A bill that allows Egyptian President Abdel el-Sisi the power to appoint the leaders of the Higher Press Council the group that controls state-owned media outlets. The bill represents just one more move by el-Sisi to crack down on any opposition. The Egyptian government has long been trying to stamp out any opposition to the government in the media. On May 1 only two days before World Press Freedom Day, Egyptian police raided the Press Syndicate in Cairo. Amnesty International reports on the event as follows: " 1 May up to 40 heavily armed members of the National Security agency stormed the Press Syndicate for the first time since it was established in 1941. They attacked journalists, beating security guards and detained two journalists Amro Badr and Mahmoud Al-Saqqa. They are being held in Tora prison and have been charged with forming an illegal group with the aim of overthrowing the government, inciting protests and publishing false news, and belonging to the April 6 Movement, a leading youth group that was instrumental in organizing protests in 2011."
The Committee to Protect Journalists claims that Egypt is among the world's worst jailers of journalists. Since January 1 this year, four have been sentenced for "publishing false news" with five others referred to trial and two more detained. Photojournalist, Mahmoud Zeid, has been in jail for more than two years subsequent to his arrest for covering a protest.
On the 29th of May, Yahia Galash, head of Press Syndicate and senior board members Khaled Elbalshy and Gamal Abd el-Reheem were summoned for questioning by the public prosecution. After being questioned for a full 13 hours the three were charged with harbouring suspects against whom an arrest warrant was issued, and also with publishing false news, which threatened public peace.
The bill was proposed by independent Moustafa Bakri an independent and a journalist himself. The bill passed the Egyptian parliament in less than two hours. Bakri denied that the bill has any political implications claiming it is just an interim measure to last two or three months until a new media law is implemented. He claimed to be astonished that anyone would not welcome the bill. He claims that the president does not have the power to meddle in the press.
Another independent MP, Khaled Youssef warned that the bill gives the president "exceptional power." He said that while el-Sisi has constantly said he wants to make Egypt a modern democratic state, the bill went against that. Youssef is a film director. Youssef said of the bills:
"Rather than discussing a legislative amendment in record speed, and rather than granting the president an exceptional and undemocratic power, we have to exert pressure on the government and the state council to refer the unified law on the regulation of the media and the press as soon as possible,"
Osama Sharshar, another independent and a journalist remarked that the speed with which the bill was passed reminded him of the legislative process as it was under Hosni Mubarak. He wanted to wait until the new laws on the press were presented to the parliament.
Another report notes that the new bill also gives the Higher Press Council the power to name editors and board chairs of any state-run press organizations. The terms of present editors and board chairmen is running out so in effect incoming editors and chairs of state-owned media outlets will be appointed by a board appointed by el-Sisi.