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Monday, October 25, 2010     GET REAL

Mubarak muzzles Egypt's independent media ahead of November elections

CAIRO — Egypt, ahead of parliamentary elections, is cracking down on its independent media.


Opposition sources said Egypt has raided and closed more than a dozen private television channels in October 2010. They said another 20 channels, about half of them connected to the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamist parties, were warned that they could be closed for violating government regulations.

"This is government harassment," Montasser Al Zayat, an attorney for the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, said.

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The sources said the crackdown on private television has been accompanied by the arrest of hundreds of Brotherhood and other opposition activists in October. They said arrests took place in Alexandria and Cairo as well as cities in the Nile Delta ahead of parliamentary elections, expected to take place on Nov. 28.

On Oct. 19, the regime of President Hosni Mubarak acknowledged the crackdown on private television channels, which has sparked protests by Islamists, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said the state-controlled NileSat communications has banned television stations deemed offensive.

"We must look for alternatives in Europe, at least in the near future," Al Zayat told the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat daily.

Opposition sources said many of the satellite channels have engaged in self-censorship to avoid closure. They cited the connection between independent newspapers and electronic media.

"I don't want to upset anybody because someone might come and say, 'Something went wrong on your station,' and this will have repercussions," Naguib Sawiris, a satellite channel owner, told the Egyptian daily Al Masri Al Yom.

This marked the second crackdown on private channels within two weeks. Earlier Egypt's Media Free Zone suspended the licenses of five channels accused of violating their contracts with NileSat.

Egyptian analysts said many of the television channels ordered closed had been supporting the Brotherhood or other Islamic parties. Nabil Abu Fatah, director of the state-owned Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said at least five of the 14 channels had promoted what he termed "Salafist parties of Wahabi law." Saudi Arabia practices the Wahabi strain of Islam, said to have served as the model for Al Qaida.

The Mubarak regime has also cracked down on cellular text messaging. In mid-October, the government ordered that companies that provide text message services must apply for licenses.

"The government plan is meant to stop the opposition from organizing for Election Day," the opposition source said.

A leading Egyptian politician said Mubarak hopes to run in the next presidential elections, scheduled for late 2011. Al El Din Hillal, spokesman for the ruling National Democratic Party, did not mention Mubarak's 46-year-old son and heir-apparent, Gamal.

"The candidate of the National Democratic Party in October next year, God willing, will be President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak," Hilal said.

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