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"Al-Dustour" editor sacked ahead of Egypt elections

"Al Dustour" editor Ibrahim Eissa has been fired ahead of Egypt's elections next month

The editor of Egypt's independent daily "Al-Dustour", Ibrahim Eissa, has been fired by the paper's new owners - the latest in a chain of dismissals aimed to intimidate the press ahead of Egypt's parliamentary elections next month, say the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Eissa said he was sacked hours after being told not to run an article by Mohamed el-Baradei, the leader of a political reform movement in Egypt, and just a day after the paper's transfer of ownership to a government-friendly party was finalised.

The new owners, including media mogul and leader of the al-Wafd party al-Sayyid al-Badawi, had made public assurances that the newspaper's editorial line would not be affected by the sale. But Eissa thinks differently. "They bought the newspaper for US$4 million, just to stop me from writing," Eissa told the magazine "Foreign Policy".

In press interviews Al-Badawi disputed Eissa's version of the story and described the situation as a labour dispute around staff salaries.

The sacking comes as uncertainty grows over Egypt's political future, with parliamentary elections in November and presidential elections set for next year.

"'Al-Dustour's' ordeal can best be understood in the context of the other negative developments that have afflicted Egypt's press in recent weeks," CPJ explains. "Oblique threats and backroom deals that are not visibly linked to the government have started silencing some of Egypt's most critical independent voices."

ANHRI points out that Eissa's dismissal came only two days after Baladna Bilmasry, a television program hosted by Eissa, was taken off the air.

Nor is Eissa the only one in the firing line. According to ANHRI, Alaa al-Aswani and Hamdi Qandil, two of the most popular columnists at the independent daily "Al-Shuruq", stopped writing their columns last month after the newspaper's administration warned them about "external" pressure to tone down their content.

And another popular television program, Al-Qahira Al-Yawm on the Orbit satellite network, was suspended on 25 September, ANRHI reports.

In his career, 65 cases have been filed against Eissa for allegedly violating Egypt's press law and 30 are still pending, says CPJ. In 2008, Eissa was sentenced to two months in prison on charges of insulting President Hosni Mubarak after he reported about his health. Mubarak later pardoned him.

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    "Oblique threats and backroom deals that are not visibly linked to the government have started silencing some of Egypt's most critical independent voices," CPJ noted.

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