CAIRO: Hazem Abdel Azim, executive chief of the Technological Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center affiliated with the Ministry of Communications, told Daily News Egypt on Tuesday that he stepped down from his position after he was ordered not to speak to the media without official clearance.
"If I’m forced to choose between keeping my mouth shut and quitting … then I prefer quitting," Abdel Azim told DNE.
Abdel Azim spoke to Nile Live channel on Monday about the rights of Egyptians abroad to vote in the upcoming elections and tapped into the political performance of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
“[Communications Minister] Mohamed Salem told me that this was unacceptable in all the ministries," he said.
Salem said that he got clear instructions from the Cabinet banning government officials from speaking to the media without official clearance from the specialized authority.
A source in the Ministry of Communications told DNE that the ministry accepted Abdel Azim’s resignation and appointed Ashraf Farghaly in his place to start next Sunday.
The source said that in general any official needed to coordinate with the ministry before giving out any statements to the media, adding that "this wasn’t anything new."
"We only eliminated the head of the former regime, but the rest of its figures remain embedded in the government and the system," Abdel Azim said.
He explained that that the communications ministry warned him several times about speaking to the media.
Abdel Azim pointed out that he was on very good terms with Salem, and that his problem was with the whole system.
The last warning was sent to Abdel Azim on Aug. 24, stating, "According to the rule of law, a written permit from the specialized authority in the ministry needed to be obtained before appearing in the different media outlets or giving any statements."
Abdel Azim responded with an official letter saying that he "rejects [any attempt] to oppress freedom of opinion and expression under any [justification]," adding that this "was one of the gains of the revolution."
He argued that this law only applied when discussing issues related to the ministry’s decisions or practices, not when discussing politics in general.
"After the revolution, freedom of opinion and expression should be a red line," he said.
Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Law at Cairo University, Anas Gaafar supported Abdel Azim’s argument, saying that, "As long as a government official doesn’t give statements about anything related to his work, then he’s allowed to freely express himself."
Gaafar said that the laws and restrictions that limited freedom of expression when it came to government officials are still in place after the January 25 uprising.
Abdel Azim said that he doesn’t consider working for the government in the near future, but will continue to work in public service and focus on securing the right to vote for Egyptians abroad.
Last July, Abdel Azim was to take the oath to become the new Communications and Information Technology minister, but his candidature was vetoed by a “security check.”
Journalists and activists have been previously questioned by military prosecution or reprimanded for criticizing the ruling council.
Last July, Dream TV’s anchor Dina Abdel-Rahman was sacked shortly after she defended the integrity of a columnist, who criticized a member of the ruling army council, live on TV.
In May, ONTV presenter Reem Maged, journalist Nabil Sharaf El-Din and activist Hossam El-Hamalawy were invited for "a chat" with the military prosecution, after Hamalawy spoke of SCAF’s violations on Maged’s show, "Baladna Bil Masry."