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
News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
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

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game