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State TV anchor suspended for criticizing Sisi

State TV anchor Azza al-Hennawy was suspended this week and referred to internal disciplinary investigation for criticizing President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

A column by writer Gamal al-Gamal was also pulled from the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper this week, spurring criticism over a government crackdown on media freedoms.

Hennawy works for Al-Qahera Channel, which broadcasts to the greater Cairo area. On her show, she criticized Sisi and the government for their handling of floods in Alexandria and the Delta governorates in the last two weeks, especially after the rising flood waters reportedly led to a building collapse in the coastal city.

“This is [how the Egyptian citizen] is valued by President Sisi and the government. When a building is collapsing due to corruption inside local municipalities, [an Egyptian citizen] would be lucky to set up a tent and receive LE600,” she said in a video that was among the most-watched on YouTube this week.

“We want a law that makes officials accountable, starting with you [Sisi] because you appoint them,” she added, saying the president has a “rhetoric of illusion.”

However, the head of the local channels division at Maspero, Hany Gaffar, told the privately owned Al-Watan newspaper that Hennawy was suspended for violating the channel’s professional code, which bans anchors from expressing their personal opinions on air. “She did not commit to the episode’s script, and aired her own opinion, violating the professional code applied at Maspero,” Gaffar asserted.

“As long as there is no accountability, you [Sisi] will continue to speak and give promises and the Egyptian people won’t find any tangible results,” Hennawy said in the contentious episode.

Hennawy was previously suspended under former President Mohamed Morsi for criticizing his administration.

“The accusation against me is that I voiced my opinion. Tell me where in our laws or Constitution it is stated that a media figure or a citizen is banned from expressing opinions,” Hennawy argued. “We have a colleague in Maspero who incited against Copts publically on television. Was she suspended or interrogated?”

Hennawy was referring to state TV anchor Rasha Magdy, who called on Egyptians to support military personnel violently dispersing a predominantly Coptic protest in front of the state television building in October 2011.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information condemned Hennawy’s suspension in a statement, asserting that the accusation of breaching professional codes was a pretext to punish her for criticizing the president and the government.

“This incident clearly indicates the double standards used within the Egyptian media, as anchors for state and privately owned channels are not suspended for mixing their opinions with the news when they support the president,” the statement added.

Columnist Gamal was also banned from contributing to Al-Masry Al-Youm from November 9 after he wrote a series of articles titled “Tales of the Abbasids,” which was viewed as indirectly referring to Sisi’s government. “I wrote on a cloud: Down with censorship. So they banned the sky,” he said in a Facebook statement.

“I write without consideration for the limits in a country where the limitations are low,” he said.

This follows the arrest and two-day detention of Mada Masr contributor Hossam Bahgat by military prosecution for allegedly spreading false information that harms national security. Bahgat was released on Tuesday by military intelligence after a wave of condemnation for his arrest, including a statement by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. It is not clear if the charges against him are still pending.

Hashtags circulated widely on social media in support of Bahgat #متضامن_مع_حسام_بهجت (I support Hossam Bahgat), and a similar hashtag was used for Hennawy #متضامن_مع_عزة_الحناوي  (I support Azza al-Hennawy).

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