By: Shaimaa Sami
“Don’t listen to anyone but me”, it wasn’t just a phrase uttered by President al-Sisi in February 2016, but it is more likely a clear policy for an approach that has been adopted in media and journalism, as well as formal and informal institutions that are controlled or directed by the state apparatus, in order to impose a one-voice policy that is followed by all, and it is forbidden to breach it.
But some had indeed breached such a policy, when they expressed their criticism trying to voice their views, beliefs and convictions.
This “some” has become the target of imprisonment, prosecution, travel ban, defamation, and dismissal or denial of work.
Dismissal from work or deprivation of employment owing to some different or critical views or convictions is what we call” McCarthyism” or using starvation as a punishment for being different.
This is what this paper talks about.
Why this paper?
The purpose of this paper is to expose some policies of starvation and “McCarthyism” or depravity, which are being used to target critics and opponents in Egypt; either by dismissal from work or being deprived of it, to punish them for “their disloyalty to the government” or for criticizing it or expressing different views or opinions.
They are those who refused to limit their homeland to a single institution or some people, and practiced their right to criticize this institution or those people, so they were deemed by the official bodies to be the enemies of the homeland and accordingly launched against them a war of starvation.
Such a matter seems reminiscent of the United States’ McCarthy Era in the 1950s.
What is McCarthyism?
In short, McCarthyism is a word attributed to the right-wing Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy when he presented a list of hundreds of names accusing them of hostility to America and treason against the homeland!
The list included many names such as the great actor Charlie Chaplin, the famous writer Arthur Miller, Martin Luther King, and even Einstein! All of these people, in addition to others, were considered to be the enemies of America in Joseph McCarthy’s view. Thousands of American citizens were deprived of employment and fired from their jobs under the pretext of “treason”. And after years of terror and “McCarthyism,” the corruption of Joseph McCarthy himself was uncovered, before he died with a shamefaced spirit becoming a dark stain on freedom of expression and the right to be different.
Policies of starvation and McCarthyism in Egypt:
The Egyptian McCarthyism has manifested itself after it reached the point where policies of starvation and harassment are used against many of those who are accused, over unsubstantiated claims, of being “against the country” or “the enemy of the nation”. This has been demonstrated in labeling human rights defenders as “funds receivers”, opponents abroad as “collaborator” and journalists working in international media outlets as “traitors”, and the list goes on to include hundreds of intellectuals, politicians, rights defenders, artists, writers and journalists. Additionally, a large number of citizens have been subjected to harassment and expulsion from their jobs based on groundless allegations that they are “Muslim Brotherhood affiliates”, or “traitors”, or “terrorists”, or “the enemy of the country”, making all of them fall victim to the new Egyptian McCarthyism or depravity.
This campaign” McCarthyism” has been used for different purposes, including:
- To intimidate citizens into not making any objection to anything related to or made by the ruling regime, including laws, measures or policies, no matter how invalid or abusive they are.
- To get rid of competitors and well-qualified employees in favor of relatives and trustworthy people.
- To get close to the regime by filing malicious complaints against any opponent or dissident, in order to win the support of the state and its representatives from policemen to the state-backed media outlets.
The campaign has been conveniently expanded; as there is no need for the availability of real evidence against those targeted by the campaign. It would be enough for you to criticize the regime via an article or a comment on social media, or through a human rights report or a TV interview in a foreign channel, to be the enemy of your country. To keep your job, hence, would be a very hard thing, and your livelihood would be at risk, and at this point, you would become a target of starvation.
Examples of victims of McCarthyism and starvation policies:
As we pointed out earlier in this paper, the use of starvation weapon against the opponents of the regime has been clearly apparent in the current period. Nevertheless, it has started much earlier and its intensity has continued to surge since June 2013 till today. Such a cruel weapon has claimed the lives of many and caused them to be dismissed from their work for no reason except that they are opposing the regime, even if the written (recorded) reasons behind the decision vary from one occasion to another, and in some cases they were basically rejected and not offered the job in the first place.
This list included politicians, human rights defenders and journalists, and went further to include former political detainees whether who had been sentenced or haven’t yet, in addition to citizens who have no political activity but expressed resentment towards any of the regime’s plans. This leads us to a case of perfect “McCarthyism” as we previously explained. The following are some examples of the opponents of this regime who have fallen victim to the policies of starvation and the “enemy of the country” propaganda:
Among the starvation campaigns victims, we mention the following examples:
- Taqadum al-Khatib
Taqadum al-Khatib was a university assistant professor when he was awarded a PhD scholarship to complete his studies in Germany. He went there and began his study shortly before the story of Tiran and Sanafir took place in 2016. He contributed to the story by bringing some historical documents from Berlin State Library, the second largest library in the world, proving that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir belong to Egypt. These documents were submitted to the court which ruled that the islands historically fall under Egyptian sovereignty.
Consequently, he received threats from the Cultural Counselor of the Egyptian Embassy in Berlin (Dr. Ahmed Farouk Ghoneim, a professor of economics at Cairo University and the then- Cultural Attaché of the Egyptian Embassy to Germany); as he threatened al-Khatib to cancel his scholarship if he did not surrender his passport. Al-Khatib refused to hand over his passport and as a result his scholarship was cancelled, and he was also dismissed from the university as an assistant professor. He not only became unemployed and was left without any source of income so that he can afford life or pay for his study in Germany, but also he would be at risk if he decided to return back to Egypt! It is because of his academic efficiency that he received a scholarship to complete his Ph.D. thesis in Berlin; however, the risk of prosecution that al-Khatib faces if he returns to Egypt still persists.
- Azza El-Hennawi
Alexandria drowned by heavy rains. TV anchor Azza El-Hennawi played its role and demanded to hold all officials accountable, including the President of the Republic.
This was in 2015. As a result, and throughout two years, she had been subjected to suspension, investigation, and deduction of salary. She was trying to exercise her role whenever she had the opportunity to. She was trying to be a media professional, until she was completely suspended from work, and even prosecuted by the usual judicial complaints of “treason” and “insulting the President of the Republic.”
Deprivation of work and starvation had a very severe impact, but she kept trying. She doesn’t have to raise money to pay attorneys fees or legal aid costs. Hence, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) is providing her legal support.
But due to high cost of living, especially after the recent wave of impoverishment suffered by the Egyptians, and the ongoing prosecution and defamation she has been facing,
El- Hennawi left Egypt and has been expatriated. Where is she now?
She is outside Egypt suffering expatriation and hard living conditions just like thousands of Egyptians.
- Because he supports an opposition candidate;
Journalist Mohamed Fawzy, a victim of arbitrary dismissal, wrote: “I had worked in Ain Magazine since June 20, and after 22 days, I was surprisingly informed that I was dismissed from work. When I ask about the reason, they told me that the magazine’s administration had received some posts written on my personal page on the social networking website “Facebook”, along with some private messages between me and a colleague, who admitted that I was a member in the former presidential candidate Hamdine Sabbahi’s campaign and that I was opposing the regime.” *
He added: “For what it’s worth, I respect Ain Magazine’s administration as it spared no effort to try to stop the implementation of the decision, but Khaled Salah refused to even discuss the matter.”
- Because they support Egyptian sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir;
Four journalists at Youm7 newspaper:
- Samr Salama
- Abdel Rahman Meqled
- Maher Abdel Wahed
- Medhat Safwat
All of them are enrolled at the Journalists Syndicate and had been appointed in Youm7 newspaper for nearly 10 years. The newspaper’s chief editor Khaled Salah called them once in June 2017, and informed them that they publicly criticize the President through their personal accounts on “Facebook”, and that they are among the signatories to a statement rejecting the Egyptian government’s stance in the maritime border demarcation agreement signed with Saudi Arabia.
To punish them for that, the chief editor asked the four journalists to sign a one-year leave without pay, and when they refused, the newspaper’s administration announced their dismissal from work. They resorted to the Journalists Syndicate and lodged a complaint against the chief editor, and when they found that they were also prevented from entering the newspaper’s headquarters as reported by the security, they filed a police record at Dokki Police Station to prove the matter. However, the issue hasn’t been resolved and their arbitrary dismissal is still ongoing! The aforementioned journalists had also published a statement on the incident.
- Because they were involved in drafting an anti-torture law;
McCarthyism did not spare judges! Hesham Raouf and Assem Abdel Gabbar (judges) had been facing disciplinary trial and proceedings for years; because they volunteered to propose and review a draft bill prohibiting torture, which was prepared by the civil society institution “United Group” headed by rights lawyer Negad el-Borai.
The two judges are expected to face a ‘disciplinary council’ (to consider their suitability for the job) and be charged with “working in politics”. They still haven’t been dismissed from work, and we don’t wish that, but they had already faced- and still face- a punitive (huge) deduction of their wages, which, in addition to the financial distress they suffer, has turned them to be as a cautionary tale for many judges and for anyone thinks about stepping out of the line drawn by the authorities.
- A is one of the young men who had been prosecuted and forcibly disappeared for one year, and then detained for four months on the anniversary of the January Revolution in 2017. He faced some political charges that led him to be sentenced to 6 months in prison. After he served his term, he went to work in an electronic devices company. Shortly thereafter, he was surprised at his manager calling him to ask him about the posts he shared on his Facebook page, before he fired him because of his views opposing the regime. He said that the same thing had repeatedly happened with him in the different places he worked in; once it is revealed in his criminal status record that he was a former detainee, or once checking his “Facebook” page.
- Mahmoud Abo Salah is an Alexandrian young man who works as a lighting technician at the Artistic Theater House affiliated with the Egyptian Ministry of Culture. He was accused of inciting the false 11/11 Protests despite publicly taking an opposing stance. He faced forced disappearance and detention, and was sentenced to one year in prison. After he was released from prison, he found out that his papers had been sent to the State Council to decide whether he is eligible to return back to his job or not, based on some amendments made to the “Civil Service” Law. This opens the door to crack down on whoever faces any political charges; as he would be considered as “untrustworthy” and hence gives employers the authority to dismiss or fire him. Since his release in last January till now, Abo Salah still waits for his return to work while living without any source of income.
- A is a young man from Mansoura governorate. He was sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of EGP 100,000 because he raised the Egyptian flag protesting the government’s ceding of Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia. He was acquitted, in the appeal hearing, of the charges pressed against him after spending nearly 7 months behind bars. Following his release, he worked as a salesman in a perfume shop, before the shop’s owner learned about his activity. Although he seemed at first to show some understanding and appreciation of the situation, the young man was surprised at his manager asking him to leave the place in case he wouldn’t stop sharing posts opposing the regime on his “Facebook” page, and when he refused to do so, he fired him after five months working with him.
Starvation is an illegal weapon and a gross violation of individual rights:
There are two legal aspects to the issue of violating the citizens’ right to work, and how to protect them from arbitrary dismissal, deprivation of employment and the imposing of starvation policies using the McCarthy views which we explained above. The first aspect is represented in the violation of the international treaties signed by Egypt, and the second aspect is the Egyptian Constitution itself. Both aspects and violations will be detailed in the following lines:
First/ International treaties on the right to work:
- The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 2 states that: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration (including the right to work), without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion and political or other (non-political) opinion“.
- The 1998 ILO (International Labour Organization) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, including equality of opportunity and the prohibition of persecution on political or other grounds.
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has become an internal law in Egypt since its ratification in 1981, Article 2 of which stipulates: ” In accordance with Article 49, each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, or… political or other (non-political) opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Second/Articles regulating rights and freedoms in the Egyptian Constitution:
Article 53 states that: ” Citizens are equal before the law, possess equal rights and public duties, and may not be discriminated against on the basis of …, political or geographical affiliation, or for any other reason. Discrimination and incitement to hate are crimes punishable by law.”
McCarthyism on the Egyptian method, does it succeed?
We at ANHRI think that McCarthyism on the Egyptian method has become systematic, or at least an abhorrent phenomenon targeting those holding different opinion or views, exactly like legal prosecution, defamation, travel ban, and the protracted pretrial detention.
Each opponent, based on his background, career, or reputation, is targeted by a different way of siege or crackdown.
Starvation is among such ways and methods, which the regime believes it would pressure citizens into obeying the authorities or deterring those attempting to publicly voice their opposition, making them think twice before doing so.
However, taking a quick look at some of the regime’s supporters who have been laid off (or phased out), after they were exposed- whether explicitly or indirectly- through the articles or videos they had posted to address such method or abominable phenomenon (McCarthyism), may consequently halt the use of starvation policy, or national posturing or bragging, or the” betrayal of the homeland” accusation for merely criticizing government institutions or officials.
Without going into detail, the exclusion of media figures such as “Lamis al- Hadidi, Mohamed al-Ghaiti, Tamer Abdel Moneim, Naela Amara, Amani al- Khayat, and others”, although many of them were soldiers of McCarthyism and national posturing/bragging especially after President al-Sisi took power in 2014, and although it was deemed by many people humiliating and a dead end to them, it may prompt others to put an end to serving the Joseph McCarthy of Egypt.
* (Fawzi) Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper on July 31, 2017
Last visit: 22 March 2019