الجمعة، أبريل 26، 2013

My Speech in "Safety of Journalists Conference " - Warsaw 23-24 April 2013


In the beginning I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the
organizers of this conference for inviting me to talk about freedom of
speech in Egypt throughout my own experience in this regard and also
through my daily following of the news and the political development in
this country during the last two years after those popular protests and
uprisings which some people still prefer to call “ The Arab Spring “
despite of it’s disastrous results which we still watch and experience till
this moment .

During the last ten years , the Egyptian citizens have become not only
reliable on the traditional media tools such as radio , journalism and TV
as they used to do in the past as a source of the daily news and
information , but they have started moving towards new media tools
appeared and grown up after increase of internet usage and its multiple
applications.

Those tools started in the form of news web pages and later on it
developed to blogs which sometimes are administered by one person and
afterwards we had the social networks which became a very important
part of our daily life .

In this type of media which I prefer to call “ The Citizen Media “ , the
individuals did not only take the receiver position , but they became able
to create the news , participate and interact with it , it’s source and with
the other followers .

The authoritarian governments often control media because in any
country, the presence of free media is the dictators’ nightmare. That's
why Egyptian governments since the 1952's military coup and until not so
long time ago, was forcing a strict censorship on newspapers and not
allowed publishing of any news which criticized the government or it’s
policies. At the same time, they own the Radio and TV and don't allow
any independent sector to own private TV or radio channels.

Media is the primary mobilizer of the people, and any authoritarian
regime is aware of this and seeks to own and control media to assure
controlling people's minds and restricting their actions. Since the
emergence of journalism, there is a constant struggle between it and
successive authorities which ruled Egypt and used different ways to
suppress journalism and adapt it to serve their goals such as :

1-preventing journalists from accessing information.

2- threatening or bribing them.

3- issuing laws that punish journalists with imprisonment if they criticize
authority , religion or social norms .

4- making people associate the profession of journalism with negative
meanings and inciting them not to cooperate with journalists.

In a past era and until near time , authorities could control and monitor all
media and communication tools, but technological developments and the
emergence of internet ended that era. But this didn't end authorities’
desire to suppress the freedom of opinion and expression. This freedom
is the factor that threatens it’s existence the most.

The internet is not like newspaper journalism , TV channels or radio
waves that the authorities can control or monitor easily , as they can do
with the mentioned media tools to censor what they don’t want the reader
or watcher to get .

Internet is distinguished from other media by the fact that it’s owned by
all users. It’s owned by individuals who can use it as they want and
publish whatever they want without referring to authorities who cannot
do more than blocking websites they don't like, and many internet users
can access blocked sites by different methods. And they also can choose
to hide their identities and their related activities if they want for security
reasons .

Since the appearance of electronic press and blogs, authorities became
so confused about how to deal with it. Electronic press and blogs are not
easily controlled like other media. Especially blogs which anyone can
create and edit freely. It allows average citizens to express what they
feel and send public and private messages without passing through
censorship. They can spare themselves dangers through hiding their
identity and any personal information. Censoring the internet, blocking
websites or arresting some writers to frighten others, is not useful
anymore .

The emergence of internet in Egypt opened our eyes on the world. This
world which we before were able to see only through the narrow window
of the gate keepers , authorities were controlling the information which
we got about this world and censored what they think its dangerous for
their survival.

But internet broke this narrow window and made us see the world
without limits or boundaries. Naturally, the first thing that my generation
longed for, was the thing that past generations were deprived of till they
forgot what it means and became scared of it :

freedom.

Throughout the internet , our informatic horizon has been expanded , and
our dreams have exceeded the limits of what our ancestors imagined
possible, and authorities started to feel disturbed, but it was too late !.

The authorities tried to deal with the new reality using the old methods ,
but they completely failed. In the past , the authorities’ violence ,
suppression and oppression achieved it’s goals and scared the people of
the possibility of facing the same destiny which the others who worked
against the authorities had. this was natural under the media blackout
which affected everything , but after that using of internet became
available for everyone and the reality has been changed .

When we became able to look out in the world and follow what is going
on around us on this planet , we became determined to get our freedoms
more than before . The oppression of some of us using the traditional
authoritarian methods in the time that we were able to see the free world
from a widely open window, generated extreme anger power and made
us move very strongly against the authorities’ oppression driven by our
desire to get what our peers are enjoying in the other parts of the world
which have preceded us in theorizing for the individual and personal
freedoms and succeeded in applying what their thinkers and philosophers
were calling for in reality after a lot of struggles and blood streams .

After it was too late , the authorities found that using the traditional
oppression methods causes undesired results , the number of bloggers
has been doubled many times despite of everything. The bloggers
organized a lot of political actions against the ex-regime, and it was not
possible to stop them or control their actions , even when the regime
tried to scare them by charging me with blasphemy and defaming of the
former president of Egypt and imprisoning me for four years. It was
useless , totally the opposite , their stubbornness and determination
increased and their actions attracted a large number of the people who
hated the regime from all society’s sectors.

And when use of social networks started, and after they entered the
political field and played a big role in organizing and mobilizing for the

opposition events and activities , it was the beginning of the last part in
the story of this regime which depended on controlling the media and
other information sources and communications to survive .

The real start was on the sixth of April 2008 , when a group of young
people called for a public strike in Egypt through Facebook , none of
them were expecting that it would give the results which were achieved
later , but it was a successful action , it had mobilized a large number of
citizens who participated in this strike which disturbed the regime very
much. It made the regime feel a huge danger coming from the social
networks , and they started an attempt to decrease using it in the
opposition political action by any means , so they arrested the organizers
of this strike for nearly a month , then they released them after a lot of
pressure made on the Egyptian government locally and internationally .

This strike was like a microcosm of the revolution against the ruling
regime , it gave us a big hope to overthrow a cruel military regime which
ruled our country since 1952 using all means of oppression to silence the
voices of any real opposition .

The success of this strike gave the young people a green light to go
forward more and more till they achieved their own goal after less than
three years after their strike which was like a test balloon . it gave them
a lot of confidence of themselves and of their ability to make the change
which they were dreaming of. All the credit goes to the new media tools
which are resistant to all forms of restriction and repression .

The falling of the Mubarak Regime dropped the fear completely from the
new generation’s hearts , but the change which we were dreaming of has
not been achieved yet .

The Supreme Council of  The Armed Forces (SCAF)was handed the power
from the Mubarak Regime and directed the transitional period with a
strict military mentality .

The army generals treated the Egyptian people during this transitional
period the same way they are accustomed to deal with their soldiers
inside military units , and during a period of sixteen months , the duration
of the transitional period , they created a lot of hostility with different
sectors of the society which their pride of the Egyptian Army’s glories
turned into painful memories of torture and oppression inside the military
prisons .

The Army Generals failed in getting close to the people and gaining their
support , and the history recorded that this transitional period has been
marred by violence and oppression and suppression of opponents,
especially those who express their views freely.

During a short time since the SCAF took the rule in Egypt , hundreds of
rebels were sent to the military prisons where they faced a brutal torture
and different kinds of physical abuses which reached the limits of
stripping a rebel girls completely and subjected them to virginity tests .

Those rebels had not committed any crimes at all , all what they did was
that they practiced their own right to freedom of expression peacefully
by protesting , and writing on social networks, websites and blogs and
also drawing graffiti. One of them was the blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad
who spent 10 months in jail under the military regime just because he
wrote an article about some of the military’s crimes which happened in
the beginning of the transitional period .

But after electing the new president Mohamed Morsi who has been
called by his group , the Muslim Brotherhood , the first civilian elected
president , everything has been changed , but to the worst.

The new authorities became more disturbed because of the opposition’s
voices. They became no longer able to tolerate criticism. It didn’t take a
long time from the president came to power, till his group and their
Islamic allies started submitting a large number of reports to the public
persecution against journalists , TV presenters , activists , bloggers and
oppositional politicians accusing them with defaming of the Egyptian
president and blasphemy. And they did not stop at the limits of
persecution , judgement and courts to shut the mouths of people who are
tweeting outside the Muslim Brotherhood’s swarm , but they exceeded it
to attacking the journalists who were covering the political actions
against the Muslim Brotherhood till it reached the limits of assassination .

Last November, the Muslim Brotherhood Militias assassinated the
opposition journalist ”Alhussiny Abu-Daif “ during their attack on a sit-inaction organized by some oppositions in front of Al-Ittihadia presidential
palace in Cairo , and later on there was a number of attacks against other
journalists who were documenting the attacks which the MB militias made
against opposition protesters .

Also the persecution of journalists and TV presenters continued with
different Accusations , and later the public persecution investigated the

popular comedy TV presenter Bassem Yousef because of his sarcastic
program “ Al-barnameg “, and they accused him with blasphemy and
defaming of the president, and they released him after he paid a bail .

The problem now is that the current authority has not learned anything
from the lessons of the past yet , and it seems like they are not ready to
learn .

I think that any attempt made by the authorities to suppress the freedom
of media is useless in this new era .

It will not work with the young generation which is no longer afraid after
they experienced all difficult moments and broke the barrier of fear and
destroyed all legends. In the meantime the muslim brotherhood leaders
belong to the past and think in an old fashioned way and try to apply what
can not longer be applied in this time. They don't realize that they are
fighting with expired arms .

It looks like our struggle for getting our complete freedom to express our
opinions and views without fear or concern will continue for a longer
period , but we will not give up working hard to get it from those people
who want to turn the clock back and obligate us to get inside their own
time machine which can only travel back in time to the seventh and
eighth centuries !!

We will fight with all our strength all those desperate attempts which we
deeply believe are ineffective on the long term as much as we believe
that going back is no longer possible. And those old politicians will
realize soon while they are dying, how much they were stupid and foolish
when they imagined that they can abort our hopes and own our future and
prevent our dreams from getting their way and be accomplished by using
the same stupid methods which their ancestors used to oppress them .

We might be in lack of money, influence and power which they have, but
we have much insistence and determination that those who are used to
bow to pass storms, can not resist.