Cablegate: Possible New Restriction On Press Freedom in Egypt
DE RUEHEG #3555 3650851
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 310851Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7810
INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
UNCLAS CAIRO 003555
NSC STAFF FOR PASCUAL
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO PREL PGOV PHUM EG
SUBJECT: POSSIBLE NEW RESTRICTION ON PRESS FREEDOM IN EGYPT
REF: A. CAIRO 2835
B. CAIRO 2825
C. CAIRO 3543
Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.
1. (U) According to media reports, Egypt's State Council
issued a decree in early December directing the Central Audit
Bureau (CAB) to begin monitoring the finances of independent
media outlets. The decision has not yet been formally
announced and a member of the State Council (Egypt's highest
judicial body vis-a-vis administrative issues) commented
publicly in recent days that it may be amended prior to
release. While the CAB has long monitored the finances of
state-owned media outlets and even reviewed some editorial
decisions, it has never played a role in the management of
Egypt's independent press.
2. (SBU) Some journalists view this potential decree as a
threat to press freedom, particularly in the wake of the
recent prosecutions and convictions of several independent
newspaper editors (refs A and B). Essam El Eslamboli, a
lawyer with the law firm "United Group" has filed a lawsuit
challenging the legality of the State Council's potential
action. (Note: The United Group is the recipient of a U.S.
AID grant to provide legal assistance to journalists and
newspapers. End note.) Other independent journalists appear
less concerned. Hisham Kassem, founder of Egypt's leading
independent newspaper Al Masry Al Youm, told us recently that
while he did not welcome the decision and viewed it as
interference, he did not see it as a serious threat.
3. (SBU) In a December 12 meeting (ref C), the newly elected
chairman of Egypt's Press Syndicate Makhram Mohamed Ahmed
responded ambiguously to our questions about the decision.
(Note: Ahmed has spent his career with the Al Ahram group of
state-controlled newspapers and is widely viewed as close to
the government. End note). Ahmed initially told us that he
thought the decision would be "ok", but later said it was a
"bad thing." He traced the decision to the 1996
liberalization of Egypt's press laws in order to permit
independent and political party sponsored newspapers. He
said that at the time of the liberalization, "everyone"
understood the dangers of foreign funding, whether from Saudi
Arabia, the U.S. or Saddam Hussein. He noted that the recent
decree was probably a bureaucratic decision and not
political, but added that it might have been issued out of
concern over alleged Muslim Brotherhood financing of press
outlets. He also said the decree might prevent businessman
or politicians from paying journalists to publish negative
articles about rivals.
4. (SBU) Comment: The law authorizing the CAB to review the
finances of the independent press has been available since
1996, but never implemented. In light of other recent
developments regarding the press, the potential decision to
now implement this long dormant law is worrisome.