Cairo, Egypt – Essam Fouad was on the phone, trying to figure out why his Misr 25 television station had just gone off air, when the security officers arrived.
“I turned my back and walked away so they wouldn’t see me,” the channel’s director of programming told Al Jazeera.
Fouad said the Muslim Brotherhood-owned Misr 25 suddenly went off air, just seconds after Egypt’s army chief, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, announced on Wednesday that Mohamed Morsi was no longer president of Egypt, and that the country’s constitution had been suspended.
Moments later, security officers raided the station’s offices, detaining around 40 of its employees. And Misr 25 wasn’t the only network to be hit.
Al Hafez, al Nas, and other television channels that many Egyptians describe as pro-Morsi, were also taken off air. The state-owned al-Ahram printing press refused to publish the official newspaper of Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, which is closely affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood.
|Fouad Haddad said the media crackdown showed
the army’s ‘weakness’ [Matthew Cassel/Al Jazeera]
“The army shutting TV channels proves al-Sisi’s weakness in the situation,” Fouad said. “If he was strong he wouldn’t keep people from knowing the truth.”
Security officers also raided the offices of Al Jazeera Misr Mubasher and Al Jazeera Arabic, detaining staff from both channels. Most were released soon after. Ayman Gaballah, director of AJMM, was only released from custody late on Friday, reportedly on a bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,480).
Associated Press Television News was told not to provide Al Jazeera with any footage of the demonstrations in Egypt or with any filming equipment, while the Cairo News Company was also warned against providing broadcasting equipment to the Qatar-based network.
In a statement on Thursday, Al Jazeera condemned the move.
|Listening Post: Mayhem, Morsi and the media
“Media offices should not be subject to raids and intimidation. Journalists should not be detained for doing their jobs,” said Al Jazeera’s acting director general, Mostefa Souag.
The army’s closures have sent a worrying message to local journalists and rights groups that free speech might be under threat by Egypt’s new leadership.
“Closing television stations or imposing similar arbitrary restrictions on media purely on the basis of their political or religious affiliation is a violation of the right to freedom of expression,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
“We urge the military not to deprive Egyptians of information sources at this important juncture,” said Sherif Mansour from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
Egypt is still finding its feet after the February 2011 revolution brought an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s three decades in office.
A transitional period headed by the nation’s military followed, before Egypt’s first free elections were held last year with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi claiming victory in the second round.
|FJP spokesperson Gehad Haddad said the move
resembled ‘a police state’ [Matthew Cassel/Al Jazeera]
On June 30, the one-year anniversary of Morsi assuming office, nationwide protests began calling on him to step down.
The army issued the president an ultimatum on Monday giving him 48 hours to “meet the people’s demands”.
In a televised address late on Tuesday, Morsi defended his “legitimacy” after winning the popular poll. On Wednesday, he called for a coalition government in a bid to ease protests.
But it wasn’t enough to placate the demonstrations against him, and on Wednesday night the army announced he had been deposed. Tens of thousands in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the 2011 uprising, celebrated the army’s announcement and continue to do so days later.
In an interview with the New York Times on Thursday, opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, who is due to be sworn in as Egypt’s interim prime minister, praised the army and defended its closure of media networks.
The Islamist channels, he said, “have been calling for vengeance and murder and incitement to kill, so they have to shut them down for a while”.
These are the oppressive tactics of the dark ages.
But in the Nasr City area of Cairo, thousands of Morsi supporters have protested what they say is a military coup and called for Morsi to be reinstated, and the TV channels to be put back on air.
FJP spokesperson Gehad Haddad told Al Jazeera that the army’s moves resembled “a police state” and were antithetical to the principles of democracy.
“These are oppressive tactics of the dark ages,” Haddad said.
Misr 25’s Fouad said the tactics were not unlike those used by Mubarak’s administration.
“Mubarak was a dictator, but cutting the signal was [usually] enough for him,” he said.
With protests continuing days after the coup, Fouad expressed doubt that Misr 25, which opened months after the February 2011 uprising, would be back on air.
“I don’t think we’ll open again until people go to the street and demand President Morsi returns to power.”
But Khaled Dawoud, spokesperson of ElBaradei’s National Salvation Front, defended the move.
“I hope this is an exceptional measure that will last only for a few days,” he told Al Jazeera
“When you have a critical time of change like this and you have some other people who are trying to incite supporters to go and fight I don’t think it is useful to have these channels working at these critical hours.”
During his year in office, Morsi was criticised for restricting press freedoms. A state prosecutor had been investigating the popular television satirist Bassem Yousef and journalists critical of the president, however, none were jailed and no channels were taken off the air.
Cairo-based journalist Wael Eskander, who supported the demonstrations against Morsi, told Al Jazeera that he thought the channels had, at times, been guilty of dangerous coverage – but was worried by the precedent now being set
“I understand why they’re closing – to end incitement – but this shouldn’t be permanent and [the reason for closing them] should be transparent,” he said.
“Closing the stations down, if it’s permanent, is reminiscent of autocratic regimes.
“Today, what if someone is critical of or the military or president? What’s going to happen to them?”
Follow Matthew Cassel on Twitter: @justimage