The sad thing is that we are going backwards—that is the real loss. People like us should fight for their right to speak, because this is our right. Years back it seemed like a Christmas gift given to us by Mubarak, and now he’s taking it back. That’s what people see. But the truth is that freedom of speech is not a gift but a right.
In a column published just before you were fired you wrote that as part of this crackdown, “understandings will be arrived at with representatives of the western media in Egypt.” What did you mean?
What I meant is that even CNN, BBC and those stations are going to have a hard time covering these elections, because they will probably not be allowed to shoot at polling stations and all the papers will be governmental or semi-governmental. They just won’t have access. And what’s more, this is an experiment for the big event next year. If this experience with the parliamentary elections works, the regime will continue with the same strategy for the presidential elections.
What’s the objective of this experiment?
The satellite channels and the newspapers have taken on the role of the opposition parties in Egypt, because the opposition parties here do not speak out. So they’re trying to shut us up for these coming elections. My sense is there’s going to be a lot of fraud.
The regime said they were shutting down the satellite channels because of religious violations.
It doesn’t matter what reason they give. They closed those satellite channels for two reasons: to gag the press and to put fear in the channels that were not closed. Plus, since a lot of them have relations with Muslim Brotherhood, this is an attempt to close off an avenue of campaigning for candidates from the Muslim Brotherhood.
What are Egyptians going to miss in their media coverage?
A lot. They won’t know what happens in the presidential palace, what’s behind political agreements between the regime and the opposition, the backgrounds of the people that make decisions, the stories behind companies that include politicians, government, and businessmen.
How well have foreign journalists covered these issues?
A lot of their reports are translated into our newspapers, and they often offer deep insight into events here and the Egyptian regime. But I will say that the foreign reporters that just come for a few days or a week and leave write better than the ones that stay here in Egypt. It’s because living in Egypt they become used to the garbage piles, the corruption, and these things begin to seem more normal.
Would you say that Egyptians are apathetic?
When you’re talking about Egyptians you’re talking about people that fifty-eight years ago, just a couple generations ago, lived under a military system. And Mubarak has been running emergency rule for thirty years now. So it’s understandable that it’s a society with ideas and ideologies different from the U.S. and other places. But the people thirst for change. They read newspapers, they go online and make it known that they want change. So, the people want change, and the media calls for change, but we are missing the key third part: politicians who are fighting for change. This is why Mohammed ElBaradei has stirred great hope.
Hosni Mubarak used to tell foreign governments, ‘If I go away, the Muslim Brotherhood is going to take charge.’ Now they are scared, because ElBaradei gives us an option for a leader that is neither Mubarak or the Muslim Brotherhood. The regime realizes this and is trying to shut down all variety of media before the elections. ElBaradei is a man with the knowledge, with experience, with the people behind him.
What’s the chance he will run for president next year?
You can’t say. Elections can happen any time and the rules would have to change for him to run. But I’m confident ElBaradei is going to be the one that makes this change happen.
You’ve been working for change for a long time. Is that why you and this government don’t seem to get along.