The violations contained in the report are prepared and analyzed by:
Sarah Mohsen, Researcher at the monitoring and documentation unit
Wessam Atta, Director of the monitoring and documentation unit
Mohamed Abdel Salam: Director of the research unit at the Association for the Freedom of Thought and Expression
Introduction First: A reading into the state of freedom of expression·
- After the amendment of the constitution: A crackdown on secular parties before the declaration of the “Alliance of Hope” for the parliamentary elections 2020
- Controlling the media: Broadcast of the African Cup of Nations locally and Maspero heritage in the grip of Egyptian Media Group
Second: Presentation and analysis of patterns of violations of freedom of expression·
- Freedom of the press and the media·
- Digital rights·
- Freedom of creativity
Third: Recommendations on the protection of freedom of expression
The report presents and analysis some topics related to the right to freedom of expression and the free flow of information. It aims at assessing the general policies of state institutions towards the right to freedom of expression and free flow of information. The report also relied on the presentation and analysis of the violations documented in accordance with the association’s monitoring and documentation methodology. Violations were documented in the period from 26 March to 25 June, 2019.
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) issues its second quarterly report for the year 2019, which addresses the state of freedom of expression and the free flow of information in Egypt. The report is based on an analysis of the political context and the most prominent issues affecting freedom of expression. The current authority passed constitutional amendments allowing President Sisi to remain in power until 2030. It also launched a crackdown on activists from secular opposition parties to prevent declaring an alliance between these parties aiming at participating in the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2020.
In addition, the Egyptian Media Group has continued its efforts to strengthen its control over the ownership of the media, through its increased cooperation with the National Media Authority, a public institution that runs state-owned media. The General Intelligence, along with a group of businessmen who support the current authority, shares in the ownership of the Egyptian media group.
These practices indicate that the current authority continues to deprive Egyptian citizens of the right to freedom of expression, which is discussed in the second part of the report, with respect to the state of freedom of information, digital rights and freedom of creativity. We witness that internet censorship practices are continuing, as are security interventions aimed at preventing the printing of newspapers or preventing the publication of articles, in addition to continuing security pursuits of activists, creators, journalists and users of social media. This calls for solidarity with victims of violations of freedom of expression. In the third section, the report makes several recommendations that can be addressed to the Egyptian authorities by human rights defenders. These recommendations, together with recommendations issued in the previous periodic reports of AFTE, would contribute to halting the deterioration of freedom of expression and reducing the risks which Egyptian citizens are exposed to as a result of expressing their opinions.
First: A reading into the state of freedom of expression
The first section of the report examines the political climate affecting freedom of expression issues. It also focuses on specific policy issues in the freedom of expression files during the second quarter of 2019. Hence, the contexts in which the right to freedom of expression and free flow of information are violated could be explained. The report begins by analyzing the implications of the adoption of the constitutional amendments that allow President Sisi to continue in office until 2030. It should be noted that the report shows, in its second section, the violations that accompanied the referendum on the constitutional amendments.
- After the amendment of the constitution: A crackdown on secular parties before the declaration of the “Alliance of Hope” for the parliamentary elections 2020 The National Elections Authority
announced the result of the referendum on the amendment of some articles of the Constitution, on April 23, 2019. The constitutional amendments passed by 88.83% of the valid votes, while 11.17% voted “No”. The turnout of voters was 44.33%. With this result, President Sisi ensured that he could continue to rule until 2030, as the article thatobliged him not to run for office after the end of his second term in 2020, was amended. The constitutional amendments included several articles, notably those relating to the term of the presidency. The term of the presidency became 6 years instead of 4 years and remained conditional on running for only for two terms. However, article (241 bis) states that President Sisi will remain in office for six years, starting with the date of his election as president in 2018. This means that Sisi can re-run for presidency in 2024, allowing him to remain in office until 2030. On the other hand, the constitutional amendments included the articles regulating the House of Representatives. Twenty-five percent of the parliamentary seats were allocated to women. The constitutional amendments also introduced the establishment of the Senate, which advises the House of Representatives and the President. Two thirds of its members are elected, one-third of the members are appointed by the president, provided that the number of Senate members is 180, at least.
Regarding the impact of the constitutional amendments on the conduct of elections, the next presidential election is now due in 2024. Moreover, the House of Representatives must pass a law on the organization of its elections, and another law on the Senate’s elections. This is especially important since the House of Representatives must hold its elections at the end of 2020, and there are proposals from its members to hold Senate elections at the end of 2019.
It could be said that the current authority succeeded in ensuring that President Sisi won the 2018 presidential elections by preventing the nomination of two former military commanders. The authority then concentrated its efforts on constitutional amendments through which the presidential elections are postponed to 2024, paving the road for Sisi to stay in power for a longer period. Thus, the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2020 became the last challenge to prevent the opposition from making a change through the elections process, especially as the Senate, introduced by the constitutional amendments, plays an advisory role without real powers.
While a group of secular parties were coordinating the parliamentary elections of 2020, police arrested a number of political activists on June 25, 2018, including Ziad Al Alaimi, a former MP and leading figure in the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, and Hossam Moanis, a leading member in El Karama party and the former campaign manager of presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi. Secular parties, including the Conservative party, and the Reform and Development party, have held several consultative meetings discussing the establishment of an electoral alliance called the “Alliance of Hope”. Through this alliance the secular opposition parties and the 25/30 parliamentary block were to prepare a unified program and decide on candidates for the parliamentary elections scheduled in 2020, in order to gain more space for the opposition, whose activity has been restricted since 2013. The current authority has not only arrested the activists but launched a wide media campaign against secular parties, accusing them of working with the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Egyptian authorities classify as a terrorist group. They were also accused of attempting to destabilize the country, cooperating with foreign counties and receiving foreign funding. These practices against parties established according to the Egyptian laws and working to change through the election process refers to the depth of the political crisis experienced by the country, and the extent of the security apparatus’ control of political affairs.
And for the third time, speculations of analysts and politicians on the possibility of a breakthrough in the practice of political activity, proved wrong. There were expectations ahead of the 2018 presidential elections, but the current authority blocked any opportunity for that and launched a campaign against potential candidates and media at that time. There were then expectations of a change of the negative approach towards political activity after President Sissi won the presidential elections, but instead restrictions of political activity and media increased ahead of the constitutional amendments. Finally, senior politicians thought that after Sisi ensured remaining in office until 2030, there would be an opportunity for the opposition to run for the parliamentary elections of 2020, without restrictions. However, this latest attack on the “Alliance of hope” proved that the current authority is not in the process of changing its restrictive policies regarding political participation and freedom of expression. This attack on secular parties means that the main orientation of the authority is to prevent the practice of political activity, with the consequent restriction of freedom of expression and the continuation of censorship of media and the internet, and the prosecution of internet users. This is discussed in the second section of the report which addresses freedom of the media, digital rights and freedom of creativity.
- Controlling the media: Broadcast of the African Cup of Nations locally and Maspero heritage in the grip of the Egyptian Media Group
Since its establishment in 2016, the Egyptian Media Group, which is partly owned by the General Intelligence, has concluded a number of acquisition deals of media companies, production companies and advertising agencies. A number of businessmen have become partners in the group’s ownership, namely Tamer Morsi, chairman of the group’s board of directors, Kamel Abu Ali and Mohamed Al Amin. The Egyptian Media Group is the main tool used by security apparatuses to control the ownership of the media, resulting in the control of ON TV, CBC and Al Hayah networks. In addition to the direct control of ownership, the Egyptian Media Group manages the Nile Radio network owned by the National Media Authority; it also signed a protocol with the National Media Authority to develop a plan for the development of state-owned television.
During the reporting period, the Egyptian Media Group announced its agreement with the National Media Authority to launch “Time Sport” satellite channel to broadcast the 2019 African Cup of Nations, organized by Egypt, hence it has the right to broadcast it on a local scale. There is no information on the deal between the Egyptian media group and the National Media Authority, or on how Egyptian media group was chosen as a partner with state television, especially since the state television has the right of terrestrial broadcasting by virtue of Egypt’s hosting of the tournament.
On the other hand, the Egyptian Media Group dominated the majority of drama production in Ramadan, the most important drama season in Egypt. Through its ownership of Synergy Production Company, major television networks, and an advertising agency, it ensured this domination. Egyptian Media reinforced its control of drama by launching “Watch it”, a platform for screening its drama production online in return for a monthly subscription. This move was not successful, and was criticized by social media users.As a result of the desire to support “Watch it” platform with new materials, United Media Services Company, which is –according to some reports- the parent company of Egyptian Media Group, announced the signing of a cooperation protocol with the National Media Authority. By virtue of this protocol “Watch it” has the right to stream movies, series and plays produced by Egyptian TV in return for fees from the audience. These works were streamed online via YouTube, which raised concerns that Egyptian Media will monopolize the heritage of Egyptian television, preventing the public from watching it.
The National Media Authority said in response to criticism that “The cooperation protocol signed with the United Media Services Company, the owner of Egyptian Media Group, came within the framework of preserving the artistic content of the Egyptian TV in accordance with the rules and laws. The protocol preserves the full rights of the National Media Authority, both intellectual and financial, in relation to the content which will be made available on the new digital platform “Watch it”. The content will be available exclusively as a right of use and not selling. This content will be streamed using modern technologies suitable for the new global methods of offering content, and maximizing the financial returns to the benefit of the National Media Authority”.
In this case also, Egyptian Media and the National Media Authority did not announce the details of the agreement between them. This raises doubts that Egyptian Media is practicing monopolistic practices with the help of public institutions, whether the General Intelligence that participates in the ownership of the group, or the National Media Authority which owns the rights of terrestrial broadcasting and the rights to display the works it produced.
In previous publications, AFTE addressed the need for the Supreme Council for Media Regulation to monitor the funding of Egyptian Media Group, and to investigate suspicions of monopolistic practices in the ownership of media outlets. The Supreme Council has not announced any action to investigate the practices of Egyptian Media Group until the issuance of this report.