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Egyptian journalist Ibrahim Isa comments on his court referral

BBC Monitoring

Excerpt from report by Muslim Brotherhood website Ikhwanonline on 8 October

[Text of interview with editor-in-chief of Al-Dustur newspaper Ibrahim Isa, by Ahmad Ramadan of Ikhwanonline; in Cairo, date not given]

[Ramadan] Don't you believe that the sentence issued against Al-Huwwari and then your referral to the state security court was a strong slap in the face of the Egyptian Press Association [EPA], which has been using dialogue as its approach to the regime?

[Isa] It is indeed a strong slap. It affirms that the problem of the regime is not Ibrahim Isa, or Wa'il al-Abrashi, or Anwar al-Huwwari, or Abd-al-Halim Qandil, or Adil Hammudah. The problem of the regime is the line which the newspapers have charted. Consequently, if the regime wanted to stop free opposition writers who do not receive their orders by phone from anyone, it is all the more willing to infringe on all the writers. This is something which no one understood.

The press community itself thought that the target was Ibrahim Isa because he had gone beyond! the green light in his articles about the president and slandered him. This is what they claim. In other episodes, they say that Ibrahim Isa is a man who is determined to go to jail. The whole thing appeared as if it was a conflict between Ibrahim Isa and the president. However, when the prison sentences were issued ageist the four writers and then against colleagues Anwar al-Huwwari, Mahmud Ghallab and Amir Salim of Al-Wafd newspaper, it was evident that the regime was against the freedom of the press, not the freedom of a writer. There is a big difference here, and the press community should be aware of the difference.

[Ramadan] What if you were convicted in the lawsuit filed against you by the state security court? Could you say then that Ibrahim Isa was a scapegoat for the press that is writing against the regime?

[Isa] I am willing to play the role of Jesus Christ and redeem you. But it would not help you in any way. They have been saying all the time that! they will be tough with Isa, but that does not mean that the four wri ters would not go to jail. Some people think that the regime is rational. The truth of the matter is that when Ibrahim Isa is jailed, there will be others who would follow. When the process starts, nothing will stop it. The charge then would not be attacking Mubarak. In fact, criminal charges would be filed against the head of the Information Authority or anyone publishing a news item saying that the Muslim Brotherhood [MB] Group would organize a demonstration or the military courts were null and void.

In this connection, I dare say with extreme objectivity that I have raised the ceiling of the press freedom in Egypt. Consequently, if Ibrahim Isa or Al-Dustur is hurt, the ceiling of freedom would drop and the punishment would be executed. Newsmen would continue to be suppressed.

[Ramadan] You have always criticized the despotism of the regime and the infringement on liberties. Nonetheless, you write what you want in your articles. Cannot this be viewed as one asp! ect of the freedom of expression?

[Isa] It is courage, not freedom of expression or press freedom. The writers in Egypt acquired their freedom by virtue of their courage not by the articles of the law. It is enough to say that there are 18 legal articles which can send a journalist to jail. It is very simple to imprison a journalist. The truth of the matter is that there is no press freedom in Egypt because there are three prerequisites for the freedom of the press. The first is the freedom of publication of newspapers, and this does not exist in Egypt. Moreover, the publication of newspapers has to be approved by the security services. Secondly, we should stop imprisoning journalists and refrain from punishing a person because of his views. In Egypt, of course, it is easy to imprison journalists. Thirdly, the right of access to information, and this does not exist in our country. Thus the only thing that is left is courage, not freedom. It is the courage of journalis! ts who wanted to carry out operations similar to the ones carried out by commandoes behind enemy lines so as to secure their rights.

[Ramadan] But don't you think that the question of the rumour of the illness and death of the president was a big thing and caused concern at home and abroad?

[Isa] There was no rumour about the illness of the president. The rumour said that the president died or his health severely deteriorated and became very critical. Thus the illness of the president was not a rumour. The rumour did not say that he was ill. Illness is a normal thing for any person. It was not us who disseminated the rumour. What we have published was about the rumour. There is a big and clear difference. What we published was a denial of the rumour. We said that President Mubarak was enjoying his full health. A week later I published a report saying that the president was suffering from problems in the circulatory system, which is a normal disease that is linked to the age of the president. Do not forget, he is 80 years old. We pr! ay to God to give him good health. [Passage omitted noting that no official denial was made about the president's illness]

[Ramadan] But you are accused of disseminating the rumour on a wide-scale?

[Isa] The people saw the president walking with their own eyes. How can it be said that I was disseminating rumours. If you believe that Al-Dustur has reached this level of strength and credibility, you should then be thankful to our newspaper. [Passage omitted, saying that al-Dustur is not that powerful]

[Ramadan] Do you think that this escalation against you could affect the future of your newspaper?

[Isa] This is not important. I am not worried about the future of Al-Dustur, but I am worried about the future of the freedom of expression. Al-Dustur was closed down for eight years, but none of us starved to death. During the period of the closure of the newspaper, the political and press communities did not stop talking about Al-Dustur. Al-Dustur has infl! uenced generations, websites and patterns of thought. Ever since the p ublication of its first issue, Al-Dustur heralded a beginning of a new press in Egypt. In fact, some of my colleagues used to tease me by saying that I was the editor-in-chief of the new press, not Al-Dustur. Everyone was influenced by Al-Dustur. All the newspapers published after December 1995 were influenced by Al-Dustur. The influence of Al-Dustur has even reached Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar and Al-jumhuriyah. I can confidently say that Al-Dustur was like the stone which we threw at the still pool of the press. It has in fact, changed the face of the Egyptian press. Al-Dustur was closed down after publishing 116 issues, but its influence will survive because it has left its impact on the political rank and file and the Egyptian mind. Consequently, it has played an important role.

[Ramadan] You have criticized those who report their journalist colleagues to the security services. However, some of them have accused you of contacts with the security services. What is your answ! er?

[Isa] I do not understand. What is the evidence? Should we believe everything we hear? It is natural that my adversaries would level accusations of this sort to me. They criticize me because I am a puzzle to them. They cannot classify me as belonging to a specific trend. Therefore, they accused Al-Dustur of being the newspaper of the Muslim Brotherhood [MB] Group at one point. At another point, they accused the newspaper that it was financed by the United States. They also accused the newspaper of being financed by Iran and that I was a Shi'i. They are making contradictory accusations. In my pattern of thinking for example, I do not love the Zionists and Hezbollah is fighting against them. Consequently, I am on the side of Hezbollah. I base my stands on personal beliefs, not on anything else.

[Ramadan] What are the methods used by the security services to infiltrate the press?

[Isa] There is more than one method which the security services use to infil! trate the press. There is the direct method of enlisting the service o f some of the personnel working in the newspapers. There is another method of indirect penetration, namely, participation in the appointment of the editors-in-chief in the national newspapers. The third method is indirect and includes the approval of the security services as a prerequisite for the publication of any newspaper, whether Egyptian or foreign. [Passage omitted, reviewing the eight years in which the newspaper Al-Dustur was suspended]

[Ramadan] You have always criticized the regime for the last 25 years. Is the problem in the person of the president or in the regime?

[Isa] The problem is in the regime. The problem is not one of a person. If we had a regime acting within the bounds of a democratic constitution and accountability of the president, our country would have been different. Progress does not come by building bridges, etc. they can build bridges in Somalia. Nonetheless, the leading figures of the regime keep talking about achievements such as ! the building of bridges, sewerage systems, and the infrastructure. Despite all this, Egypt is declining.

[Ramadan] Is there any person in particular that you would accuse of being the reason for the decline of Egypt?

[Isa] I believe that the state security service is playing a major role in the regime. It is the state security service which is ruling Egypt, influencing the presidential office, not vice versa. What is happening in Egypt is a catastrophe by all standards, i.e. the state security service is governing the state.

Source: Ikhwanonline website, Cairo, in Arabic 8 Oct 07



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