One of Egypt’s last remaining independent media outlets, Mada Masr, has become the target of the Sisi regime.
Independent newspaper Mada Masr has reported that one of its employees, Shady Zalat, was arrested in the early hours of November 23. Zalat had been working at Mada Masr as an editor since 2014.
Following the incident, the newspaper’s offices in Cairo were raided and three journalists were detained by security forces yesterday. They were released around 6:15pm, several hours later. Zalat was also let out on a highway on the city’s outskirts after his arrest on Friday night.
Earlier this month, security forces approached Zalat’s home three separate times in a single night gathering information about his work, apartment and his car.
Four plainclothes security officers entered his apartment this weekend while a number of uniformed officials and other security forces waited outside. His wife and daughter were at the house during the raid. Security forces said that they were looking for Zalat without identifying themselves and without an arrest warrant.
Since September 20, small street protests have broken out challenging the Sisi regime. According to the local human rights activists, the government has arrested at least 4,400 people, mostly journalists, activists, and even children and some foreigners.
According to Human Rights Watch, 60,000 people had been arrested on 'political grounds' in Egypt since President Abdel Fatah el Sisi’s 2013 coup. These raids come after Mada Masr reported that Mahmoud al Sisi, the president’s son and a senior official in the powerful General Intelligence Service (GIS), had been sidelined and sent to Russia on a long-term diplomatic mission.
Mada Masr is considered one of Egypt’s most authoritative media outlets and is published in English and Arabic, it is known for its investigations and critical reporting. It also doesn’t shy away from sensitive issues like the ongoing repression under the Sisi regime, corruption and the intelligence agencies. Even if its website is blocked, Mada Masr continues to publish on social media.
Following Zalat’s arrest, nine plainclothes security officers entered Mada Masr’s office by force.
According to witnesses, they moved quickly and aggressively, they immediately began confiscating everybody's laptops and phones. Plainclothes men refused to answer who they were. They collected everyone’s ID cards and at the time of the raid, they detained 16 Mada Masr staff and freelancers in the office.
They asked all the people in the office to unlock their laptops and wrote down everyone’s details. Different officers periodically questioned Chief Editor Lina Attalah and Managing Editor Mohammed Hamama.
An American citizen, Ian Louine, and British citizen Emma Scolding, and two crew members of France 24, were also questioned by the authorities. The France 24 staff were about to film an interview with Attalah about Zalat’s detention.
During this process, French officials from the embassy spent around an hour trying to get into the office while lawyers, journalists, family and friends of the detained journalists gathered in front of the Mada Masr office.
Officers seized all personal belongings, phones and laptops, and left the office while one stayed saying that the three would be being taken to the prosecutor’s office without specifying who exactly.
The American and British citizens were taken to their homes where they were asked to provide their passports. The officers told them that the problem is not with them, it is with Mada Masr. The France 24 crew left with French officials.
Attalah said: “We believe that it is a message from the authorities that our time has come as well.”
This is the latest in a widening crackdown on freedoms by the government of Sisi, a key American ally, running what critics describe as the most authoritarian regime in Egypt’s modern history.
Attalah said: “What the authorities have done since September 20 is to break all sorts of red lines. They are testing how much more [they] can get away with to carry on their crackdown.
“And so long as there is silence, they will be more and more emboldened to crack down on us.”