Egytian newspaper censored over Al-Shoura fire

Egypt's state-run printing house Al-Ahram allegedly received government orders not to print an edition of the Al-Badil newspaper because it contained controversial about the fire that destroyed the Shoura Council building in Cairo on Tuesday.
shoura council alone.jpg
The Shoura Council is the upper house of the Egyptian parliament. © Reuters

BEIRUT, August 22, 2008 (MENASSAT) – He hasn't been told either way but Mohamed El-Sayyed Said, editor-in-chief of Al-Badil, suspects that the fire at the Shoura council was the reason why his paper's second Wednesday edition never made it to the newsstands.

"Colleagues have told me that political motives lie behind the decision to ban the second edition. But I can't say this with any certainty until I have further proof," Al Said told the Daily News Egypt. 

The offending article, in which the paper criticized the government's handling of the fire, is still on the newspaper's website.

In particular, it questioned the firefighting equipment at the Shoura Council building, quoting the former head of the Nasser Military Academy as saying that the fire "has revealed serious shortcomings in firefighting capacity because of the poverty in the country and bad planning."

In the same issue, safety consultant General Nader Noaman was critical of "the delay in the response" to the incident.

Eyewitnesses said it took emergency service staff  45 minutes to arrive after the fire broke out. 

While Egypt's Interior Minister Habib Al-Adly has ruled out arson as a cause to the fire, Al Badil quoted experts doubting the official version.

Al-Badil also mentioned in passing that the fire destroyed records about some controversial issues: the ferry capsizing, the contaminated blood scandal, cancerous pesticides and the Upper Egypt train files.

Meanwhile, the Al Ahram printing house claims that Al-Badil's Wednesday issue was not printed because of a delay from Al Badil's side, reports the Cairo-based rights group the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).  

The organization further alleges that Al Ahram printers had also refused to complete printing the first edition of Wednesday's Al Badil, an argument which was echoed by Al-Badil journalist Wael Mahgoub who wrote in an article that the newspaper's first issue had to be reduced to 18,000 copies.

ANHRI condemned the alleged printing ban, calling it a breach of contract that ‘exposes the censorship concealed behind this ban’. Al-Ahram, which prints 75 percent of Egyptian newspapers, is the country’s largest press printer.

It was on Tuesday that a ravaging fire engulfed the century-old building of the Shoura Council in downtown Cairo, completely destroying its upper floors, and partly spreading to the lower floors of the People's Assembly. One fireman died in the inferno, which took nine hours to put out, and at least four people were taken to the hospital for injuries. 

Photos from the Egyptian blogosphere show hordes of onlookers gazing towards the smoke-filled ruins of the building on Tuesday night.

But when Al Badil's photographer attempted to document the fire earlier on in the day, El-Said claims he was attacked by security forces.

“We were the first journalists on the scene, and took hundreds of photographs showing how the fire developed. Security forces destroyed our photographer's camera and confiscated its digital memory card. This happened very early on, before other journalists arrived," Said told Daily News Egypt. 

Wednesday’s ban marks the second time in only two weeks that Al Badil is pulled off the shelves. Its August 10 edition disappeared from newsstands after featuring articles on the alleged involvement of an Egyptian business tycoon in the murder of a Lebanese pop star in Dubai. It was said that Al Badil had violated a gag order issued by the Egyptian public prosecutor.