Crackdown on press freedom persists as Egypt's Mada Masr sent to prosecutor-general over Gaza report
The crackdown on press freedom continues in Egypt, a country ranked as the world's third-worst jailer of journalists, as the Supreme Council for Media Regulation has suspended the Cairo-based news outlet Mada Masr on Sunday for six months over allegedly "operating without a license, publishing fabricated news and inflicting harm on national security."
The media regulator referred the online news site to the prosecutor-general over a report it published recently regarding the plans by Israel to possible displacement of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip into Egypt's North Sinai province, the council said in an official statement.
The council added that it had received several complaints that Mada Masr had allegedly cited "unidentified and unreliable sources" in the report in question.
Mada Masr has already apologised to its readers on the outlet's official Facebook page for what it seemed as a misleading headline.
"After reviewing the report, we felt that its headline left room for interpretations that diverged [our readers] from its [intended] content," Mada Masr's statement read.
"That is why we decided to modify the headline and, hence, we are informing you, our readers, of this. We apologise for any confusion," it added.
This is really very serious, and comes as @MadaMasr was leading the story of potential Israeli-Egyptian-American negotiations to settle displaced Gazans in the Sinai (thereby actively facilitating the ethnic cleansing of the Strip) https://t.co/reGvflA8TU— Francesco (@rhtypus) October 29, 2023
Since the 1950s, there have been concerns in Egypt that the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip could be forcibly displaced to North Sinai by Israel, and these sentiments have been strengthened by a recent Israeli order to Palestinians in Gaza to evacuate the north of the enclave.
The Egyptian government has frequently expressed concerns about a possible mass exodus of Palestinians forced to choose between death under Israeli bombing or displacement from their land.
On 18 October, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said during a joint press conference with the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Cairo that Gazans could be moved to the Israeli Negev desert instead of Sinai "until Israel is capable of defeating Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Afterwards, Palestinians could return to their homeland."
A few days later, during a peace summit held in Cairo in the presence of several other heads of state and senior officials and diplomats, Sisi reiterated once again that his government and people had been firmly rejecting the forced displacement of Palestinians from their land under any circumstances.
The Mada Masr editor-in-chief, Lina Attalah, could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.
This was not the first time state authorities had targeted Mada Masr. Earlier in March this year, three reporters with the outlet, arguably one of the remaining free voices in the country, were referred to trial over allegedly offending lawmakers affiliated with a high-profile political party in a report published in August of the previous year.
The state of the media and journalism in Egypt has deteriorated sharply after the then-defence minister, Sisi, overthrew the country's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in July 2013.
Over 500 local and international websites of organisations and news outlets, including Mada Masr, Human Rights Watch and Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, the sister company in the Arabic language of The New Arab, have been banned in the country over the past years.
Among the significant reports by the outlet is one regarding the president's son, senior intelligence officer Mahmoud El-Sisi, published in 2019.
Since then, the feud between the authorities and Mada Masr is believed to have escalated. In the month the report was published, plain-clothed security forces raided the office and held three senior journalists inside the premises, including Attalah, after confiscating their laptops and mobile phones for several hours.