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 Egyptian journalist probed over Mubarak health rumours - Feature
Egyptian journalist probed over Mubarak health rumours - Feature
In a country regularly shaken by political paranoia, Egyptian investigators are probing a popular opposition journalist for allegedly spreading "dangerous" rumours about the health of President Hosny Mubarak which have gripped the nation in recent weeks.
Saturday, September 8,2007 06:29
by Earth Times
In a country regularly shaken by political paranoia, Egyptian investigators are probing a popular opposition journalist for allegedly spreading "dangerous" rumours about the health of President Hosny Mubarak which have gripped the nation in recent weeks. On Wednesday morning, Ibrahim Eissa, editor-at-large of the opposition daily al-Dostour, was questioned by Egypt"s Supreme State Security Prosecution.

Eissa was queried in relation to accusations of "humiliating the president, broadcasting false stories, disrupting the peace and harming the national interests," as 20 of his supporters chanted anti-government slogans outside of the prosecutor"s office.

If indicted he may face a harsh punishment, according to journalists" union lawyer Sayyed Abu-Zeid, also one of Eissa"s attorneys.

Over the past few weeks rumours have abounded about the state of the president"s health, with some going as far as to as claim that Egypt"s ruling party was clandestinely preparing a replacement for Mubarak as he lay on his death bed.

Only last week was the "harmful" rumour officially, albeit aggressively, challenged.

Mubarak"s wife Susan was the first to frankly dismiss the rumours, describing the president"s health as "really great" in an interview with an Arab broadcaster.

Surprise visits by the apparently well president to factories near Alexandria meanwhile received blanket media coverage.

Government mouthpieces then began levelling blame at a number of independent and opposition figures, pointing accusing fingers at al- Dostour newspaper in what Eissa described as a "black climate."

The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) tagged the rumours "dangerous," while the government-run Supreme Counci of Journalists gave the independent Union of Journalists a deadline to "punish the scaremongers."

Some top editors even pushed for Eissa"s arrest.

Eissa, described by his lawyer as a "scapegoat," dismisses the case as purely political.

"(The government) is settling scores with me," said Eissa, who was sentenced to a year in prison in 2006 for "insulting the head of the state." Eissa did not serve the sentence but instead paid a heavy fine. However his scathing criticism of the President, his wife and influential son Gamal Mubarak did not cease.

Al-Dostour last week published several reports about the flurry of rumours.

According to Eissa"s lawyer however, the rumours had already spread "from Aswan (in the south) to Alexandria (in the north)" before Eissa approved publication of these reports.

"Talking about the president should not be an insult," said Eissa, shortly before his interrogation. Displaying typical cynicism, the journalist said he considers the investigation "an award for all my works."

"This is the typical conduct of a police state," he said.

The rumour had struck a chord. Its timing coincided with NDP internal elections and with rising speculation that Mubarak"s son Gamal, currently the party"s deputy leader, may replace his father as head.

Observers say the rumoured health scare also comes against a shifting political landscape.

Premier Ahmed Nazif"s cabinet is weighed down by an avalanche of criticism, while the NDP is also under pressure from the 88 MPs allied to the Muslim Brotherhood movement, now considered the regime"s number one adversary.

Media circles are meanwhile teeming with journalists who are candidly setting themselves against the regime and the Mubarak family.

Some voices have claimed the rumours were part of a psychological warfare campaign by the Muslim Brotherhood. Others blamed the United States.

"The source of the rumour could be anybody," said Eissa however. "And the worst is yet to come."

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