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A Guide to Egypt's Challenges: Freedom of Speech, Media & the Arts

Bassem Sabry provides a multi-pronged overview of the political, economic and social challenges facing Egypt's first post-Mubarak president, with an emphasis on the everyday problems facing average Egyptians

Bassem Sabry , Thursday 16 Aug 2012
Egyptian dailies mushroomed after revolution (Photo: Mohamed Nada)
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Views: 6057

One of the key issues in post-revolutionary Egypt, the debate over the freedoms of media, speech and especially the creative arts gained further urgency after the conviction of Adel Iman, one of the country's most famous film actors, on charges of insulting religion in his decades-long body of work.

The court's legal justification and its initial sentence of three months in prison sparked vociferous criticism by legal experts as well as political commentators and rights and artists' groups. All of Iman's films were approved by Egypt's censorship board, which considered the religious aspects of the productions.
The sentence is currently under second appeal with a verdict due 12 September. The outcome is likely to have a profound influence on the general debate.
Another controversy erupted after an Egyptian court, an Islamist MP and a parliamentary committee all made separate calls to block local access to pornographic websites. 
Such proposals raised concerns in some quarters about the state's right to censor all materials available on the internet.
It was described by some political commentators as the thin end of the wedge, whereby the blocking of supposedly objectionable content would eventually spread to the political and creative spheres, stifling debate and dissent. The example of Iran is often touted.
Egypt's liberals, literary and artistic figures have said now is the time to break many traditional taboos, end the country's long-standing censorship board, and bring down the barriers to all freedom of expression . 
Islamist groups, particularly the FJP -- who currently dominate the political scene and are generally socially conservative -- are faced with a conundrum. They appear to be searching for a delicate, and perhaps sui generis policy, to solve the dispute.
On one hand, they wish to avoid going down in history - locally and in world opinion -- as having cracked down on liberties and free expression, and paralleling too closely the example of Iran.
On the other, their stance has to address a significant portion of their political base as well as a general population that is mainly conservative.
Former presidential contender Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, for instance, made the proposal of abolishing the censorship board then bringing together artists, politicians and legislators to create a new law and system to both encourage the creative process and somehow respect conservative conerns. The keyword in that proposal, however, is "somehow".
The recent temporary suspension of the Al-Faraeen TV channel, and the court-ordered confiscation of new issues of the daily Al-Dostour, the latter subject of investigation for inciting sectarian violence and insulting the head of state, have also created a storm of controversy.

While both media outlets were substantially criticised for their content, and accused of fabrication and propaganda against figures associated with the revolution and - most staunchly - the Muslim Brotherhood, some commentators worry that the moves were rather politically motivated, and that the manner with which the decisions were taken might pose a threat to the freedom of the media.

Resurfacing in the aftermath was a near-unanimous conviction on the need for a genuine overhaul of laws governing news media, especially with regards to what constitutes a violation and how these violations should be addressed; and how to safeguard freedom of speech while responding to unprofessional conduct by news outlets.

Most recently, censorship authorities banned a Middle East History textbook from entry the country. The book was already in use for nearly ten years by the American University in Cairo according to the University's Chair of History Khaled Fahmy, reported Ahram Online. As of yet, there has been no official explanation for the sudden ban of the book, nor have those in possession of the book been able to locate a particularly controversial section within it.

The inexplicable ban of the book also further raises questions on the future of the outdated practice of censorship of print media, especially in the age of open access to infinite controversial content online, with already a significant percentage of the country having one form of connection to the internet or another.

See also:

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Slums & Random Housing

Religious Freedoms, Minorities

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01-11-2012 01:42am
A Guide to Egypt's Challenges: Freedom of Speech, Media & the Arts
Bassem sabery, first of you should understand that Egypt is not a Western, Secular, and Christian state. You can not put those Western values in overwhelmingly Muslim populated country which has the best and tested rule of law for centuries. Under freedom of expression comes the responsibilty, without responsibility the state can not function, this creates anarchy, and disturbs peace. For example there was Copt who posted anti Islam film to insult and humiliate the ideals of 1.5B Muslims. If it would happened in Israel, and the US the guy would be in jail and possibly killed. Other item is Media, the Egyptian media in the Mubarak era was tamed like a cat, never went against Mubarak emergency laws, or other excesses. Now the media took the liberty to write and show whatever it makes money or divide people. such is the case of Okasha. The Egyptian media is financially supported by foreign entities. For 3rd item Arts, there is no defined control on Arts, do you want Art of American and we
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Dr. Malek Towghi /Tauqee (Baluch) --USA
19-08-2012 12:41am
The need for an open debate
You are right that the general population is mainly conservative; I believe, however, that an open --not necessarily vulgar -- debate about the problems of mixing religion in the conduct of common state affairs ... and that separation of Islam from politics will serve its spiritual cause better etc., the masses will prefer a so-called secularist constitution. An open debate on the basis of existing Islamic primary sources will obviously challenge the claim that the so-called Raashideen Era was a faultless Ideal era ... and that before a radical reinterpretation of the the Quran and the sources of information about the Sunnah by the ulamaa themselves, their application today is not only impossible but also counterproductive for the image of Islam and for the Muslim society itself. Yo cannot expect the Non-Muslim Egyptians and the women at large , e.g. to accept the Quran-Sunnah verdicts HAPPILY. The question is: Will the Islamists allow such an open debate before they dump t
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