Did Mada Masr’s Latest Article Lead to Journalist’s Arrest in Egypt?

On Saturday, security forces in Egypt arrested senior editor, Shady Zalat, of the independent news outlet from his home in Cairo. The editor in chief of Mada Masr, the online publication Zalat worked for, confirmed. The move has since been linked to the ongoing crackdown under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s reign, who took over the country in a 2013 coup.

Mada Masr is a website well known for its investigative journalism and for serving as a critical source of information to multiple parties and activists within Egypt, along with policymakers around the world.

Under el-Sisi’s autocratic rule, the media remained gripped and highly biased in presenting the changes issued by the government. However, the backdoor information still continuously leaked via Mada Masr, is alleged to be the reason behind the journalist’s arrest.

In its latest report released on Wednesday, the online publication reported that el-Sisi was covertly working towards the removal of his son Mahmoud from senior position that oversees intelligence services. He instead planned to send him on an open-ended assignment to the Egyptian Embassy in Moscow.

Referring to unknown sources, the report said senior officials were worried over Mahmoud el-Sisi’s poor job in controlling the news media and other aspects that were hurting his father’s image. However, the claims were denied by government-controlled media outlets.

Though it is not clear if the leaked information had a role to play in the arrest, yet the timing plausibly answers a lot of questions. Also, keeping in mind the pattern of how things have unfolded under el-Sisi, it would be of no surprise, even if confirmed that the article in question is the only reason behind the journalist’s arrest.

The Egypt arrests represent “a dangerous signal,” said Khaled al-Balshy, the former deputy head of Egypt’s press union. “Mada Masr is one of very few voices that are fighting to present a different point of view,” he added. “The message appears to be: This is no longer acceptable.”

Other than Shady Zalat, Mada Masr also reported that an American editor, Daniel O’Connell, who had been working with the online publication was stopped at international airport, deported and sanctioned from entering the country. “He has done nothing more than use words to report the news,” Mada Masr said.

For el-Sisi, public demonstrations, opposition and revelation of truth remains the biggest threat. In his six years, he has already arrested more than 4,000 people, according to rights groups. The list that mostly makes up of journalists and activists, who chose to fight oppression and not live under his gun.

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