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Military rulers ignore plural voices

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt's ruling military council

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt's ruling military council

REUTERS/Pool/Xinhua/Cai Yang via IPI

In a major setback for free expression and media freedom, Egypt's military rulers have limited the participation of civil society organisations, targeted sources of funding for NGOs, banned international monitoring of elections and reinstated the Information Ministry, report the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and other IFEX members. Frustrated with this lack of progress for social justice and civil liberties, thousands of protesters marched through Cairo's Tahrir Square yet again on 23-24 July.

As demonstrators made their way to the defence ministry over the weekend, dozens were attacked by assailants. "They found themselves trapped and were set upon by armed thugs wielding swords, knives and hurling rocks and molotov cocktails," reports "The Guardian". The recent clashes marked an escalation in tensions between activists and Egypt's military rulers. Dozens were injured and at least one journalist was attacked.

In addition, journalists and activists have criticised the government for its slow handling of trials for the former regime's key figures. Activists also want the government to move faster toward a transition to civilian rule, say news reports. Elections were recently postponed to late November.

Instead, the ruling generals are systematically consolidating their own power. Earlier this month, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), swore in a new Minister of Information after re-establishing Egypt's Information Ministry. This ministry was abolished after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Long seen by journalists as the propaganda arm of Mubarak's regime, scrapping it was a key demand of members of the 18-day revolution, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

"The Ministry of Information is a tool commonly used by dictatorial regimes," says ANHRI.

The National Coalition for Media Freedom - composed of rights groups such as ANHRI and CIHRS, as well as trade unions and media activists - rejected the appointment, reports ANHRI. The Coalition has recommended that the government consider the input of media personnel and journalists' unions to find a way to guarantee the right of citizens to a free and responsible media.

Meanwhile, the government is attempting to marginalise civil society organisations, says ANHRI. More than 70 NGOs requested a meeting with the Minister of Social Justice and Solidarity over two months ago. Authorities have responded by setting up additional constraints in the law for NGOs, initiating an inquiry into foreign funding for these organisations, blocking the registration of new organisations, with infinite delays in granting authorisations to receive funds.

As part of its attempt to control NGOs, SCAF has spread its tentacles far and wide by banning elections monitoring by foreigners, reports CIHRS. It has interfered with the democratic independence of the Supreme Commission for Elections to "specify the rules regulating the participation of Egyptian and international NGOs in the process of elections monitoring." The goal of any election monitoring process is to ensure the integrity of the election process, to reassure citizens, says CIHRS, as it calls on SCAF to permit local and international NGOs to facilitate the process of international monitoring for Egyptian elections.

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