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Presenter Azza Hennawy after referral to trial: Now only space for hypocrites at Maspero

The administrative court referred state TV anchor Azza al-Hennawy to trial on Saturday, along with the director and producer of her show “Cairo News.” She told Mada Masr she only learned of the referral through the media. Hennawy was suspended from her show and subject to investigation earlier this year after criticizing President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on-air.

According to the Al-Bedaiah website, Hennawy currently faces charges of failing to carry out her duties sufficiently, going off-script during her live show and insulting the president.

Hennawy was initially suspended and referred to an internal investigation in March after criticizing Sisi during an episode of “Cairo News” on Al-Qahera channel. The administrative prosecution then opened an investigation into the case in the administrative court, on charges of insulting the president, later that month.

In the offending episode, Hennawy addressed the president saying: “The president asks Egyptians to work — Egyptians do work, but most officials don’t. And frankly, neither do you Mr. President. You haven’t solved one issue since you came to power.”

In the same episode, she claimed that corruption is rife in Egypt’s state institutions including the presidency, and accused Sisi of being too lenient towards it. She also spoke out on highly controversial topics including forced disappearances, the imprisonment of journalists and the ongoing crackdown on civil society, asserting that the president hasn’t taken the necessary measures to fight these practices.

Hennawy ended the episode abruptly when her guest accused her of promoting a hostile agenda of entities working against Egypt. She told Mada Masr that the guest, who defended the president and his government throughout the episode, was one of five individuals Maspero management forced her to host on the show.

She now claims that Maspero management is taking illegal and unconstitutional measures against her, including withholding her full salary during the ongoing investigation and prohibiting her from entering the building. She has responded by presenting a counter case to the administrative court demanding both her reinstatement and her financial rights. The court accepted her case in April and referred it to the State Commissioner, which is yet to issue a verdict.

This is the second time Hennawy has been suspended during Sisi’s tenure. In November 2015 she alluded to corruption in Maspero on-air, demanding the president take action. She was subject to an investigation and received a warning, though she was reinstated by the end of the month. Hennawy was suspended for just over a year under Mubarak and again under Morsi for several months. In both incidents she received half her salary until the investigations concluded.

Hennawy said that the crackdown that she faces under Sisi is more than severe anything else she has faced during her 29 years as a broadcaster, which have often been marred by controversy due to her vocal criticism of government institutions. She told Mada Masr that since the start of Sisi’s presidency, Maspero officials have been given unprecedented liberty to pursue critical voices within the institution.

“It seems as if Maspero officials have been given assurances that they can resort to any means possible against those who oppose the president, and that they should feel free to violate the law and the constitution without fear of retribution, going to any lengths so that only hypocrites remain in the building,” she said.

There were a few additional remarks Hennawy was keen to address to President Sisi. “I want to ask the President, what kind of woman does he want building Egypt with him? One who follows her conscience and respects people’s minds or one who blindly obeys? And I want to tell him that his regime is more fascist than both Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood and that I’m willing to be executed without trial but I will not give up on my principles,” she stated during her interview with Mada Masr, concluding “as long as Sisi’s inner circle is comprised of hypocrites, this country will never see any good.”

Local and International observers have condemned the deterioration of media freedom in Egypt in the last three years. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Egypt as the second most prolific jailer of journalists worldwide in 2015 stating: “Perhaps nowhere has the climate for the press deteriorated more rapidly than in Egypt,” and accusing Sisi of “[using] the pretext of national security to clamp down on dissent.”

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