CAIRO — Egypt’s prominent TV host Ibrahim Eissa’s show on Al-Kahera Wal-Nas TV was taken off the air Jan. 1 after official quarters declared its content to be offending and deriding toward the regime's policies.
In a statement after the show was suspended, Eissa — who was once a staunch supporter and close associate of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime and the first to announce his candidacy for president — said Jan. 1, “I think that the course of events and the necessities of the times have all led me to leave the show for later or a time that could come in the future.” During televised remarks on BBC Arabic Jan. 12, he explained, "The public is well-aware of the pressure placed on us. The regime has gotten so impatient with my show and other issues. The regime is no longer tolerating any criticism of its policies.”
It is the first time that a pro-regime show has been banned from broadcasting. Other shows by presenters labeled as oppositionists or criticizing the regime’s policies, particularly those related to detainees and freedoms in Egypt, have ended up being canceled as well.
Following the 2013 revolution and Sisi’s ascension to power in June 2014, popular TV shows were suspended, such as those of Bassem Youssef and Reem Maged, upon the orders of the Egyptian authorities. The talk shows of media figures such as Mahmoud Saad, Jaber al-Karmouty and Yosri Fouda were also suspended after the owners of the satellite TV stations came under pressure.
Political writer Abdullah al-Sinawi told Al-Monitor, “The issue is not about ending TV shows.” He added, “The regime has been trying to muzzle whoever criticizes it, especially the media outlets that are putting it under the microscope, pointing out its mistakes and bad steps.”
The suspension of Eissa’s show raises fears and concerns among other media figures who are advocates of the regime. Lamis el-Hadidy, the host of the talk show "Hona al-Assima," said Jan. 2, “I will devote myself to sewing and domestic work. There is a general tendency toward all media figures voicing one single opinion, under the pretext that we are in the construction phase.”
She added, “We are the June 30 camp that supported the regime. Do not make us hate the job with the restrictions placed on us. Countries that lack a diversity of opinions don't last long.”
Another media figure, Yusuf al-Husseini, criticized the government on the air Dec. 26, saying, “The government has forgotten that the media has assumed an important role in the success of the June 30 Revolution.”
Sisi used the term "media arms" in a meeting with the army commanders in 2013, when he served as defense minister. He said, "The January 25 Revolution has dismantled the state, and in order to contain the imbalance and prejudice to the army, a media arm and influential media are imperative.”
He formed a media team that assumed an important role in the mass mobilization against the regime of former President Mohammed Morsi and in the success of the June 30 Revolution, until Morsi was ousted. It has also played a role in the mass mobilization in favor of Sisi, who served as defense minister at the time, until he took office in June 2014.
Salah Eissa, the secretary-general of the Supreme Press Council, told Al-Monitor, “The freedom of the press is irritating a party within the state. The problem is that this party has strong support within parliament and managed to use it in parliament to attack Ibrahim Eissa’s show and pressure to suspend it. The show ended up being suspended without any legal conviction of the host over the broadcast's content.”
He added, “Parliament does not defend the freedom of the press, and the government has welcomed such a stance before pronouncing itself to be impartial.”
Before the show was suspended, a parliament session was held Dec. 19 to attack Eissa and pressure the government to take legal actions against him, claiming that his show sought to stir strife and incitement and was not in line with the responsibility of the media. In response to the members of parliament who attacked Eissa, Minister of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Magdi el-Agat said, “The government will be taking measures to satisfy them.”
A number of members of parliament do not believe it is the parliament’s role to pressure the government to prevent the broadcasting of shows and the publication of articles.
Parliament member Haitham al-Hariri told Al-Monitor, "Parliament is neither willing to nor able to make the government suspend shows. The majority tends not to take positions against the regime. Yet there is a general climate against the freedom of the press.” He added, “The general climate is dissatisfactory, and the government is monopolizing the state-run and private media outlets.”
Commenting on the challenges faced in the private media, Saad Abdel Hafiz, editor-in-chief at the daily Shorouk, told Al-Monitor, “The regime has been pushing some businessmen among its cronies to buy shares in newspapers and television stations to push for change in editorial policies. The media has become nationalized. One can say that the scope of freedom of press is today limited compared to the days of the [Hosni] Mubarak regime.”
Abdel Hafiz said, “The regime does not tolerate any objection, even from its circle of supporters. Either they abide completely by its rules, or they are out of the picture.” He added, “Political leverage and legal threats to sue or prosecute journalists made the everyday news in different media outlets focus on the authorities rather than the readership.”
Press freedom in Egypt is very limited and the regime has started to lose some of the journalists who were staunch advocates of it over their criticism. The regime no longer tolerates different opinions or any kind of criticism, despite its need of media support.
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