A Court in Cairo has (on Thursday 23 August) ordered the detention pending trial of Islam Afifi, the editor-in-chief of a leading daily newspaper popular with Christian readers called el-Dustour. He is being held on charges of ‘insulting the President’ and ‘harming the public interest’.
Mr Afifi’s prosecution will play out against a backdrop of increasing tensions between Egypt’s minority Coptic Christians and a government dominated by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. The case against My Afifi is not entirely frivolous as his newspaper, which often runs stories decrying the Muslim Brotherhoods attempts to turn Egypt into an fundamentalism Islamist state, had initially called for Muslim Brotherhood offices to be torched during largely Christian protests against the Islamist government organised for this Friday.
Supporters have, however, pointed to the charge of ‘insulting the President’ as an example of government curtailing of press freedom, as well as the one-sided application of laws which are enforced against Brotherhood opponents, whilst their own members break them in even more dramatic fashion.
“Insulting the president is a vague accusation that can be easily politicized,” tweeted the leading youth activist Wael Ghonim, a former Google executive who played a key role in the country’s uprising last year.
“Tomorrow, when someone writes his opinion and calls Morsi a weak president … he will be prosecuted for insulting the president,”
The Christian anti-Brotherhood protests organised for tomorrow have drawn more than just criticism from leading members of the Brotherhood. One Brotherhood cleric recently issued a fatwa saying that it was permissible for Muslims to kill the anti-Islamist protesters. Obviously there has been no prosecution in this case, and the strongest condemnation from the regime came from President Morsi’s spokesman who only commented that it was unhealthy to spread fears about the safety of protesters.
“Instigating to kill in the name of religion, and accusing revolutionaries of betrayal are not crimes, but insulting the president in the press leads to imprisonment,” said leading pro-democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei. “It’s as if no revolution has taken place.”
Affifi is not the only journalist to feel the wrath of the regime, either, and there is strong evidence that the Muslim Brotherhood is seeking to exert strict control of the press to further their Islamist agenda.The Shura Council, the upper house of the Egyptian parliament which currently controlled by the Brotherhood, recently ordered the dismissal of 50 chief editors of state newspapers and media outlets – to be replaced by people more sympathetic to the government. Several other high profile editors have also been prosecuted for ‘insulting the President’, including the chief editors of el-Fagr and Sawt el-Umma weeklies and the TV presenter Tawfiq Okasha.
There have also been much more serious allegations laid against members of the Muslim Brotherhood. During a protest on August 16th a journalist for Sky News Arabic reported that:
“protesters belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood crucified those opposing Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi naked on trees in front of the presidential palace while abusing others. Likewise, Muslim Brotherhood supporters locked the doors of the media production facilities of 6-October [a major media region in Cairo], where they proceeded to attack several popular journalists”
Crucifixion is called for in the Koran for anyone ‘who fight against Allah and His apostle’.
Egypt’s Christians have long complained about persecution from the country’s Muslim majority, with attacks against churches and the kidnapping and forced marriage of of Christian women to Muslim men both regular well documented phenomena. But now the organisers of tomorrow’s protests are claiming that their persecutors have become emboldened by the Islamist Presidency, whilst the government itself is now explicitly discriminating against them and setting up the structures to create an Islamist state to enforce their vision of the religious and political supremacy of Islam.