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In the Egypt Independent’s closure, an end of a beginning

Posted by vmsalama on April 30, 2013

by Vivian Salama

Columbia Journalism Review

April 30, 2013

Like many things in Egypt these days, the fight to save the Egypt Independent from termination went viral almost instantly. A cry for help by the newspaper’s editors earlier this year cited “the current economic crisis” as reason for the looming closure of the country’s most highly respected English-language newspaper, as well as the “political limitations manifested in rising restrictions on freedom of expression” since the election of President Mohamed Morsi.

Journalists protest outside the Journalists' Syndicate in Cairo

Journalists protest outside the Journalists’ Syndicate in Cairo


“On April 25, after weeks of international campaigns and fundraisers, the executive management of the Independent abruptly pulled the plug on its operations, days earlier than scheduled. A statement from the editorial staff read:

“Four years after the birth of Egypt Independent, the management of Al-Masry Media Corporation has informed our editorial team that our print and onlinenews operation is being shut down.”

Because we owe it to our readers, we decided to put together a closing edition, which would have been available on 25 April, to explain the conditions under which a strong voice of independent and progressive journalism in Egypt is being terminated.

Opened four years ago as an English language division to privately owned Arabic daily El Masry El Youm, the newspaper was one of few that chronicled the real beginnings of the Egyptian revolution, from the economic deterioration to the death of Khaled Said, brutally beaten to death by police in Alexandria in 2010—coverage of which went viral on social media websites, planting the seed for the January 25, 2011 popular uprising.

“This kind of press played an important role in the wave of contentious politics that started in 2005 and onwards,” said Lina Attalah, editor in chief of the now defunctEgypt Independent. The paper’s closure has made headlines around the world, as it represents a blatant setback for a revolution hard fought and now, seemingly, coming apart at the seams.

Like a handful of news organizations in Egypt today, Egypt Independent lured a new generation of journalists that were not schooled in the art of self-censorship, once a necessity to operate safely as a reporter in Egypt. These newly untethered journalists put emphasis on the post-uprising day-to-day struggles, as well as on more mainstream coverage of street battles, sectarian strife, and rape. Most importantly, the paper provided a medium for bilingual Egyptians to speak to people beyond their borders with an intellectual, analytical, nuanced voice, often tackling issues that would otherwise not get attention in the international media. (more….)


Posted in Al Jazeera, Arab, Arab Media & Society, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bloggers, Cairo University, Censorship, Comedy, Constitution, corruption, Culture, Daily Star Egypt, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Freedom of Speech, Journalism, Judiciary, Media, Middle East, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Protests | Leave a Comment »

Egypt Transition Run Amok: Morsi Decree Sparks Huge Protests

Posted by vmsalama on November 23, 2012

by Vivian Salama

Nov 23, 2012

The Daily Beast (Click here for original link)

A day after being hailed for mediating the Israel-Hamas truce, Egypt’s president issued a decree giving himself sweeping powers—uniting the opposition and protesters against him. Vivian Salama on the fallout.

A decree from President Mohamed Morsi is sending shock waves across Egypt, driving hundreds of thousands of demonstrators on Friday back to Tahrir Square and other protest points across the country.

In a decision seen as disturbingly reminiscent of Egypt’s former status quo, Morsi issued a decree Thursday exempting all decisions made since he took office from legal challenge until a new parliament is elected. He also sacked the prosecutor general, an unpopular figure with many Egyptians, for failing to issue harsher sentences against Mubarak regime officials. Morsi also declared that the courts cannot dissolve the committee that is writing the country’s new constitution.

Crowds of protesters greeted the decree on Friday with chants of “Wake up, Morsi, it’s your last day,” and a familiar call from the earliest days of the revolution, “The people want the fall of the regime!” Secular leaders including Amr Moussa, Hamdeen Sabbahi, and Mohamed ElBaradei, once political opponents, marched arm in arm in solidarity through the throngs.  A Photoshopped image circulated on Facebook of Morsi in a Nazi uniform, raising his hand over the caption “Heil Morsi,” suggesting what protesters see as his desire to create a totalitarian state.

Demonstrations turned violent in a number of cities, including Cairo and Alexandria, and casualties were reported in al-Mahalla, Assiut, and Suez, where shouting matches between pro-and anti-Morsi protesters quickly escalated into clashes. Morsi opponents torched local branches of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, to which Morsi is a loyalist.

The latest upheaval threatens the very concept of reform in a region hungry for change. In the five months since a majority of Egyptian voters just barely elected their first post-revolution president, the Arab world’s most populous nation has been forced to come to terms with a transition seemingly running amok. In some ways, change has come quickly since the revolution’s beginning nearly two years ago. A civilian, Islamist president is in office, two firsts for this ancient society. Voters elected a new parliament, and then that parliament was dissolved. Military generals sought to thwart the transition, and then the generals were dismissed. State media, once gagged by Hosni Mubarak, found its voice—and then lost it once again. (more…)

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Judiciary, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Protests, Salafi | Leave a Comment »

Egypt’s Second Revolution: Purging the Mubarak Regime’s Legacy

Posted by vmsalama on June 20, 2012


Jun 20, 2012

Daily Beast (click here to read original story)

As Mubarak reportedly clings to life, thousands of protesters flooded Tahrir Square to denounce the military’s powers. Vivian Salama on the ticked-off Egyptians fighting for democracy—again.

Ancient Egyptians believed that every person has three souls: Ka, Ba, and Akh. When a pharaoh was dying, priests went to great lengths to preserve the body in the hopes that even in death, the soul of the pharaoh dwells on earth for eternity.

More than 16 months after Hosni Mubarak, Egypt‘s modern-day pharaoh, resigned and was imprisoned, reports of his death have once again managed to overshadow the country’s historic transition period, just days before his successor is to be announced and while protesters took to the streets to purge his legacy from the incoming administration. State-run Middle East News Agency reported late Tuesday that the defunct leader was “clinically dead,” later backtracking to say that he experienced a “fast deterioration of his health” and is on life support.

With both camps claiming victory and official results not expected until June 21, tens of thousands of people poured into Tahrir Square Tuesday night with spirits reminiscent of the 18-day demonstration that brought down the former regime. The protesters donned face veils or long, thick beards and carried campaign posters of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi—the presumed winner by many. Some, young hipsters by American standards, carried red socialist flags. Others brought their children and waved red, white, and black banners that read “I love Egypt.” To many activists in Egypt, it doesn’t matter who wins the presidential election. One theme was universal across the square: the revolution continues.

Even as the last of the votes were being counted and Mubarak death rumors made the rounds yet again, demonstrators chanted in unison, denouncing the country’s current ruler—the military—following a series of recent legislations that some say amounted to a soft coup. They chanted: “We’ll finish what we started! Down, down, military rule.” Faced with the dilemma of choosing between the stalwart former Air Force commander Ahmed Shafiq and Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, many are fearful that a military clampdown is inevitable, regardless of who the president is.

“Revolution is about controlling the state, and so far this revolution has failed to do that,” said Ibrahim al-Houdaiby, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood and an active secular youth activist. “This is not a time for political and ideological disputes between parties because we are fighting for a country that we don’t rule. If you want to have a serious fight, one that’s meaningful, get the power in the hands of the people, then fight over it all you want.” (click here to read more…)

Here are two related stories I wrote:

Daily Beast: Mubarak Steals Election Thunder

North Africa Journal: Egypt at a Crossroads 

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Coptic, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Islam, Judiciary, Media, Middle East, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Religion | Leave a Comment »

Egypt: No Parliament, No Constitution, No President.

Posted by vmsalama on June 15, 2012

Greetings from Cairo, where there is NEVER a dull moment. The High Court decided today to dissolve the Islamist-dominated parliament, less than 36 hours before the presidential runoff. Here is my election preview, published by the Daily Beast. Observations to follow….

Showdown in Cairo: Egyptian High Court Dissolves Parliament

Egypt’s high court ruled the Islamist Parliament must dissolve immediately, paving the way for next week’s election winner to rise to power. But wasn’t the point of the revolution to avoid military and theocratic states? Vivian Salama reports.

Jun 14, 2012 

Daily Beast (click here to read original)

With just 36 hours to go until Egypt’s historic presidential election, the country has no Parliament and no new constitution. In a stunning 11th-hour decision, the country’s High Constitutional Court dissolved the Islamist-dominated Parliament, declaring that elections were unconstitutional, essentially leaving the new president at the mercy of the military. In the 17 months since Egyptians joined forces to topplePresident Hosni Mubarak, the country has evolved from one of collective euphoria to one limp with apprehension, this latest development sending the country into a tailspin.


Egyptians protest military rule in Tahrir Square // Photo by Vivian Salama

Egyptians will head to the polls June 16—many with heavy hearts—as they cast a final vote for a president, with the hope of dislodging themselves from more than a half century of status quo. But Tahrir Square still swells with protesters every few days—the upcoming vote creating a dilemma for many, pitting two of the least likely candidates against each other: one, an old guard from the defunct regime, the other, an Islamist heavyweight. With no legislative body to ensure checks and balances, the new president may have to take on the powerful military establishment on his own.

The military, de facto ruler of the country since Mubarak’s resignation, has suffered a severe decline in public opinion following a number of violent clashes with protesters that evoked a bitter outcry. Making matters worse, a government decree passed earlier this week allows military police and intelligence to detain civilians and refer them to military tribunals—a ruling reminiscent of Mubarak-era tactics used to crush dissent. The military may soon surrender the top seat, but recent developments signal that it will continue to play an active role in governance, regardless of who wins.

All the while, the economy is in shambles, and citizens who were already struggling to make ends meet before the revolution are now barely getting by, fueled only by hope that change for the better is on the brink.

Facing off this weekend: Ahmed Shafiq, 70, a former Air Force commander and the last prime minister appointed by Mubarak, and Mohammed Morsi, 60, a U.S.-educated engineer and chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party. For weeks, the two have appeared in campaign ads and traveled across Egypt, meeting citizens and addressing their concerns, with hope of establishing new loyalties amid this turbulent period. Egypt’s high court also issued a last-minute ruling allowing Shafiq to continue his bid, despite his links to the previous regime. (more…)

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Gaza, Hamas, Hosni Mubarak, Israel, Judiciary, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Newsweek, Politics, Recession, Refugees, Religion, Salafi, Social Media, Succession, United States | Leave a Comment »

A Viral Video Raises Fears of Taliban Power in Pakistan

Posted by vmsalama on April 7, 2009

Vivian Salama / Islamabad


WARNING: Some of the images in this video may be disturbing for some

A viral video is raising an outcry in Pakistan — and highlighting the fact that in some parts of western Pakistan, the government is no longer in charge and the Taliban is. Filmed in the Swat Valley, where the government recently signed a controversial peace deal with the Taliban, the video apparently shows a 17-year old girl pinned down by as many as three men — among them her brother — while a fourth flogs her repeatedly, chastising her for having an alleged affair. She lets out a shriek with every lash, pleading for mercy. Dozens of men watch on but nobody speaks out to stop the lashing. (See the video that has raised alarms in Pakistan.)

The government’s agreement with the Taliban in Swat included the imposition of religious law in the area, a move many legal experts and women’s rights groups had cautioned against. The valley, once a prime destination for Pakistan’s honeymooners and hippies, was transformed in recent years into the frontline for Pakistan’s domestic war on terrorism. More than 1,500 people have been killed there and at least 100,000 have fled. A cease-fire is now in place in exchange for the imposition of Shari’a law. But reports of the curtailment of women’s rights and activities are now rampant; women have been banned from leaving their homes and simply walking in the streets of many towns. (See pictures from Pakistan’s tense border with Afghanistan.)

Human rights activists from the region insist that the 17-year old in the video and the countless other victims in Swat, are too helpless to speak out. “Who can stop the Taliban when they claim to be working in the name of Islam?” asked Yasmine Khan, Program Coordinator for the Female Human Rights Organization (Fehro) for Swat, who recently fled to Islamabad after allegedly receiving death threats by Taliban militants. “Things are out of hand and the government cannot control things.” (See pictures of the frontline in the war against the Taliban.)

However, the Swat-based Taliban organization denies that the incident took place in the valley. Several officials and commentators have expressed skepticism that the men in the video were Taliban militants performing the punishment. One local news organization noted that were it up to the Taliban, the victim “would have been shot.” The 17-year old girl allegedly in the video now denies that she was the burqa-clad woman beaten in the footage. She failed to appear at Pakistan’s Supreme Court for a hearing on Monday. Journalists in Swat speak of an atmosphere of fear in the valley; reporters say they are fearful of speaking out as well, afraid that they will be targeted by Taliban angry at the leaking of the video. One journalist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said “we are the prime suspects.” (Check out a story about Talibanistan.)

The Supreme Court and its Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry are not keeping silent, however. While Chaudhry says that the authenticity of the video must be established (noting that it could be part of a scheme against those in Swat “demanding the application of Shari’a law”), he voiced outrage at what the footage appeared to portray. “[This] certainly constitutes a serious violation of law and fundamental rights of the citizens of the country,” he declared on Monday during a hearing into the incident. Chaudhry reprimanded several senior officials, including Pakistan’s Attorney General Sardar Latif Khosa, for failing to take immediate action: “Before the video became public, what were you doing?” Chaudhry has asked the court to reconvene following a 15-day investigation.

Pakistanis see Chaudry’s comments as his first act of political muscle flexing since his dramatic restoration to power. The Chief Justice had been dismissed two years ago by then-president Pervez Musharraf because he would not support Musharraf’s assumption of dictatorial power. When Musharraf’s successor Asif Ali Zardari reneged on an agreement to restore Chaudry to the Supreme Court, widespread demonstrations a few weeks ago led to his reinstatement. Chaudry probably has the highest reserve of moral authority in the country.

But is it enough to safeguard rights guaranteed by the country’s secular constitution? Hours after the Chief Justice’s calls for an inquiry, federal investigators were reported to have taken testimony from the alleged victim. However, she once again denied being the woman in the video. Sherry Rehman, the former information minister and member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party beleives in Chaudhry’s commitment to pursuing the case. “If anything like this surfaces again,” she says “It will not be tolerated.” But Reddy notes that the government will proceed with caution for fear of disrupting the fragile cease-fire.

Khan, the women’s rights activist, however, is pessimistic that even Chaudhry can get anything done. She says the Supreme Court inquiry is merely smoke and mirrors, and that it will take a “miracle” to bring justice to Swat. “Until now nobody knows who murdered Benazir Bhutto,” she says. “Where is that committee? Where are those results? Do you think anyone will investigate or help the poor people of Swat?”

Posted in Judiciary, Pakistan, Taliban, Viral Video | Leave a Comment »

Pakistan arrests lawyers ahead of cross-country march

Posted by vmsalama on March 12, 2009

Vivian Salama

The National

March 12, 2009

LAHORE // Hundreds of political activists and lawyers were arrested yesterday in an effort to thwart a cross-country march scheduled to begin today.

The government outlawed anti-government demonstrations by lawyers and opposition parties in Islamabad, as well as in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh, through which the rally is to proceed. Tens of thousands are expected to take to the streets in a move to persuade Asif Ali Zardari, the president, to reinstate several judges dismissed under the authority of Pervez Musharraf, the former president. 

The convoy of cars and buses, due to begin this morning in Baluchistan and Sindh provinces, are scheduled to reach Punjab, the stronghold of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, by tomorrow. The protest will conclude with a sit-in on Monday in Islamabad, where demonstrators have vowed to stay until their demands are met. However, with the clampdown on protests across the country, turnout may be significantly tapered, causing the movement to lose steam. 

Even evening street fairs celebrating the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed were scaled down markedly in an effort to prevent them from becoming political rally points.
This struggle is now two years in the making. In March 2007, Mr Musharraf dismissed Iftikhar Chaudhry, the chief justice at the time, and several judges, accusing them of misconduct after passing several rulings that cited government corruption. The disbandment of the judiciary sparked several months of uprisings, leading Mr Musharraf to declare a state of emergency and to suspend the country’s constitution and parliament in Nov 2007.
“Musharraf was already extremely unpopular with the masses and this topped it off,” said Umbreen Javed, the chairman of the department of political science at the University of Punjab. “But President Zardari has not been a very popular president either since he took over, and this issue is a major point of contention for the people.”

Nawaz Sharif, the PML-N leader, is expected to join the crowd of protesters. 

Speaking before hundreds of supporters at a rally yesterday, he implored people not to allow efforts by the government to impede the long march hinder their hopes of “saving Pakistan”.

On Feb 25, a three-judge Supreme Court panel barred Mr Sharif, and his brother, Shahbaz, the former chief minister of Punjab, from elected office. The brothers have accused Mr Zardari of trying to clamp down on the opposition, reigniting tensions between the country’s largest political parties.

Nawaz Sharif said the Supreme Court is dominated by judges appointed by Mr Musharraf during the 2007 state of emergency, and it is Mr Zardari’s obligation now to restore the original, and ultimately independent, judiciary.

“These are the doings of General Musharraf,” Mr Sharif said. “He is the one actually who dismissed all those judges, who refused to qualify them to contest the election of a president in uniform, who didn’t permit anyone to contest the elections of the president or even the parliament.”

In an interview with the official Associated Press of Pakistan, Rehman Malik, the interior minister, warned Mr Sharif not to use the march as an opportunity to incite a rebellion, threatening criminal charges should the gathering turn to chaos. “We will proceed against those who are inciting the masses to revolt at public gatherings in case of any damage to human life or property,” Mr Malik told a news conference.

The lawyers and a league of opposition parties, pose a significant challenge to the civilian government of Mr Zardari, which has refused to reinstate Mr Chaudhry. 

A spokeswoman for the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), headed by Mr Zardari, said Mr Chaudhry’s only motive in this march is to destabilise the country. “The restoration of judges issue is a non-issue now because most have been reinstated and others retired,” said Farzana Raja, the spokeswoman. The opposition “are talking about an individual. Iftikhar Chaudhry had the chance [to rejoin the judiciary], but he did not do it because he was playing into somebody else’s hands.”

Government officials claimed that the recent ban on public gatherings in Punjab is not in an effort to stifle the opposition, but rather, to maintain law and order following last week’s deadly attack on a convoy carrying the Sri Lankan national cricket team to the Gadaffi Stadium in Lahore. At least 12 heavily armed assailants are believed to have been responsible for the attacks – all of whom remain at large.

“The government of Mr Zardari has been too busy rearranging the government of Punjab that they forgot about the security of the people of Pakistan,” Mr Sharif said.

However, the PPP has made a similar allegation against Mr Sharif, accusing him of putting his own political motives ahead of national stability and the fight against terrorism.

Mr Sharif “always promotes and raises his voice for Iftikhar Chaudhry –for an individual”, Ms Raja said.

“The whole world is under the threat of extremism and terrorism and rather than concentrating on that, he is talking about politics – for whom? One individual.”

Posted in Judiciary, Pakistan, Politics | 1 Comment »