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Why Sisi Reinstated Information Ministry 5 Years after Abolition

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The cabinet reshuffle that took place in Egypt on Sunday 22 December 2019 witnessed the reinstation of the Ministry of Information. After taking the oath of office as Minister of State for Information Affairs, Osama Haikal, stated that the Egyptian Constitution does not prevent existence of a ‘Ministry of Information’. He said that this has been the vision of the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister. Haikal added that while the minister of information in the past used to take over organization of the media, there is a new approach for the work of the minister of state for information affairs at the present time, especially with the presence of media organizations.

Makram Mohamed Ahmed, head of the Supreme Council for the Regulation of Media, has revealed, in a press statement after the appointment of Osama Haikal as Minister of State for Information Affairs, that the law has not so far determined the areas of competence of the information minister, nor his relationship with the Supreme Council for the Regulation of Media, the National Press Organization, or the National Media Organization.

Mr. Ahmed said that while the decision to appoint Haikal as minister of state for information affairs did not determine Haikal’s areas of competence, the Constitution completely emphasized the status of the Supreme Council for the Regulation of Media (SCRM) and the two other bodies related to media, adding, “We want to understand the nature of relations, areas of competence and the interrelationships between the Minister of State for Information Affairs and the SCRM as well as the other two bodies, so that things could go smoothly.

Osama Haikal, who served as information minister from 2011 to 2012, had worked as a military editor when he was chosen by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the former head of the military junta and minister of defense at the time, to take over the ministry of information after the eruption of January Revolution, and he has remained close to the authority since then. Over the past few years, Haikal was chosen as head of the Culture and Information Committee of the Egyptian parliament; and he also served as board chairman of the Egyptian Media Production City Co.

Egypt had abolished the Ministry of Information in 2014, and its last minister, Dr. Dorreya Sharaf El-Din – from 16 July 2013 after the overthrow of the government of Dr. Hisham Qandil to 17 June 2014. However, with the presence of 3 bodies assigned to manage the media file, it has become difficult to define the areas of competence of the new minister. Also, the main duties of the Ministry of State for Media, which were described by human rights organizations during the rule of former President Hosni Mubarak as a symbol of media censorship, were not also determined.

Sisi had established the Supreme Council for the Regulation of Media to oversee the media industry and artistic production; and the SCRM had the authority to impose fines on publications and radio and television stations or even to suspend them.

Human rights organizations and the Committee to Protect Journalists have condemned the low levels of press freedoms in Egypt, especially that the Committee to Protect Journalists has declared Egypt as the third worst jailer of journalists worldwide.

Bodies responsible for organizing the media in Egypt Constitution

The Egyptian Constitution states that three bodies must be formed to regulate the media, provided that the Ministry of Information be a link between the Government and Parliament and follow up the execution of the SCRM decisions.

The Ministry of Information is not constitutionally entitled to override the areas of competence of the Supreme Council for the Regulation of Media, especially that the areas of competence of the ministry have not been defined yet.

 Article 211 of the Constitution states that:

– The Supreme Council for the Regulation of Media is an independent entity that has a legal personality, and enjoys technical, financial and administrative independence, and has an independent budget.

– The Council shall be competent to regulate the affairs of audio and visual media and regulate the printed and digital press, and other media means.

– The Council shall bear the responsibility for guaranteeing and protecting the freedom of press and media as stipulated in the Constitution, safeguarding its independence, neutrality, plurality and diversity, preventing monopolistic practices, monitoring the legality of the sources of funding of press and media institutions and developing the controls and criteria necessary to ensure compliance by the press and media outlets with the professional and ethical standards, and national security needs as stated in the Law.

– The law shall determine the composition and regulations of the Council, and the employment conditions for its staff.

– The Council shall be consulted with respect to the bills and regulations related to its scope of competence.

Article 212 states that:

– The National Press Organization is an independent organization that shall manage and develop state-owned press institutions and their assets, as well as ensure their modernization, independence, neutrality and their adherence to good professional, administrative and economic standards.

– The law shall determine the composition and regulations of the Organization and the employment conditions for its staff.

– It shall be consulted with respect to the bills and regulations pertaining to its scope of work.

Article 213 states that:

– The National Media Organization is an independent organization that shall manage and develop state-owned visual, audio and digital media outlets and their assets, as well as ensure their development, independence, neutrality and their adherence to good professional, administrative and economic standards.

– The law shall determine the composition and regulations of the Organization and the employment conditions for its staff.

– It shall be consulted with respect to the bills and regulations pertaining to its scope of work.

The Egyptian regime has largely controlled the private or semi-private media outlets which used to be a platform for relatively expressing the other opinion, under predetermined boundaries and agreed rules.

The Sisi regime wants to use Osama Haikal as State Minister of Information Affairs to rescue the Egyptian media from the state of failure it is undergoing, that led the Egyptians to move away from pro-regime media outlets. However, it is clear that there is a likely clash between the new minister of state for information affairs and Makram Mohamed Ahmed, head of the Supreme Council for the Regulation of Media, who was surprised by the appointment of Haikal in this position, which pushed the former to release media comments asking about the powers of the new information minister.

Sisi’s reinstation of the Ministry of Information also confirms the regime’s desire to control the escalating personal and professional problems between the Supreme Council for the Regulation of Media and the National Media Organization, as well as imposing control over their policy and supervising their work, as well as assuming responsibility for speaking on behalf of the State at difficult times.

It should also be noted that the media portfolio was attributed to Osama Haikal, the former Minister of Information, in clear disregard of Yasser Rizk, the board chairman of Akhbar Al-Youm Foundation, who was the most prominent advocate of the idea of reinstating the information ministry, promoting himself as its likely minister.

Why Sisi Reinstated Information Ministry 5 Years after Abolition

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