Egypt’s military-backed government is continuing its increasingly authoritarian crackdown on journalists and the free press. There have been a number of documented incidents of violence against journalists over the last several months, and authorities have arrested dozens of journalists and several have been sentenced to significant jail terms.
Twenty journalists charged in Egypt
Egyptian prosecutors announced today they were moving ahead with pressing charges of joining a terrorist group against 20 staff members of the Arab television channel Al Jazeera, including a number of Egyptians, an Australian, two Britons and a Dutch citizen.
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Prosecutors are also charging the journalists with spreading false news endangering national security and harming Egypt’s image, according to a faxed statement. The statement also claimed they used two suites in a Cairo hotel as a media center to undertake their goals.
The statement further alleged that the journalists’ efforts were designed to serve the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is considered a terrorist group by Egyptian authorities.
Crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood
The Muslim Brotherhood has been the target of a major crackdown since the army forced elected Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi out of office in July. Most of the Brotherhood’s top leaders have been arrested, and many are on trial, including Mursi. Many hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters have died at the hands of government security forces and civilian vigilante groups as they protested the military intervention.
Egypt has long been divided into rural and urban population groups, with the conservative rural masses largely supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and the more-educated urban population preferring a more secular government. Long-time Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak held these competing forces in check with brute force and the Egyptian government is apparently trying to do the same instead of seeking a reconciliation. The question of whether they can now stuff the genie back in the bottle remains open, however, especially given demographics and 21st-century communication technologies.
Al Jazeera owned by Qatari royal family
The media company Al Jazeera is owned by the Qatari royal family, Given that the Qatari royal family are the main supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, and generously supported Egypt during Mursi’s one-year presidency, it’s not too surprising that the Egyptian authorities are exacting some measure of revenge.
Four Al Jazeera journalists were arrested by Egyptian authorities on Dec. 29, and the others who were charged today were rounded up the following week.