In an unexpected turn of events President Hosni Mubarak last Monday pardoned Ibrahim Eissa from the two-month jail sentence the latter had received a week prior for “publishing false information of a nature to disturb public order or security.
But was the presidential pardon of Al-Dostour’s editor-in-chief Eissa cause for celebration?
The move follows over one year of legal proceedings, which can at best be described as a complete and utter farce in a case initiated by what I previously described in an editorial as “a strange phenomenon who goes by the name Samir El-Sheshtawy, a lawyer and member of the ruling National Democratic Party.
As I had pointed out then, during one of the hearings El-Sheshtawy had spared no synonyms as he explained with wild gesticulations, how Eissa’s editorials had “disturbed, perturbed, agitated, troubled and distressed him; and how he was driven by “boundless patriotism and “anxiety over the future of this country to press charges against “the accused.
I’ll spare you the gory details, but the whole trial was not only insulting to Eissa, but to all Egyptian journalists with integrity; those who haven’t forgotten the true role of the Fourth Estate to monitor and challenge the centers of power, to hold decision-makers accountable, and to constantly remind them that they are in the realm of public service, not in the business of wielding absolute power to serve only themselves.
Thus, on the surface, the pardon may seem to have been an act of supreme benevolence, but you only need to scratch that surface for the truth to rear its ugly head. And the truth is the whole ordeal, plus its dramatic ending was shrewdly and insidiously thought out from the very beginning.
Eissa’s case was quite simply intended to intimidate any journalist worth his salt who dares to question the “divinity of the president, who has the “audacity to think of the president as just another ordinary human being who, like all human beings his age, may one day catch a serious cold, have a bad back or (God forbid) suffer blood circulation deficiency or any of the health issues most people his age may suffer and (God willing) recover from.
The intentions were clear from the onset, but the results, however, were less anticipated. Instead, the case backfired on the regime and its henchmen, fuelling an international outcry by press freedom advocates worldwide and encouraging more local voices to sharpen their tone, to publicly voice their discontent and to intentionally embarrass a regime that has not only shown disrespect for Egyptian citizens’ most basic freedoms – those protected by the constitution and by international accords – but has also added insult to injury by spinning the so-called pardon as an indication of pending political reform and blossoming democracy.
The pardon, I’m afraid, is no such thing. The presidency eventually realized that it was shooting itself in the foot and that the power of Eissa-style political satire will outlive an ultimately insignificant prison sentence that would have canonized him in the sphere of free speech martyrs.
Besides, if the will to eliminated jail sentences for publishing offences really did exist, the president could have just as easily decreed the amendment of 33 articles in the Egyptian Penal Code reinforcing this antediluvian practice, and saved the regime’s face from further slipping to the bottom of the roster of notorious backsliders in freedom of expression indices worldwide.
It’s really hard to make sense of why the regime is sticking to these antiquated laws, especially at a time when the only area where reform policies have shown any flicker of hope or have reflected positive results of some degree, is now under threat from a global economic recession which will deal a heavy blow to the Egyptian economy, as indicated by last week’s Egyptian stock market crash. Analysts warn that the worst is yet to come, projecting that the real estate bubble will soon burst bringing the entire house down with it.
As always those on the lowest rungs will feel the pinch more than everyone else, and the regime should certainly be prepared for that. Pulling a phony Mother Theresa stunt like the one involving Ibrahim Eissa and like the 30 percent wage increase in May to coincide with labor day, followed by debilitating fuel price hikes, just won’t cut it when this happens. (Through some divine fortuity, the increase also coincided with the president’s birthday, again reinforcing the benevolence theme.)
To the presidential spin-masters, I said it before and I’ll say it again: stop insulting our intelligence.
Rania Al Malky is the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt.