Egyptian journalists protest against "restrictions on media" in front of the journalists' syndicate on 4 December (Photo: Ekram Ibrahim)
Some Egyptian diplomats and media personnel have complained that they are being pressured by their bosses into refraining from criticising Egypt president Mohamed Morsi.
Opposition forces have frequently accused Morsi of attempting to curb freedoms since the influential Muslim Brotherhood group propelled him into office in Egypt's first freely contested elections earlier this year.
“I was summoned into the office of the assistant (foreign) minister; he said we were all partners in making the (January) Revolution a success and now we should be sensible to help the president deliver the hopes and dreams of the Revolution," said a young diplomat about what he considered as an explicit warning by his boss.
"He added a few incoherent words about the national role of the foreign service, its independence and so on; then he asked me to be ‘careful’ and not to confuse my role as a diplomat with that of an activist."
According to this diplomat, who asked for his name to be withheld to spare the disclosure of the identity of his boss, other young diplomats were given the same warnings.
“One of them was told that his overt opposition to the president would undermine his chances to go a good post and another was told that the minister (of foreign affairs) is so angry with his ministry being looked at as disloyal by the president,” the same diplomat added.
During the past few weeks, some diplomats have declined to bow to orders issued by Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr to promote the president’s political choices, Ahram Online has learnt.
Others have declined to observe the referendum over a controversial draft of the constitution. In the two cases the minister received written and open letters from the concerned diplomats.
Meanwhile, on their internal diplomats' Facebook group, the Lotus, Egyptian diplomats have openly criticised the president’s decisions and what they perceived as the "unsatisfactory state of foreign relations due to the choices of the president".
To prompt an end to this, the minister had re-issued a decree, which was in place during the transitional rule of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), to prohibit discussion over state affairs through the Lotus under the pretext that this attitude "poses a threat to state secrets”.
Restrictions on media?
The attempt to rein in criticism against President Morsi at the foreign ministry is not unique in key state bodies.
Editors and broadcasters at the state-run Radio and TV channels have been rebuked, according to their accounts, by the minister of information and his aides for their participation in the activities of political opposition.
According to one broadcaster of an entertainment programme, her head of section openly told her “we have photos of you taking part in the demonstrations against the political leadership next to the presidential palace”.
“I told him he did not need get the photos because, yes, I was there and yes I would go there again and if he wants me to be legally penalised, he needs to start an official investigation into my professional conduct – otherwise he has no business with my political choices,” she said.
Meanwhile, three news broadcasters and anchors of political shows on the radio and TV say they hate being on air doing an interview with one of the opposition figure because "no matter how hard we try to force a limit on the criticism made against the president and his political decisions, our effort is never appreciated by the minister".
Minister Salah Abdel-Maqsoud, who is known for his affiliation with the Muslim Brothehrood, recently said that he would have put a member of Brotherhood members at the head of every Radio and TV section had there been enough of them at his ministry.
Beyond the state ministries, Egyptians working at some regional organisations have also complained of similar treatment.
Two Egyptian officials at the Arab League say they received “indirect” and “polite” remarks from their heads of departments over their political activism. One said she offered to take a leave without pay if her activism was a source of embarrassment and the other said that she informed her boss that she “had participated in every day of the demonstrations of the 25 January Revolution and that today nothing is going to stop her".