Egypt cracks down on press




By Mark Huband in Cairo

Financial Times, 2 April 1998

Egyptian authorities banned distribution of 36 newspapers and magazines printed in tax-free industrial zones yesterday in the latest action against the country’s increasingly outspoken independent media.

A wide range of English and Arabic language newspapers will be affected by the ban issued on Tuesday by the General Authority for Investment (Gafi), which controls the tax-free zones. Newspapers published in the free zones are subject to censorship both before and after printing. Only on receipt of written clearance and payment of customs duties may each issue be distributed outside the free zone.

Journalists regard the latest action as an attempt by political figures opposed to economic liberalisation to undermine the media in advance of any liberalisation of Egypt’s political system.

“It’s the function of the media that they don’t like. If we move properly into the privatisation process, the entire power structure will change in Egypt,” said Hisham Qassem, publisher of the Cairo Times, which is printed in the tax-free zone.”They want to get us now, because within a year they won’t be able to.”

Doubts have been raised over whether the Gafi has authority to ban distribution of publications. A government official confirmed yesterday “there is nothing in the [free zones] legislation affecting the press.”

One official said the action was taken on orders of the prime minister, Kamel el-Ganzouri, who had become “thin skinned” in the face of criticism of government policy. “This is an example of the [reformist] pendulum hitting the other wall. ..It’s one step back, but at some point – not next week, perhaps next year – there will be two steps forward.”


© Financial Times