UNESCO’s possible censor-director

Farouk Hosni

Most of the flap about Farouk Hosni becoming Director General of UNESCO comes from anti-Semitic remarks about not allowing (no, burning) any Hebrew texts in the new library at Alexandria. (A curious position to take not only because the place could stand to house a few more books; current expansion plans reportedly revolve around a McDonalds). Reporters Without Borders has more reasons:

President Hosni Mubarak’s culture minister since 1987, Hosni has been one of the leading protagonists of government censorship in the Arab Republic of Egypt during this period, constantly seeking to control both press freedom and his fellow citizens’ right to freedom of information.

Any attempt to found a newspaper in Egypt has to be endorsed by not only the High Press Council, which is headed by the president, but also by the Cabinet and by the various security services. A newspaper can be closed at any time if it is deemed to have published an article posing a threat to national security.

At the same time, the government owns 99 per cent of the country’s newspaper retail outlets and has a monopoly of newspaper printing. This allows it to censor a newspaper at any time.

Even if privately-owned opposition and independent newspapers are on sale in newsstands alongside the government press, there are risks attached to being outspoken. A total of 32 articles in different laws – including the criminal code, the press law, the publications law, the law on state documents (which forbids journalists to access certain official documents), the civil service law and the political parties law – stipulate penalties for the media.

Hosni has been successful in bringing Egyptian writers and literature in general widely under the government fold. Festivals, prize and money from the government are a way, he’s proved, to cut out criticism from those, the literary set, who might offer the most eloquent and convincing. Another nod then to Sonallah Ibrahim, who said simply, while on a stage with Hosni as he rejected a government prize: “We no longer have theater, cinema, or scientific research; we just have festivals, conferences, and false funds.”

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