly since five TV channels have been shut down.

First, legally speaking, the Journalists’ Syndicate has nothing to do with this issue. Nevertheless, I intervened on the same day that 28 of Al-Jazeera’s staff and 34 of our colleagues working for Islamist channels were arrested. This is not to mention that they are not journalists but media people, and some of them are technicians and members of the administrative staff.

After I intervened, 27 Al-Jazeera Channel members of staff and 12 from the five Islamist channels were released within two hours, with the remaining 22 released the following day. Only two members of the syndicate remained in custody, one of whom was the manager of Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr, Ayman Gaballah. We sent members of the syndicate to attend his interrogation as well as corresponded with the authorities until he was released.

Today, only two journalists who are members of the syndicate are in custody pending interrogation on charges and they are both members of the Brotherhood: Mr. Mohsin Radi and Mr. Ibrahim El-Darawi. The Journalists’ Syndicate has done everything required by law for them and their families. This means that only two journalists out of a total of 8,500 registered with the syndicate are being detained today.

Two other journalists who are not registered in the syndicate are detained. These are Ahmed Abu Deraa, who is facing a military trial in Sinai, and Numan Abu Zaid, a reporter for the Ahram website, who has been arrested in Beni Suef in Upper Egypt. God willing, there will be a solution for these two colleagues despite the serious accusations against them.

Therefore, there is no way that we can talk about heightened security measures or to view the issue of these journalists’ arrest as a phenomenon. This is not true.

Q: Do you think that there are foreign forces trying to undermine the country’s stability?

Each country in the world has its own interests. However, what the political regime of Egypt is doing concerns me more than what foreigners do. The [current] regime is acting in the interest of Egypt. I reaffirm that there is no country in the world that does not deal with Egypt apart from Turkey, because it is a direct ally of the Brotherhood, although the whole world think that Ankara’s interests lie with the current regime.

Q: Are you worried about the unrest in Sinai? How can the interim government deal with this?

Every Egyptian should be worried about whatever part of the country that is under threat. I find that there are very strong security and military efforts being made in Sinai. And these efforts must continue because what is happening in Sinai is a result of a group of international—not just Egyptian—extremists and violent elements threatening national security and working to separate Sinai from Egypt. This is something that can only be confronted using military force.

Q: In light of these terrorist events, do you think that Egypt is now once again under the threat of terrorism?

Egypt has suffered from terrorism before, and we have experienced it on a scale much larger than what we are seeing today, apart from what is happening in the Sinai Peninsula, of course. Terrorism began with the murder of the president [Anwar Sadat] in 1981. Terrorists also targeted prime ministers and interior ministers and staged other attacks and explosions, the latest of which was in 1997 against tourists in Luxor. Simple incidents may occur here and there, but I preclude the possibility of a large wave of terrorism happening for the time being, however Sinai remains a special case.

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