Egypt’s media ban effects independent satellite channels

Egypt’s media ban effects independent satellite channels

Egypt’s ruling regime has announced the suspension of 12 satellite channels renowned for their religious themes and warned 20 other channels concerning their alleged incitement to religious hatred, unlicensed medical advice and obscenity, saying that they too may be axed.

According to information minister, Anas al Fiqi, “The measures are corrective and intended to protect the Egyptian and Arab peoples from extremist ideologies and the endangerment of people living with serious illnesses.”
Salafi television hosts, including those on the popular Al-Nas channel, however, describe al-Fiqi’s allegations as groundless, stressing that the new measures were likely the result of western pressure.

Featuring an assortment of shows, which included music, dance and dream interpretation the channel later embraced religious programs inviting some of the most popular Salafi preachers to host its programs. Another banned religious channel banned this month was Al-Rahma, founded in 2007 by the influential Salafi cleric, Mohamed Hassan. The channel attracted a wide audience interested in learning how to live as true Muslims and overcome everyday vices. Unfortunately the incidents provoked dozens of Salafi-led demonstrations against the Coptic Church.

Ashraf al-Sherif, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, believes the government is attempting to convey the message that it is extinguishing all fires ahead of the parliamentary elections slated for November. “What’s more, the government wants to deter Salafis from speaking about politics,” he added.
Salafi channels have traditionally been known for apolitical discourse primarily focusing on Islamic principles.

Recent bans on Salafi television channels only indicate the latest episode in a more comprehensive series of crackdowns in recent weeks that have targeted the private media in general. The recent crackdown began with last month’s suspension of the popular news talk show “Al-Qahira al-Youm” and with the sacking of Ibrahim Eissa, chief editor of independent daily Al-Dostour following soon after. Authorities later announced a ban on all news alert cell phone text messages.

According to experts, the newly-regulated restrictions aim at silencing Egypt’s political opposition, mainly the Muslim Brotherhood, ahead of parliamentary elections.

Hossam Tammam, an expert on Islamist groups, highlights that the suspension of Salafi channels is the dust that will cover up the regime’s upcoming heavy interference into the media. He added that it seems that the regime will not allow the same level of freedom that it allowed during the 2005 elections.
Tammam also says that Salafi channels were the prime victims because they have serious flaws and dangerous implications on society.

Experts argue, however, that the government will not give up these channels and that they will be brought back to serve as counterweights to the Muslim Brotherhood since their influence is not political. “The Salafi channels are described as having a narrow scope since they only focus on rituals and formalistic issues and are not concerned with the question of how to integrate Islam into public life,” said Tammam.

 Al-Nas TV has decided to diversify its content in an effort to convince the regime to lift its suspension and reduce the number of programs devoted to religious topics asserting that preaching and religious themes would now account for much less of the channel’s content.