In February 2011, thousands gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square demanding democracy and greater freedoms, including for the media.Their voices — part of a regional sweep of protests that came to be known as the Arab Spring — ended Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade rule and briefly appeared to herald a new, more hopeful era for the country.But 10 years on from the pro-democracy movement, press defenders say the Egyptian media face a serious decline, with many journalists deemed critical of Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s government finding themselves behind bars, and independent outlets forced to close or banned, often under the justification of protecting national interests.”Journalists took risks to tell the story of the square and share news on atrocities committed there,” Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), told VOA. “What we have documented since over the last 10 years is one of the worst tolls against the press, wave after wave of journalists killed, imprisoned and censored.”According to CPJ, 11 journalists have been killed in Egypt since 2011 while on assignment. Naming the country as one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists (tied for third with Saudi Arabia), the advocacy group says the number of imprisoned journalists continues to rise in the country, from no arrests in 2012 to an annual average of 20 behind bars for their work since 2014.Coup topples MorsiFollowing Mubarak, the rule of Egypt’s democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi lasted only a year after he was deposed in a 2012 coup by el-Sissi. Upon arrival to power, el-Sissi detained Morsi and labeled his affiliated organization Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.Press freedom groups say el-Sissi’s government, under the justification of war against terrorism, has over the years produced a media environment in which outlets have to firmly support the regime to survive. Those who express opposition are often accused of terrorism indoctrination and fake news spread to incite violence.FILE – Khaled Elbalshy demonstrates with fellow journalists outside the Journalists Syndicate headquarters in Cairo, May 4, 2016, following the arrests of two reporters.According to Human Rights Watch, Egyptian authorities since 2017 have acted without judicial authorization to block an estimated 600 websites containing news on politics and human rights.The Egyptian government in the past has banned articles or media outlets that covered issues that the authorities deemed sensitive.In June 2020, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation banned media from covering sensitive political, economic and health issues, including interviews with medical experts about the coronavirus, military operations in Sinai and a dam project in Ethiopia. The council urged the outlets to cover only the official information issued by the authorities, warning that legal action would be taken against violators.FILE – Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of Egypt’s President Mohamed Mursi hold pictures of him as they react after the Egyptian army’s statement was read out on state TV, at the Raba El-Adwyia mosque square in Cairo, July 3, 2013.“Such claims come as a part of Muslim Brotherhood propaganda and its media to incite public opinion,” the statement said.Madgy’s case exemplifies the initial hopes that have been eroded in the past 10 years.After the 2011 uprising, Magdy saw a space not just for journalists but also women to be part of the conversation in Egypt. FILE – Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi attends a ceremony at the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Jan. 27, 2019, in this handout picture provided by the Egyptian presidency.Transnational clampdownSome activists say the el-Sissi government’s effort to quash the press has gone beyond Egypt’s borders in some cases and has extended to a transnational repression.The government in the past also moved to ban international organizations such as Al Jazeera and the BBC.Hisham Abdullah, an Egyptian actor and journalist who fled with his family to Turkey in 2016 following arrest threats from the government, told VOA that he wasn’t convinced Egyptian authorities would cease targeting him through harassing his relatives in Egypt or issuing international arrest warrants.Abdullah was detained in 2018 for a few days in Turkey following a request by Egypt to the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL). He said the government failed to repatriate him forcefully but has turned to other tactics, such as revoking his wife’s Egyptian nationality, not renewing his passport and, in January, arresting several of their relatives.Abdullah’s wife, Ghada Najeeb, said the government crackdown on her family was a “harsh sentence” that could further complicate their lives abroad. She said the couple were concerned about what might happen if the government refused to renew their four children’s passports next year.Abdullah, Najeeb and their children had set up a tent in Tahrir Square during the anti-government protests in Cairo in 2011. While still optimistic in diaspora, the couple say they cannot help regretting how the uprising’s aspirations for freedom and dignity have turned into a nightmare.“The oppression in Egypt now is the worst. Most of the activists … are either killed, in prisons or exiled. But we cannot despair,” Abdullah said.Ezel Sahinkaya contributed to this report from Washington.  

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