Cairo fuels fears of media clampdown




By Mark Huband in Cairo

Financial Times, 3 June 1998

Egypt has banned the printing of the country’s leading independent English-language newspapers, fuelling speculation that the government plans to silence media criticism of its policies.

Two months after it banned the printing of 36 foreign-registered publications in industrial free zones near Cairo, the government has allowed publication of all but those it describes as “specialist magazines” dealing with cultural and consumer issues, but re-imposed a ban on the independent newspapers. The new ban affects the twice-monthly Cairo Times and the weekly Middle East Times, Egypt’s most widely read non-government English-language publications. Neither is banned from circulation, but both must now meet the potentially prohibitive cost of printing abroad which will add 20 per cent to expenses.

Staff on both newspapers believed the ban in April was directed specifically at them and that the blanket action on all foreign-registered publications printed in Egypt was a tactic to defuse suggestions that the government had no real commitment to press freedom.

The Sahara Printing House, printer of all 36 publications, has now received instructions from the information minister that it cannot print the two newspapers.

“We received instructions that the Cairo Times and the Middle East Times cannot be printed because they are newspapers not magazines,” said Tarek Michel, company spokesman. However, the company has been permitted to print the Helio Times, a newspaper closely resembling the Cairo Times.

This apparent contradiction has added further fuel to suggestions that the specification of the publication is barely relevant and that it is the newspapers’ contents which have been targeted.


© Financial Times