Egyptian journalist arrested days after publishing 'critical report' on Sisi's son

Egyptian journalist arrested days after publishing 'critical report' on Sisi's son
Journalist Shady Zalat was arrested in the early hours of Saturday morning.
4 min read
23 November, 2019
Mada Masr is widely regarded as Egypt's last independent news outlet [Twitter]
An Egyptian journalist was detained early on Saturday in what critics warn is a dangerous escalation against press freedom in the country, independent news site Mada Masr said.

Journalist Shady Zalat has worked as an editor for Mada Masr since 2014. The website, which is published in both English and Arabic, is perhaps the only remaining media outlet critical of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Zalat was taken from his home early on Saturday morning by plain-clothes security forces who "did not identify themselves or present an arrest warrant", the website said in a statement.

"Four plainclothes security officers entered the apartment, while a number of uniformed, armed security forces waited outside," Masa Masr said. "The officers detained Shady, confiscating his laptop, as well as his wife's, and taking a number of documents related to his work."

The arrest came just two days after the independent news site published a report alleging the Egyptian president's son, Mahmoud al-Sisi, was being sidelined for failing to manage his responsibilities as a senior intelligence official.

Instead of remaining in Cairo, Mahmoud Sisi will move to Egypt's diplomatic mission in the Russian capital Moscow, the report said, citing intelligence sources.

Speaking to Mada Masr, one intelligence official said the president's son had been blamed for mishandling a series of corruption allegations thrown against Sisi and the military in September. The accusations of endemic misappropriation of public funds by former military contracted Mohamed Ali resulted in weeks of unprecedented protests against Sisi.

It is not yet clear where Zalat is being held and whether he has been charged with any criminal activity.

After detaining the Mada Masr editor, security personnel returned to Zalat's home and confiscated his mobile phone, telling his wife that he was being taken to the Giza security directorate.

The website could not verify the claim, but added that security forces had earlier this month questioned the doorman of Zalat's apartment building about his work.

"He has done nothing more than use words to report the news. His arrest marks yet another escalation in the crackdown against journalism in Egypt," the statement said.

"We hold Egyptian authorities responsible for his safety and well being and call for his immediate and unconditional release."

Tributes to independent journalism

Supporters of the news outlet have been quick to call for Zalat's release, pointing to the importance of the outlet as the "last remaining independent media outlet" in Egypt.

"Every [government] following Egypt. Every news outlet covering Egypt. Every researcher working on contemporary Egypt relies on @MadaMasr & its superb coverage," Egypt researched Timothy Kaldas said in a tweet. "Each of you who do please personally publicise this warrantless arrest of one of their editors & demand his release."

Middle East scholar Dr H A Hellyer added: "There has been a furore about tensions and threats felt by foreign media in Egypt in the past. Mada Masr and its journalists are no less valuable than the New York Times or the Washington Post."

British-Egyptian author Omar Robert Hamilton described the arrest as a "significant escalation against the last bastion of free speech in Egypt".

"For years, Mada has managed to resist massive pressure from the state - partly, we believe, because of its high international profile," he said in a tweet.