Egypt severly curtails press freedom ahead of elections
After giving journalists wide latitude during the last elections in 2005, Egypt is now squelching press freedom and even requiring a permit to send mass text messages.
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However, Amr Hamzawy, an expert on Egyptian politics at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based research center, said that Mubarak's regime was merely "playing the game of being reform-oriented." During the Bush years, he said, Egyptian authorities hadn't yet figured out how to manage the flood of criticism.Skip to next paragraph
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The Mubarak regime's attitude was, "Let's see how much democratization an Arab government can handle without losing its grip on power," Hamzawy said.
The answer, apparently, is: Not very much.
Weeks before Eissa's firing, "Cairo Today," a popular talk show on a Saudi-owned satellite channel, was suddenly taken off the air, after an episode that criticized state media as excessively praising Gamal Mubarak.
Separately, Egypt's state satellite provider, Nilesat, shut down 17 private television channels, accusing them of inciting religious rivalries – for example, between Copts and Muslims – and violating lease regulations. Another 20 received warnings.
The country's telecommunications regulator revoked the permits of companies that provide satellite services for live broadcasts of street clashes involving security forces. It also imposed new rules requiring a permit to send mass text messages via mobile phones, a tool that was used in the past to mobilize voters or call on people to attend demonstrations. Only news agencies and political parties recognized by the state will be allowed permits.
Among those excluded is the Muslim Brotherhood, the leading opposition party, which is effectively banned by the state, and the National Association for Change, led by Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency, who returned to his home country to join the political opposition.
"It fundamentally cuts down the capability of opposition groups to mobilize demonstrations or to communicate with their constituencies, a key instrument, especially in the light of the emergency laws," Hamzawy said, referring to Egypt's 30-year-old law allowing arbitrary arrests and indefinite detention without trial.
The moves also come amid growing concern in Egypt over who'll succeed Mubarak, who disappeared from view in March when he underwent gallbladder surgery in Germany. His son Gamal, his likely choice for successor, is unpopular with the military and many older politicians.
A senior ruling party official, Alieddin Hilal, said last week that Mubarak would be its candidate for president next year. If he wins, it would be his sixth term.
(Naggar is a McClatchy special correspondent. Shashank Bengali contributed to this article.)
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