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Egypt: New challenges

The Egyptian media are reporting as freely as never before. But there are still limits, and the new authorities can be easily irritated. The latest example: a blogger has been sentenced to three years in prison.

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Since the revolution on January 25th the cards have been re-shuffled in the Egyptian media. Newspapers, television and radio stations can report almost uncensored and political taboos are few. After 30 years under Mubarak’s regime mouthpieces of the opposition are making the most use of this new freedom – with success. Their circulations and quotas are soaring.

01.2011 DW-AKADEMIE Tilman Rascher

Tilman Rascher, head of DW-AKADEMIE’s Middle East division

“The losers here are definitely the government media,” says Tilman Rascher, head of DW-AKADEMIE’s Middle East division. “They supported former president Hosni Mubarak during the revolution, and then abruptly changed sides when he was overthrown.” The pro-government Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Ahram and the state broadcaster ERTU for example, re-positioned themselves overnight and have lost credibility, he says.

By comparison, social media channels have gained prominence. “They were the deciding factor in the revolution,” Rascher emphasizes. “It remains to be seen what they can contribute to the democratization process.” The initial euphoria was dampened at the beginning of April when a military court sentenced a blogger to three years in prison. The court judged that the Internet activist had insulted the military, published false information and disrupted law and order. Human rights and journalists’ organizations criticized the verdict.

Young Media Summit 2010.jpg

Arab bloggers at the Young Media Summit 2010 in Cairo

Besides bloggers, the conventional media will also play a key role in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. DW-AKADEMIE will be supporting them with reporting skills workshops. “We’re reacting promptly to the new situation, especially with regard to the elections. We’re offering workshops for journalists in May and July, and they’ll be concentrating on election reporting,” says Rascher.

DW-AKADEMIE is forging plans to work together with two universities – the German University in Cairo and the Media Faculty at the Cairo University. The focus will be on supporting practical training for online journalism. After the parliamentary elections there are plans to develop a press code together with Egyptian media professionals and journalists.

Projects which began prior to the revolution will be continued. Last year the Young Media Summit – a dialogue between Arab and German bloggers – took place in Cairo. This year DW-AKADEMIE is organizing another dialogue, this time on “Reforms in the Arabic World”. A new project, “Shabab”, will also be launched. This will be an online platform focusing on Arabic youth and democratization processes.

“The biggest challenge at this point is finding the right partners,” says Rascher. Egypt is still in transition. “We’ll be watching the developments after the elections in order to decide more precisely on the next steps to take.”

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