Monday, September 12

Egypt's military reverses decision on tourist visas but pulls al Jazeera station from air

Note: The WSJ reporter who filed the following report describes al Jazeera's coverage of the 'protests' that brought down the Mubarak regime as "trenchant." Trenchant, huh? I could write a twenty-page essay full of links to news reports to dispute that claim.

However, the reporter has gathered valuable information about the present state of affairs in Egypt so I'm going to let the claim stand uncontested, for now, with only the comment that while much could be said about al Jazeera's coverage of the protests and coverage of the same protests provided by every single national TV station in the United States -- CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, MSNBC, CNN, FNC -- I think it would be wrong, or at least very uninformed, to portray it aa trenchant.

September 12:
Egypt Curbs Media After Cairo Melee
By Matt Bradley
Wall Street Journal

CAIRO—Law-enforcement officials pulled an Egyptian affiliate of the Qatar-based satellite news channel Al Jazeera off the air on Sunday as Egypt's interim leadership struggled to deflect blame onto foreign media for a violent attack on the Israeli embassy.

Earlier on Sunday, the government capitulated to tourism officials to reverse a decision last week that would have prevented visitors to Egypt from purchasing visas at the airport—a move that could have further damaged the country's ailing tourism industry.

Both decisions point to the military-led transitional government's increasingly chaotic governance amid growing challenges to its authority by casting blame on foreigners and the media.

Activists and human-rights groups have complained that the interim leadership is resorting to the draconian methods of former President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in an uprising in February.

"The fear of the outside continues to dominate the discourse and the actions now for the military council," said Hossam Bahgat, a pro-democracy activist and the director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. "This is typical of security agencies under Mubarak: They always seek to keep independent media outlets and human-rights organizations on fragile grounds so that they can always decide when to stop tolerating these independent voices."

The raid on Al Jazeera Live Egypt comes nearly one week after Egypt's cabinet announced that it had frozen permits for new satellite television news channels and would re-evaluate existing licenses.

Employees at Al Jazeera Live, which started broadcasting from Egypt shortly after the revolution against Mr. Mubarak, said they believed Egypt's Ministry of Interior was retaliating against Al Jazeera because it broadcast live images of protesters' attacking the Israeli embassy late Friday night.

A large protest dubbed "Correct the Path" turned ugly when thousands of activists demanding an end to military trials for civilians and a clear timetable for the democratic transition crossed the Nile River to the Israeli embassy. The confrontation led to the deaths of three demonstrators and prompted Egyptian officials to evacuate the ambassador, his family and dozens of staff in the middle of the night.

Israel Reels Over Rifts With Allies
.The demonstrators, who included deep ranks of Egyptian football hooligans, tore down a recently constructed wall built to protect the embassy and invaded the building.

Police detained one Al Jazeera employee for questioning and confiscated equipment, the interior ministry official said.

A spokesman for Egypt's Ministry of Interior said they had pulled Al Jazeera Live off the air because the channel was operating without a permit. They were also responding to "neighborhood complaints" of high levels of foot traffic and blocked cellphone signals in the building the channel occupied.

The broadcaster, also known as Al Jazeera Mubasher, which means live in Arabic, shares the same building as the Cairo bureau of the British Broadcasting Corporation, said Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, a secretary at Al Jazeera Live Egypt. He said Al Jazeera Live's repeated efforts to secure a broadcast permit were stymied by bureaucratic delays.

Al Jazeera Mubasher's shutdown comes as Egypt's ruling Supreme Council for the Armed Forces, or SCAF, seeks to counter criticism from within Egypt that it didn't adequately protect the Israeli embassy.

Throughout the course of the "Arab Spring" of successive pro-democracy uprisings, Arab leaders have repeatedly made a scapegoat out of the Doha-based broadcaster, accusing it of inciting the Arab public.

The channel has distinguished itself for its trenchant coverage both of Israel and Arab autocrats, offering extensive airtime to anti-Israel activists.

Egypt's Minister of Justice, Mohamed Al Guindi, told a television talk show audience on Saturday that the violence outside the Israeli embassy was the first part of a scheme to undermine Egypt's transitional government.

In a thinly veiled reference to Gulf Arab states, Mr. Al Guindi said "neighboring" governments hoped to quash Egypt's revolution for fear that it might motivate revolts in their own countries.

Throughout the summer, the SCAF has ramped up its rhetoric against perceived foreign saboteurs. The military says it believes such people are seeking to destabilize Egypt through proxies in the media and activist communities.

Meanwhile, the cabinet's decision to reverse the decision announced last week to stop issuing tourist visas upon arrival to individual visitors was welcomed by tourism officials. Some tourism and other government officials had been puzzled as to why the government would issue a decision that could further diminish a tourism industry already struggling after Egypt's revolution.

Many analysts speculated that the decision was taken out of concern that terrorists were able to enter the country on ordinary tourist visas.

"I don't care why. What I care for is the welfare of our tourists," Hisham Zazou, the deputy minister of tourism, said in an interview. "They evaluated the situation, they said no, and we will go back to normal."

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