Newspaper first victim of Sisi's Palm Sunday emergency measures

Newspaper first victim of Sisi's Palm Sunday emergency measures
Issues of a privately owned al-Bawaba daily were confiscated for two days in a row after publishing a front-page editorial blaming the interior ministry for the Palm Sunday church bombings.
4 min read
11 April, 2017
the bombings killed 46 people and left more than 100 others injured [AFP]

Egyptian authorities suspended two issues of a privately owned newspaper after it published a front-page editorial blaming the interior ministry for the Palm Sunday church bombings, only one day after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency.

"We were shocked by the censor's decision to confiscate al-Bawaba newspaper Tuesday issue for the second day in a row," the pro-state daily said in a statement.

"We believe this step threatens not only the future of press freedom in Egypt, but also freedom and democracy in general."

The blocked issues of al-Bawaba had pointed to the interior minister's "security failure" in relation to the deadly blasts targeting Palm Sunday services at churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria.

Claimed by the Islamic State militant group, the bombings killed 46 people, including security personnel, and left more than 100 others injured.

"No one can threaten the Egyptian press, even the interior minister, who violated the Constitution and confiscated the newspaper for criticising him," Abdel Rehim Ali, founder and editor-in-chief of al-Bawaba, said in a statement.

Ali, a staunch supporter of the regime and known for his connections to Egypt's security authorities, accused the interior minister of negligence of duty for "failing to secure the Egyptian churches and allowing the terrorists to reach the Nile Delta", according to the statement.

Ali was not the only one to point out the interior ministry's failure to secure the churches.

There has been a growing public outrage since the attacks, the deadliest in recent memory on Egypt's Coptic Christian minority.

As mourners bade farewell to the victims of the attacks, angry crowds denounced the security services and called for interior minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar to be replaced and held accountable.

"Leave, leave, Abdel Ghaffar!" mourners chanted.

"The families will be satisfied with nothing except holding those delinquents accountable, even if they include Minister of the Interior," al-Bawaba said in its statement.

Ali also criticised the Prime Minister's approval of the three-month state of emergency, declared by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the country's president since he staged a coup against his predecessor in 2013, in a televised speech on Sunday.

The new state of emergency grants Sisi the right to issue written or oral directives related to monitoring and intercepting all forms of communication and correspondence, imposing censorship prior to publication and confiscating extant publications, imposing a curfew or ordering the closure of commercial establishments and the sequestration of private property.

The army chief-turned-president also announced the founding of the "Supreme Council to Counter Terror and Extremism", a new security apparatus he said was aimed at combating terrorism on all fronts, including in the media.

In his speech, Sisi criticised the coverage of Sunday's attacks in local media, particularly the publishing of graphic images of the victims, urging media outlets to act with responsibility.

Experts have since warned that the emergency measures will worsen human rights abuses by the state, while alone being ineffective to contain the wave of violence in the country.

The state of emergency may help Sisi further crack down on Muslim Brotherhood “but it won’t get at the real problem,” Eric Trager, a fellow at the Washington Institute specialising in Egyptian politics, told the LA Times. “The real problem is the Egyptian military refuses to adopt a counterinsurgency strategy in the Sinai. Until that changes, it’s hard to imagine the security situation improving.”

Copts, who make up about one tenth of Egypt's population of more than 92 million and who celebrate Easter next weekend, have endured successive attacks since the ousting of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in a 2013 military coup, led by then defence minister Sisi.

More than 40 churches were targeted nationwide in the two weeks after the deadly dispersal by security forces of two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo on 14 August that year, Human Rights Watch said.

In December, a suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State group killed 29 worshippers during Sunday mass in Cairo.