In a step that stirred fears regarding constraints on freedom of expression after the June 30 Revolution in Egypt, the independent newspaper Al-Shorouk banned, over two consecutive days, the publication of an article written by renowned journalist Belal Fadl. The reason being Fadl's addressing the role played by prominent journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal in the presidential candidacy campaign of Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
In a series of tweets, Fadl wrote: “It is unfortunate that I will no longer be working with Al-Shorouk newspaper, after the latter intervened in my work and exerted pressure on the publications. None of my articles were banned under the regimes of Hosni Mubarak, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi and Mohammed Morsi. This is the first time an article that criticizes Sisi is banned, even before his official election as president.
“I am proud that I have contributed, with my writings, to the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood. Still, this did not prevent me from attacking the military abduction of the country on June 30 and the return of the oppressive state. I am proud of everything I have written. Unfortunately, I am not used to writing articles online. I will look for a newspaper agency [to publish my articles] that does not deceive its readers with slogans about freedom of expression, which is being strangled every day."
In a post on Facebook, Fadl wrote, “I can say that my relation with Al-Shorouk newspaper is officially over, now that I'm sure the banned article will not be published. My colleagues told me that the article was sent to Heikal’s office, and he advised me, as a friend, not to publish it. I told my colleagues that I would report this to the media. Later on, I received a phone call from Heikal’s office, but I did not answer it and will not answer future calls. I was notified that the newspaper management and its editor-in-chief wanted me to get past the issue of this article and consider that it was never written. They expected me to resume writing articles as of the following day. After thinking about it, I realized that accepting this offer would contribute to the limitation of freedoms, merely by being present and showing that I'm allowed to publish any article.”
Al-Shorouk's Editor-in-Chief Emad El-Din Hussein issued a report in which he expressed “his surprise that Fadl published what happened on social media outlets.”
“On Friday at noon, our colleague Belal sent his article, along with an email that said, in brief, 'You can either publish it entirely or not publish it at all.' The article contained statements, deemed inaccurate, related to the relation between Heikal and Sisi. A few days earlier, Heikal had personally denied everything that was written and published about him leading the team that is preparing Sisi’s potential electoral program. He also denied playing the role of a political adviser [to Sisi]. I tried to call Belal several times after this to solve the issue and publish the article, but he did not answer my calls,” Hussein noted.
“Belal knows that the articles of all the world’s prominent journalists are reviewed and verified for accuracy, documentation and authenticity of the information. Moreover, the prevalent environment of polarization, which has reached unprecedented levels, pushes us to verify every detail to prevent legal accountability or political mistrust. Therefore, the 'all or nothing' approach is not justified,” Hussein added.
“Al-Shorouk newspaper is proud of Belal, his writings and boldness. He knows better than anyone that we have endured a lot to preserve the newspaper as a platform for all opinions, including those we disagree with. Our friend Belal knows better than anyone that no other newspaper in Egypt publishes articles with different opinions. So, any talk about deceiving the reader and about oppressed freedom is far from true,” he concluded.
In his article titled “The Political Marshal of Egypt,” Fadl wrote, “Whether Mohamed Hassanein Heikal is actually preparing Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s electoral program … or whether he is maintaining his position as an expert who never withholds advice as he has previously mentioned, there is one question that deeply preoccupies me in both cases.
“Did Heikal recount to Sisi the details of his conversation with renowned British Military Commander Bernard Montgomery when the latter visited Egypt on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the famous Alamein Battle? Back then, Heikal met with Montgomery, and they had a long conversation. Montgomery, who was a field marshal, expressed his astonishment at granting commander-in-chief of the armed forces Abdel Hakim Amer the same title [field marshal] on a political basis, without any military achievements that would entitle him to the promotion.
“Heikal recounted the incident in his engaging book Revisiting History. On page 180 of the Shorouk Publishing House edition, he wrote that Montgomery described Marshal Amer as a political figure. 'There is absolutely no need for a political marshal. Marshals claim their titles for leading troops in the field, and not because of anything else,' Montgomery said, according to Heikal.
“Heikal wrote, 'I interrupted him to say: I may disagree slightly with you, however, why don’t you ask him when you meet him? So Montgomery replied: Can I really ask him that question when I meet him, and would the question anger him? I answered, laughing: I don’t know.'”
Fadl pointed out, “On a more serious and important note, during his conversation with Heikal, Montgomery did not only raise the issue of granting Marshal Amer a military title without the necessary military accomplishments, he went straight to the heart of what he saw as a problem in Egypt, namely the relationship between military men and civilians.
“In another excerpt from the same book, Fadl indicated that Heikal explained to Montgomery in detail the idea of Egypt’s generals engaging in politics.”
Fadl continued, “Montgomery did not find Heikal’s explanation convincing, so he told him, 'You didn’t manage to convince me.'
“This was Heikal’s surprising response as he wrote it, 'I am not trying to convince you. How can I convince you of something I am not convinced of? I was explaining to you the situation. I wasn’t trying to set a norm. In fact, I am not a proponent of military intervention in politics. I don’t want generals to become politicians as much as you don’t want politicians to become generals. But, we are facing a phenomenon that requires an explanation in Egypt and the whole third world. When I explain, I do not mean to justify.'”
Fadl wrapped up his article by writing, “I wonder whether Mr. Heikal would answer our critical questions today. Is he still not a proponent of military intervention in politics, and does he remain convinced that granting military titles for political reasons is a mistake? And, if he had believed that the intervention of Nasser and his military accomplices in 1952 was justified to prevent the king from clashing with the people, what is the excuse now for the military commander to move from the position of protector of the people to that of ruler?
“The people have generally been fully appreciative of the armed forces thus far, but the military intervention in politics could deepen political rifts in society, freeze democratic development and pull Egypt back to repressive times; a move that is supported by state media, its resources and its intellectuals.”