Egyptians find a media scapegoat as unrest spreads: By stifling reports of violence the authorities hope to revive tourism, Robert Fisk writes from Cairo

IN A HAM-FISTED - some might say desperate - attempt to muzzle the foreign press corps in Cairo, the Egyptian government has initiated a campaign of harassment against correspondents for their reporting of the country's growing fundamentalist violence.

Officers from the Ministry of the Interior have summoned several foreign correspondents to their headquarters to account for their 'lies', while a virulent and sometimes libellous series of articles in the pro-government Cairo press against British, French and American journalists has been followed by quasi-legal government threats to fine news agencies if they do not restrict their coverage of the Islamist insurrection in Egypt.

The most recent news organisation to suffer the fury of the Interior Ministry has been Agence France- Presse, which was accused of fabricating reports of fundamentalist violence and of being 'anti-Muslim' and 'anti-Egyptian' after filing two dispatches about violence in southern Egypt and the Nile Delta. Last week an American correspondent working for an Atlanta newspaper received a visit from Interior Ministry officers at his Aswan hotel room at one in the morning while visiting southern Egypt. Ministry of Information officials have since told correspondents that they must in future seek permission to visit Assiut, Beni Suef and several slum areas of Cairo where policemen and fundamentalists have been killed in assassinations and gun battles.

Foreign reporters have also now been forbidden from attending the hearings of the Egyptian military courts in which fundamentalists of el-Gamaat el-Islamiya (the Islamic Group) are tried - and often sentenced to death - for attacks on the government. Defendants at these trials have almost invariably complained of torture at the hands of the police. And yet another restriction has been mooted by the security authorities here: foreign correspondents must in future refer to those who violently oppose the government only as 'terrorists'.

David Daure, the Agence France- Presse bureau chief, who has persuaded the largely impotent Foreign Press Association to take up his agency's case, has noticed one of the campaign's unhappy parallels. 'This way of attacking the foreign press is something that was used in the Soviet Union,' he says. I don't think it's good for President Mubarak to use this system. He doesn't know what is going on. This way of harassing people in the media is very dangerous, because it could generate xenophobia against journalists.'

The genesis of the government's attacks is not hard to find. After el- Gamaat's repeated threats against foreign tourists and the killing of six foreigners - along with attacks on cruise ships and trains - Egypt's tourist industry has virtually collapsed, losing the country perhaps a dollars 1bn ( pounds 680m) in income. Claiming that the violence is the work of isolated 'terrorists' who have already been virtually annihilated by the security forces - an assertion that is clearly untrue - the Egyptian authorities want to revive foreign tourism by smothering further reports of violence.

If foreign journalists do not observe 'precision and objectivity' in their reports out of Cairo, the Interior Ministry has warned, it will 'take legal measures against such reports, which are no less dangerous - perhaps they are more dangerous - than the criminal acts carried out by the terrorists which are aimed at harming Egypt'. Foreign news agencies and television networks - several of which opened offices and bought equipment in Egypt during the Lebanese civil war - are particularly affected; they must now balance their desire to report the news against their need to maintain their investments.

'Every time the Egyptian press attacks us,' one news agency reporter told the Independent, 'our managers come in here with dollars in their eyes, worrying about what we're going to report. We're being extremely cautious, double and triple checking. But we can't be perfect all the time.'

The government's campaign of harassment reflects little credit on anyone. An Agence France-Presse report of a bomb in the town of Tanta appears to have been inaccurate; the explosion may have been caused by an old artillery shell.

Yet in some ways the foreign press in Cairo has been remarkably meek. Despite courageous work by individual reporters based here, foreign news agencies - including Reuters, Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press - have not chosen to investigate the widespread and compelling evidence of systematic torture by the security forces. 'Because our profile is so high,' one Western agency reporter said, 'it would be provocative for us to go out and investigate this ourselves. So to cover this, we rely on the reports of torture by Amnesty and Middle East Watch.' There are other ways of putting pressure on the press. Egyptian reporters working for international news organisations are being called in to the ministry to explain the 'mistakes' of their employers to three officers: Captain Mohamed Tamer, Colonel Abdul-Muneim Moawad and Major General Abdul-Raouf Mnawi, an adviser to Hussein al-Alfi, the Interior Minister.

Another Egyptian working for an American news organisation has discovered that President Mubarak's personal security officers have been invalidating his press passes ever since he visited Assiut 'without permission'. In one meeting at the Interior Ministry offices at Lazougli Street - the same complex in which hundreds of prisoners have reportedly being tortured - a foreign reporter was astonished to find that ministry officials allowed four Egyptian journalists to attend their discussions.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
people
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
News
i100
News
Perry says: 'Psychiatrists give help because they need help. You would not be working in mental health if you didn't have a curiosity about how the mind works.'
people
Life and Style
Stepping back in time: The Robshaws endured the privations of the 1950s
food + drinkNew BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain
News
Google celebrates St David's Day 2015
newsWales' patron saint is believed to have lived in the 6th century
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?