Last year, 19 journalists were jailed on “false news” charges in Egypt, and more than 30 journalists are currently believed to be behind bars. But while the International Press Institute (IPI) continues to press for their release, the Egyptian government under President Fattah el-Sisi is constructing a powerful legal framework to support its crackdown on media freedom. In April 2019, a constitutional amendment was passed in Egypt granting Sisi power over the judiciary and the right to remain in power until 2030. The amendment paves a clear path to strengthen his government’s restrictions on the rights of journalists. It appoints Sisi as chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council and gives him control over appointments to the courts.
This modification extinguishes the illusion of separation of powers in Egypt. “Egyptian courts have lost all independence and officially become an extension of governmental authority”, Abdelfattah Fayed, Al Jazeera’s editor of Egyptian affairs and former Cairo bureau chief for the network, said in a recent interview with IPI.
He added: “The constitutional amendment will legalize all of the government’s procedures against journalists, especially regarding unfair trials.”Although this amendment appears radical, is simply legalizes the status quo. “The powers Sisi has had over the judiciary for the past six years have been legalized and constitutionalized”, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies Deputy Director Ziad Abdeltawab explained to IPI. Nevertheless, the amendment’s approval is likely to provide the grounds for a further clampdown on free speech in Egypt. “We definitely think that we will see more and more journalists being arrested in the next year, and also more restrictions on the work of foreign journalists”, Abdeltawab warned. Shaping the legal system to entrench fear over the past few years, Sisi has unleashed a torrent of legislative change that “instrumentalizes every repressive tool” available and targets every aspect of civilian life, Abdeltawab said.