Foreign journalists in the Egyptian trenches

Written by: 
Bridget Uwera

On November 8, 2022, Bel Trew, a journalist based in Beirut, Lebanon at the time and working for The Independent tweeted that a group of journalists had been barred from entering Egypt to cover the Climate Change Conference.

“The arrests / deportations/ removal of press accreditation /entry bans have impacted reporters connected to major British media outlets from wires to TV to newspapers,” Trew said in her tweet.

The tweet came two days after the start of the conference, on November 6, of the 27th United Nations Conference on Climate Change, or COP27. Egypt was the host of the 12-day global gathering. As host, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi looked ahead with hope. “I deeply believe that COP27 is an opportunity to showcase unity against an existential threat that we can only overcome through concerted action and effective implementation,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bel Trew was voicing out an issue that has been a constant feature in the decade since the uprisings of 2011. Foreign journalists haven’t been spared the harsh realities of reporting from Egypt.

Just like their Egyptian counterparts, they have become targets to detention without trial, harassment and deportation. Many couldn't attend the COP27 summit because they had been banned from the country.

Catalogue of expulsions

Trew had been expelled from Egypt in February 2018, detained for seven hours and asked to either leave the country immediately or be tried in a military court. She was then put on a flight heading to the UK.

Trew was later quoted in Egypt Independent saying: “The Egyptian authorities arrested me after an interview with a poor man whose teenage nephew was drowned while trying to travel on one of the immigrant boats to Italy two years ago.”

Egypt’s State Information Service (SIS) in a statement pointed to what officials called failure by the journalist to follow “clear and proclaimed system for issuing press accreditation for foreign correspondents, requiring every correspondent to have a press card issued and renewed annually by the Press Centre for Foreign Correspondents.”

Trew’s case was not the only one. It’s been a decade of expulsions. 

In February 2019, David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times correspondent, who had reported from Egypt between 2011 and 2015, was arrested on arrival in Egypt and then deported.

In March 2020, a Guardian journalist Ruth Michaelson, was forced out of Egypt where she had lived and reported from for six years. Her expulsion came shortly after she wrote a story challenging the official coronavirus figures.

The Egyptian media law Number 10 of 2018 criminalizes the spread of false news or information that could harm national security or economy. Some observers look at it as a tool used by the government to gag freedom of the press.

Maha Salaheldin, an Egyptian investigative and data journalist has a theory to it. “The government officials believe that the country cannot bear a new political movement like 2011, also that Egypt has suffered for a long time from terrorism, which requires firmness at some point,” she says.

Maha explains that the 2011 uprisings changed many things, suddenly. “There was a revolution and freedom in everything. The ceiling of ambitions exceeded everything." Post-revolution, the need to roll back some of the sudden freedoms may help explain the state of press freedom in Egypt today.