In a tense and accusatory tone and with unjustifiable agitation, the Egyptian Interior Ministry’s media official answered questions put to him by BBC Arabic about whether or not members of the Muslim Brotherhood had been subject to assault and restriction by members of the Egyptian security forces prior to Egypt’s parliamentary elections. The Egyptian official denounced the accusation and tried to throw doubt on the motive behind such questions in an unjustifiably brusque manner.
The problem is not just in the official’s weak denial and his making light of a local political bloc, and the media in general, but also on his insistence on relying upon the same old approach in dealing with the media in an age when this position is nothing more than a memory from the past. As time goes by it has become increasingly clear that this approach is useless and will reflect negatively on the government more than it will affect the intended group.
A large number of Egyptian journalists and activists have explicitly spoken of their lack of enthusiasm in covering the upcoming parliamentary elections due to their concern that such coverage will be subject to a number of obstacles and will therefore not meet their aspired level [of media coverage].
This comes following the closure of satellite television channels under the pretext of combating extremism, and the strengthening of the law with regards to news being sent and received via SMS text messages by empowering the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to grant [news providers] SMS text messaging permits. This is not to mention the suspension of some television programs, further restrictions being placed upon broadcasting, more limitation being placed upon filming in the street – something that is required by all media agencies – and additional restrains being placed upon journalists by the security forces. However most importantly of all is the Egyptian public’s fear of candidly expressing their own opinions. These are all indications that justify the concerns, not just of the journalists, but of many of the civil and regulatory bodies, of the election results being rigged.
Any country that is gearing up for parliamentary elections will be facing a difficult task, let alone when these elections are taking place prior to an extremely controversial presidential race.
This atmosphere has triggered unconventionally heated debates on the internet, as well as extensive and untraditional news coverage. However this internet coverage is also strained and tense for the memory of the Egyptian public is alive and well and nobody has forgotten what previously happened to a group of journalists, bloggers, and political activists whose punishment ranged from imprisonment to torture to death.
It seems that the current predicament being faced by the Egyptian authorities with regards to controlling the way in which the elections are being covered and viewed is far greater than the threat of unfavorable election results. Polls indicate that at best the Muslim Brotherhood will not win more than 30 percent of the overall votes, and so it seems that the price being paid by the Egyptian government in reducing the number of Muslim Brotherhood candidates is greater than the risk of them winning their expected percentage of the ballot. Using traditional violent methods to control and restrict the media is weakening the authority of the government, and modern means of communication is [also] increasingly difficult to control. Egypt has first-hand experience of this difficultly in controlling the modern media, and the media’s technical skills are increasingly proficient, highly effective, and difficult to control.
Today, in spite of all attempts by the Egyptian authorities to control the media, these technical skills will undoubtedly enable the Egyptian media to express itself in a manner that will not be affected by any control and restriction. It is high time that we learned from our experiences, or at the very least our present experiences!