ElBaradei article central to sacking of Al-Dostour’s chief editor

In a move some suspect aims to both muzzle Mohamed ElBaradei’s campaign voice and restrict broader opposition dialogue in Egypt’s media landscape, the independent newspaper Al-Dostour on Tuesday said its mogul publisher has fired the daily's chief editor, an outspoken government critic.

Ibrahim Eissa's dismissal comes amid growing uncertainty over Egypt's political future, with parliamentary elections less than two months away and constant speculation over 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak's health.

Al-Dostour reported on its website early Tuesday that its publisher al-Sayed al-Badawy, who also heads the liberal opposition Wafd party, fired Eissa effective Monday. Eissa, however, claimed he is still in charge of the daily' online edition.  

Abdel Monim Mahmoud, a senior editor at Al-Dostour, said the board of directors has been interfering in the editorial policy of the paper to downplay its criticism of the Egyptian regime.  

“Reda Edward, who is one of the paper’s chief stockholders, met with the paper's editors and informed them of the decision which he said was prompted by Eissa’s editorial policy that has turned off advertisers who fear that posting their ads in al-Dostour may anger the government,” Mahmoud told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

He added that the daily’s owners were particularly resistant to an article written by ElBaradei, former head of the UN nuclear watchdog, which was scheduled to run on Wednesday as Egypt marks the 37th anniversary of the 1973 October war with Israel.

Later, Eissa told the AFP news agency that his dismissal came shortly after he rejected a request from the owners to postpone publishing ElBaradei’s article.

The Pro-ElBaradei campaign on Tuesday published the article on their website. In the article, the former diplomat and emergent contender to Mubarak for Egypt’s presidency, extols the role played by the Egyptian army in the 1973 war.

In his article, ElBaradei described Egypt’s victory in the war as one of “discipline and good planning, which is the contrary of the culture of chaos which the Egyptian society has known afterwards.”

"We have not been inspired by the values of the war in the time of peace…Regrettably, several of the values manifested in the war, such as citizenship, teamwork, rational thinking, careful planning, discipline, faithfulness, honesty, transparency, modesty, self-denial and other values that represent the basis of progress currently have no place in our societies," he wrote.

Reporters at Al-Dostour have said they are staging a sit-in at the paper's headquarters until the reasons for the decision are explained.

In 2008, Eissa was sentenced to two months in prison on charges of insulting Mubarak after he reported on the president's health. Mubarak later pardoned him.

The sacking also followed Monday's statement by Egypt's Journalists' Union, which said Eissa was pulled off his popular TV talk show without explanation. The union accused the government of cracking down on media critical of the authorities, saying there was "an organized attack on media freedom…especially in light of the approaching parliamentary elections."

Last week, Egyptian authorities closed down al-Badr, a Salafi-affiliated TV channel, for allegedly inciting sectarian hatred.

Authorities shutdown the studios for the Saudi-owned Orbit satellite television network which aired a political talk show named “Cairo Today” for Amr Adeeb, who is also known for his open criticism of senior Egyptian officials. But Information Minister Anas al-Fiqqi said the closure of the program had no political dimension and was only because the network had not paid its bills.

Media reports also recently suggested that some government critics such as novelist Alaa al-Aswany was asked by the daily private al-Shorouk’s management to stop contributing a column for the paper.  

Egypt's media, and TVs in particular, were tightly controlled in the past, restricted to positive coverage of government activities. But an explosion of privately owned satellite stations over the past five years has brought programming that has pushed government boundaries when discussing politics.

Business tycoon al-Badawi, who heads the opposition Wafd Party and the party newspaper's board, bought Al-Dostour in August shortly after he was elected to the party post. At the time, there was speculation he would fire Eissa in a move that would bring him and Wafd closer to the government. Wafd is expected to field a large number of candidates in the November election.

“The dismissal of Eissa proves that Wafd is seeking to obtain a large number of seats in the parliamentary election as a backroom deal with the regime,” said Al-Dostour’s Mahmoud. Eissa, later, told told the Doha-based Al-Jazeera TV that his dismissal is part of a deal between the party and the regime.

Analysts believe the Wafd party intends to replace the Muslim Brotherhood as Egypt’s biggest opposition bloc in parliament. Although Wafd had enjoyed a sweeping popularity in the first half of the twentieth century, experts believe that the party now lacks the grassroots base and popular appeal necessary to become a serious political power in Egypt. Since 1990, the party secured between seven to nine seats in every elections for the 454-seat parliament.

Al-Dostour has been sharply critical of the government and often breaks political, social and religious taboos in commentaries on Egyptian society. Its sharp language earned the ire of censors and its copies were confiscated several times in the 1990s.

The government closed the paper in 1998 for seven years after it published a statement by an Islamist group that threatened Coptic Christian businessmen in Egypt.

Egypt’s political scene has been currently dominated by the question of who will succeed Egypt's ruler of almost 30 years especially since Mubarak traveled to Germany earlier this year for surgery to remove his gallbladder and a benign growth in the small intestine.

Mubarak has not yet announced whether he will run for a sixth term in 2011 presidential elections. His 46-year-old son Gamal has been a rising force in Egyptian politics. 

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