The Mariott Cell, as the 20 Al-Jazeera staffers are dubbed by the official media, will stand today for the tenth time before Judge Mohamed Nagui Shehata of the Cairo Criminal Court. Since their apprehension on terrorism charges 155 days ago, the three Al-Jazeera English staff Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, have been daily vilified on both official and quasi-official media as miscreants, spies and conspirators.
Their colleague from Al-Jazeera Arabic, Abdullah Elshamy, has been in custody without charges for 291 days, of them 132 while on hunger strike, objecting to his unjust and unlawful incarceration. Since May 16, he is kept in solitary confinement at Al-Akrab prison, infamous for barring convicted terrorists. His family has pleaded for his release given his decrepit health, while warning that the officials are using force-feeding to end his hunger strike by all means.
Wistfully, only a handful of their colleagues, who are working for the official, private and/or partisan Egyptian media, have showed symbolic support for their release. Not one journalist or media institution has called for a national strike of all media conduits in Egypt towards the release of their jailed colleagues. It's a shame.
"Without courageous and liberty-yearning journalists, the foundations of democracy won't be established"
Without courageous, daring and liberty-yearning journalists, the foundations of democracy won't be established in the bellwether country of the Arab World. Egypt's media, since the publication of the first newspaper, The Khedive Journal (Gournal Al-Khedewe) in 1817, followed by the first official periodical, The Egyptian Affairs (El-Wakaa El-Masria) in 1828, didn't have an easy ride.
After almost 200 years of journalism in Egypt, the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) considers the country the third deadliest place for the press in 2013, after Syria and Iraq. Reporters without Borders (RSF) issued an appraisal on May 21 of the current media freedoms in Egypt, which concluded that, “respect for media freedom has declined considerably since the army seized power”.
The report documented that "at least 65 journalists have been arrested and 17 are still in detention." Adding insult to injury, the Egyptian official press ignores such reports, and the Press Syndicate, the elected body of Egyptian journalists, is complying with the state's justification that the arrested journalists are posing a dire threat to national security. It's a shame.
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The news about the jailed journalists in the Egyptian media is non-existent. Egyptian journalists, for various reasons including fear, intimidation and/or apathy, are ignoring the ordeal of their fellow colleagues who are being imprisoned for none other than being reporters. Yet, this angst can be overcome with collective action among Egyptian journalists, who have rose up to the challenges many times before to protest the brutal regimes that ruled Egypt. In 1914, a number of Egyptian newspapers, for the first time, went on strike by ceasing their publications for one day to deplore the rise of military censorship.
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37 years later, the flourishing newspaper industry at the time of the country's penultimate monarch, King Farouk I of Egypt, ceased their publications after the government's plans to introduce strict laws that would stifle the freedom of the press. During the reign of the Mubarak regime, the newspapers led by the Press Syndicate called for three strikes in 1995, 2006 and 2007 against the deteriorating conditions of the press. Such actions have embarrassed Mubarak, and forced his regime to handle the journalists' demands, without brutal attacks or imprisonment.
"Egypt's journalists, anchors, media personalities, academics and intellectuals are silent"
Egypt's journalists, anchors, media personalities, academics and intellectuals are silent against the unjustifiable attacks exerted by the current regime against the flow of ideas and information. They should be the bulwarks against the atavistic methods of the current regime that is dragging the country to the precipice. The country's intelligentsia, led by its journalists, should call for a national strike and mull other peaceful tactics to expose the regime's undue actions against the freedom to express and disseminate information.
If Egyptians won't coordinate for the sake of their country and instead follow the regime's narrative, it’ll soon be their turn to visit Al-Akrab prison. It’s not Al-Jazeera against Egypt, as the official narrative suggests through its controlled media to a pliable audience. It’s, rather, a confrontation between a regime that wants to consolidate its power without the rule-of-law, and reporters who are eager to offer an alternative storyline and challenge the official narrative.
I call on all Egyptian journalists, media personalities and everyone who is working in the press in Egypt to synchronize a national strike for one day to send a message to the neo-Mubarakian regime, that they are sympathizing with their incarcerated colleagues. Put shame on the current regime, expose their disgraceful narrative and perpetual mendacity with a collective action that will resonate globally. The world ought to understand that the Egyptian intelligentsia is against the reprehensible practices of the current junta. Shame them till they free all of our colleagues.