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Journalist: Egypt's Anti-Terror Law Restricts Freedom Of Expression


Six international peacekeepers including four Americans were hurt when an explosive struck their vehicles in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Peacekeepers have been in the Sinai since 1979, monitoring the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. In recent years, the Sinai has been the scene of an Islamist insurgency. The Egyptian government cites insurgent attacks as justification for a tough new counterterrorism law that was passed last month. Joining us now to talk about it is a journalist who's been very critical of the new law, Khaled Dawoud, deputy editor of Al Ahram weekly. Welcome to the program.

KHALED DAWOUD: Thanks, Robert. Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: Egypt has conducted a sweeping security crackdown for some time. What's the essence of the new counterterrorism law, and how is it affecting political life in Egypt?

DAWOUD: Well, to an extent we've been going through a wave of terrorism almost for over two years since the ouster of former president and Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Morsi. The trouble's been happening in Sinai where the American peacekeepers were injured yesterday and in the mainland, of course. So the government - after the assassination of the prosecutor general on July 1, the president himself demanded some harsh measures. So we're seeing more charges that are punished by death penalty, more charges that are punished by life imprisonment and similar lengthy prison terms for any activity that might be related to terrorism of any sort.

But as well, it had sweeping restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Egypt mainly because the current government and president believes that the media or the journalism should play a role in supporting the government in it's war against terror and that any counter-information would be considered a threat to national security and stability.

SIEGEL: As an Egyptian journalist, do you feel a sense of solidarity with the Al Jazeera journalists who were sentenced to three years in prison last week or do you regard their case as being somehow different?

DAWOUD: I, of course, have lots of sympathy for these three journalists because I know that they were professional journalists who were carrying out their job. Plus, for everyone the evidence that was presented in court in terms of harming Egypt's image or threatening their stability or all those kinds of regular charges - we haven't seen any evidence to support that. So there is a sense that these guys have paid the price for political differences between Egypt and Qatar more than anything else.

SIEGEL: And Qatar's involved because the Qataris own Al Jazeera. I want to run past you something that the Egyptian activist Mohamed Zera told me today. He said that the result of Egyptian policies over the past several years has not been to reduce terrorism - that problem's gotten worse. The insurgency is actually stronger today than it was a few years ago, but it has snuffed out the political life of Cairo and that there is no longer a space for people to express their political views

DAWOUD: I think this is very much valid in the political level. On January 25, 2011, we had our own popular revolution, and one of the key demands for this revolution was freedom, social justice and dignity. And unfortunately under the banner of supporting the president and supporting the leader in his war against terror, there is very little space for politics or for freedom of expression or for critical views. And unfortunately right now, most journalists - we only have a chance to express ourselves in foreign media, but in the local media, we're being more attacked as Western agents. So it is definitely, you know - the wide level participation in politics that mark the general scene in Egypt after January 25, 2011 has disappeared to a great extent, and we're back into glorifying the leader and trying to just be a kind of support for the government more than anything else.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Dawoud. Thank you very much for talking with us today.

DAWOUD: Thank you, sir. Always a pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's Khaled Dawoud, deputy editor of the Al Ahram weekly speaking to us from Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.