Egyptians urged to report media ‘hurting national interests’ ahead of presidential election as el-Sissi eyes likely victory

Associated Press, 13
March, 2018

List of
phone numbers has potentially given millions of government supporters an
official channel to complain against any content critical of authorities

authorities have published a list of telephone numbers for citizens to use to
bring to the attention of prosecutors any media reports they perceive as
undermining the country’s security or hurting public interest.
publication of the numbers – listed in a statement issued late on Monday by the
office of Egypt’s chief prosecutor – is a step up in the government’s crackdown
on the media, less than two weeks before the presidential election in which the
incumbent, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi,
is running virtually unopposed.
week, chief prosecutor Nabil Sadeq told his staff to monitor the media and move
against any they consider to be “hurting national interests”.
statement, however, has potentially provided millions of Egyptians who support
el-Sissi and his government with an official channel to complain against any
media content critical of the authorities.


statement listed eight mobile phone numbers for different parts of Egypt,
advising citizens to send complaints on WhatsApp or as text messages. It
instructed citizens to provide their personal details, along with their
complaints, and said the move was a follow-up to Sadeq’s statement last week.
government has already sought to exert heavy control over reporting on the
March 26 to 28 election, issuing guidelines barring journalists from asking people
who they would vote for beforehand or from conducting any polling.
have also increasingly depicted criticism as a violation of national security
at a time when Egypt is trying to revive its economy battered by years of
turmoil and contain an insurgency by Islamic militants.
A general
turned president, el-Sissi has worked to quiet much of the media, demanding
everyone fall in line with his policies to restore stability. But the threat of
prosecution is in contrast to mostly indirect methods used in the past to
silence dissenters.
The state
media and most privately owned television networks are loyal to el-Sissi and
spearheaded by powerful talk show hosts who lavishly praise his policies, cover
up failures and demonise critics.
television personalities have been taken off air and dozens of independent and
Islamist news sites on the internet have been blocked. With pro-government
media sometimes depicting foreign press as promoting a negative image of Egypt,
cameramen in the streets can sometimes face harassment from crowds or police.

Since the
crackdown began, a pro-government talk show host was detained for two days for
insulting the police on his state television programme, in which he advocated
for higher salaries for policemen.
State Information service has called on officials and the country’s “elite” to
boycott the BBC after it broadcast a report on the repression of dissent under
el-Sissi that addressed torture and forced disappearances. It has demanded an
apology from the BBC and asked the broadcaster to confirm that its report
contained inaccuracies.
Also this
month, prosecutors ordered the detention of two journalists after their arrest
while preparing a report on the historic tramway in the Mediterranean city of
Alexandria. In a separate case, both the playwright and director of a show at a
Cairo sports club were arrested for their involvement in a play seen as
insulting to security forces.
authorities have waged a fierce crackdown on Islamists since 2013, when el-Sissi
as defence minister led the military’s removal of president Mohammed Morsi, an
Islamist whose one year in office proved divisive. Thousands of Islamists have
been arrested, and the campaign has also targeted secular pro-democracy
activists, many of whom are now in prison.
has said he wants to build a modern and democratic state but has also said
liberties must take a back seat to ensuring stability and fighting terror.