Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Journalists' Syndicate in downtown Cairo on Sunday in support of Abdel-Halim Qandil, editor-in-chief of Sawt Al-Umma, who has been charged with "defaming the president" for an article published in his newspaper.
“We’re here in solidarity with Abdel-Halim Qandil. He is the people’s mentor, he can’t be silenced,” said Selim Safy El-Din of the Constitution Party.
Qandil was questioned by the state security prosecutor on 21 August after several complaints were filed against him due to an article published in his newspaper.
The article in question mocked the president and the state, calling them "idiotic" following a terrorist attack that killed16 Egyptian border guards in Rafah last month.
Facing similar charges are the editor-in-chief of Al-Fagr newspaper, Adel Hamouda, the editor-in-chief of Al-Dostour newspaper, Eslam Afifi and controversial television presenter Tawfiq Okasha.
“Qandil was known for his anti-Mubarak articles under the old regime, yet he was never arrested. Now, after he supported Morsi in the election runoff he’s being charged with defaming him,” added Safy El-Din.
There has been growing concern about press freedom in Egypt since the election of President Morsi. Charges have been brought against a number of journalists, articles have been censored and Islamist or pro-Muslim Brotherhood figures have been appointed to the position of editor at state-owned newspapers.
“Nothing happens without a reason. The allegations against Qandil and the others give us a taste of what is to come, policies that make our protest today extremely necessary,” said Nadia Refaat, a translator who joined the protest.
The Muslim Brotherhood suffered from the oppressive regime of Mubarak and should “know how it feels to be deprived of freedom,” said Refaat. “They should be the first to realise the injustice of such accusations.”
Criticising and questioning those in authority is vital for democracy, and the Brotherhood should step down if they are unable to accept this, she added.
Refaat saluted Morsi’s recent decision to end the pre-trial detention of journalists, but called for press freedom to be guaranteed in the constitution.
The protesters condemned the Brotherhood and compared its policies to those of the former regime.
“Shave your beard and reveal your shame, your face is that of Mubarak,” said one chant.
Omar Abdel-Sabour, a young member of Kefaya – the group that organised the protest – said he was against what he called the “Brotherhoodisation" of the state.
“We didn’t overthrow Mubarak’s National Democratic Party to replace it with a new version,” said Abdel-Sabour.
He also accused the Brotherhood of cooperating with the Mubarak regime before the January 25 Revolution, which allowed them to "win so many seats in the 2005 parliamentary election."
Despite being a banned organisation, the Brotherhood won 88 seats in the 2005 parliamentary election.
“If a political disenfranchisement law was imposed on the remnants of the former regime, it should also be placed on the Brotherhood for cooperating with Mubarak,” added Abdel-Sabour.
Some passers-by did not agree with the protesters. A number of them told Ahram Online that it was not the time for such protests.
“They have the right to protest, but criticism by journalists needs to subtle so the world doesn't see us as people who can’t express ourselves appropriately,” said Arafa Shaaban, an interior designer.
Shaaban said he had not read any of the articles that led to the charges against Qandil.