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The Press under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces

Following nationwide anti-Mubarak protests held from January 25, 2011, to February 11, 2011, Egypt’s scaf ousted Mubarak and assumed executive power in Egypt. The military leadership oversaw Egypt’s post-uprising transition period for approximately a year and a half, until June 30, 2012, the day Morsi was inaugurated as Egypt’s fifth president.

It is during this period that a transition toward democracy would have been aided by major changes to both Egypt’s draconian press law and the nation’s penal code, including articles restricting free expression and freedom of the press. Making such changes would have been within the scaf’s power because, in the aftermath of the uprising and following the dissolution of Mubarak’s parliament, the military leaders also assumed legislative power.29 In addition to an overhauling of the nation’s legal framework, Lina Atallah suggested that Egypt’s state media also needed to be “purged” in the aftermath of the January 2011 uprising.30

Initially, the scaf promised to put an end to the Emergency Law and to make other changes to promote a free press.31 However, it eventually opted for the status quo, keeping the Emergency Law and other restrictive laws on the books. The lack of media law reform during this time may have been the product of a genuine desire on the part of military authorities to manipulate the press and stifle dissent. It may also be the case that military authorities did not have sufficient time to reform a deeply flawed press industry during what was to be a relatively short transition to civilian rule. Ultimately, however, there seems to have been little appetite for legal reform.

After a very brief honeymoon period immediately following the ouster of Mubarak, tensions rose between the scaf and January 25 revolutionaries, who became critical of the military’s road map for Egypt’s future. By summer and fall 2011, press criticism of the military authority had become commonplace.32 The scaf responded to attacks on their policies by summoning journalists to appear before military courts, reactivating the Emergency Law, and using intimidation tactics to stifle dissent. Moreover, the scaf used existing media laws to prosecute journalists and send bloggers and protesters to military trials.33 On two separate occasions during scaf rule, for example, Egyptian police raided the offices of Al Jazeera Mubashir Misr, an Al Jazeera affiliate dedicated to news about Egypt, and physically assaulted staff members on at least one occasion.34

The Committee to Protect Journalists (cpj) also noted that the military authorities temporarily shut down the live broadcasts of two news networks, detained workers, and prevented the printing of multiple newspaper editions. cpj’s report also highlighted the sentencing of blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad to three years in jail for “insulting the military.”35 In February 2012, exactly one year after the fall of the Mubarak regime, Human Rights Watch proclaimed that the “climate for free expression in Egypt has worsened since Hosni Mubarak was ousted.”36

One reason for increasing hard-line tactics and repression during scaf rule may have been the increasingly aggressive nature of reporting about government activities in the aftermath of the January 2011 uprising. As 2011 wore on, press attacks on the military authorities increased in both frequency and intensity, possibly as a result of the revolutionary moment’s breaking of the “fear barrier.”37 Writing five months after the January 2011 uprising, Joseph Mayton argued that

Egypt’s newsroom mentality had changed, and that journalists were being “more forceful and brave” in their reporting of human rights abuses. As 2011 progressed, Mayton wrote, there was “growing criticism of the military in almost all Arabic dailies.”38

The scaf did, however, fulfill its promise of holding parliamentary elections in late 2011 and early 2012, and Egyptians voted their first post-uprising parliament into office in January 2012. Islamists, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, dominated the polls, taking about 70 percent of parliamentary seats overall.39

The newly elected Islamist-dominated parliament also chose not to repeal repressive press laws, although the new legislative body did put an end to the Emergency Law in May 2012.40 Like the military, the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament was accused of betraying revolutionary and democratic principles,41 with the brotherhood specifically accused of making a power-sharing pact with the scaf and serving an antidemocratic, military agenda.42 The parliament was disbanded only four months into its term,43 and it seems that it lacked sufficient time for more comprehensive legal reforms.

 
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