In the battle for free speech in Egypt, everyone lost this week

This week has seen foreign and domestic media alike attacked by a president seeking re-election.

Members of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi presidential campaign staff sift through boxes containing signatures in his support, needed to register for the elections, at the National Election Authority, in Cairo on January 24, 2018.
(CREDIT: Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi presidential campaign staff sift through boxes containing signatures in his support, needed to register for the elections, at the National Election Authority, in Cairo on January 24, 2018. (CREDIT: Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty Images)

The space for civil society and free expression in Egypt has shrunk even further this week.

On Thursday, Al Monitor reported that a new protocol has been put in place between the Nasser Military Academy and the country’s Supreme Council for Media Regulation. Editors-in-chiefs of news publications are now essentially required to participate in “strategic training” courses taught by former generals on how to report on issues of national security.

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Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, virtually all independent news organizations have been shut down in Egypt, and journalists who report stories critical of the government are often jailed or accused of reporting “false news” — a term he made popular in Egypt in 2013, when he took power after Mohamed Morsi was deposed.

Also on Thursday, Sisi said that insulting Egypt’s military and police was tantamount to “treason,” Reuters reported. “I want to tell the media … if someone insults the army or police they’re defaming all Egyptians and that’s not freedom of opinion,” he said in televised remarks.

Just a day earlier, Egypt’s chief prosecutor targeted foreign news outlets, calling them “forces of evil” that threaten Egypt’s national security.

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The state press office has also called for high-profile individuals and government officials to boycott the BBC over a documentary focusing on the treatment of prisoners in Egypt. Al Jazeera reported on Friday that the mother of one prisoner whose abuse case was highlighted in the documentary has been arrested for cooperating with the filmmakers.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on the Egyptian government to “cease their intimidation campaign against independent news outlets.”

“The prosecutor general’s latest order means that the Egyptian government is putting its relentless campaign against journalists into writing, as well as stepping up the rhetoric that undermines trust in the independent media,” said the group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour in a statement.

Sisi is facing a tough election later this month against the backdrop of major security issues that have seen attacks launched by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) on the country’s capital as well as restive Sinai region.