Freedom of the Press
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Though journalists increasingly cross the “red lines” that previously constrained the media, press freedom continues to suffer from repressive laws and extralegal intimidation of journalists. The Emergency Law, the Press Law, and provisions of the penal code regulate the press, despite constitutional guarantees of press freedom. Much anticipated amendments to the Press Law were enacted in July 2006, but they did not alter provisions that criminalized the publication of “false news” and criticism of the president and foreign leaders. Publishing material that constitutes “an attack against the dignity and honor of individuals” or an “outrage of the reputation of families” also remains a criminal offense—albeit an offense that is rarely but opportunistically prosecuted by the authorities. In June, Ibrahim Issa, editor of the weekly Al-Dustur, and Sahar Zaki, a journalist at the same paper, were sentenced to one year in prison for “insulting the president” and “spreading false or tendentious rumors” after reporting on an antigovernment lawsuit. At year’s end, Issa and Zaki were free on bail bonds of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (US$1,700), pending an appeal. Shahenda Mekled, author of From the Papers of Shahenda Mekled; Shirin Abu al-Naga, the book’s editor; and award-winning publisher Muhammad Hashim all faced criminal charges at the end of the year because of the book’s portrayal of a prominent landowning family.
Journalists continued to face harassment and violence in 2006. Over the course of the year, police detained over a dozen journalists and assaulted many more. Hussein Abd al-Ghani, the Cairo bureau chief of the Qatar-based satellite television channel Al-Jazeera, was detained in April while reporting on bombings in southern Sinai. He was accused of disseminating “inaccurate news harmful to the country’s reputation” after mistakenly reporting violence between security forces and terrorists elsewhere in Egypt that had apparently never occurred; several other news outlets made the same error. Although he was freed, Abd al-Ghani was still barred from leaving Egypt at the end of the year. In May, riot police attacked more than a dozen local and foreign journalists at peaceful demonstrations in support of judicial independence.
While there are more than 500 newspapers, magazines, journals, and other periodicals in Egypt, this apparent diversity disguises the government’s role as a media owner and sponsor. The government is at least a partial owner of all of Egypt’s three largest newspapers, whose editors are appointed by the president. Opposition parties may form their own newspapers, and in recent years the Shura Council—one-third of whose members are appointed by the president—has granted licenses to the Ghad and Karama parties to publish eponymous weekly newspapers. The Ministry of Information controls content in the state-owned broadcast media. Privately owned domestic broadcasters are not allowed to air news bulletins and focus instead on music and entertainment. However, Egypt permits the establishment of locally based private satellite television stations, and the government does not block foreign satellite channels.
Thanks in large part to government efforts to aggressively promote internet use, the number of Egyptians with access to the internet has more than quadrupled over the past several years, but the number of regular users rarely exceeds seven percent of the population. The Egyptian government does not engage in widespread online censorship, but in June the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the Ministry of Information and Ministry of Communications had the authority to block, suspend, or shut down websites considered a threat to “national security.” In November, blogger Abd al-Karim Nabil Suleiman, better known as Karim Amer, was detained for insulting Islam, the authorities at Al-Azhar University, and President Hosni Mubarak. He remained in pretrial detention at year’s end and was set to become the first blogger in Egypt to be prosecuted for his online writings, though others had been detained without charge.