Egypt’s parliament approved Dec. 22 a Cabinet reshuffle, whereby it was decided to reinstate the country’s Ministry of Information that had been abolished in 2014 as per the 2014 constitution, which considered the ministry to be part of the state’s control over the media under then-President Hosni Mubarak.
Parliament member Osama Haikal is to return as minister of state for information affairs, after he resigned from parliament to this effect. Haikal served as minister of information in 2011-12.
The new ministers were sworn in before President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after parliament approved the ministerial changes.
The appointment of Haikal sparked controversy in the country as the ministry’s prerogatives and powers are said to be in direct conflict with the country’s media and press authorities.
Following the decision of parliament, journalist Gamal Abdel Rahim, first deputy in the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate (EJS), said in a Facebook post Dec. 22 that the Ministry of Information has no prerogatives as per the constitutional texts and several laws, which stipulate that the national media and press authorities are independent bodies concerned with all press matters and affairs, and therefore the minister has no right to interfere in their work.
Makram Mohamed Ahmed, head of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR), told Al-Monitor that as per the constitution and laws, SCMR, media and press authorities are independent and not subject to the executive authority.
Ahmed explained that the minister of information is part of the executive branch, which defines his powers and the purpose of his position.
“The prerogatives of the National Media Authority, the National Press Authority and SCMR are provided for in the constitutional texts and the laws regulating their work,” Ahmed said.
He added, “SCMR’s main task is to control what can be called media misinformation practiced by some media outlets and to hold them accountable for any unprofessional content.”
Ahmed stressed that at the same time, the state has the right to have a minister who expresses its way of thinking and gives clarifications of its policy and vision toward the different issues, noting that the responsibilities of such a minister should be determined by the Egyptian government.
Karam Gabr, head of the National Press Authority, told Al-Monitor that the reinstatement of the Ministry of Information comes in response to the demand of the Egyptian public that believes it would be necessary to have a ministry to control the media sphere in Egypt that saw several violations of media freedoms.
“It was necessary to reinstate the ministry to coordinate between the media and press authorities. Haikal has the necessary capabilities and experience to carry out his responsibility as minister of information,” Gabr said.
Tariq Saadah, chairman of the founding committee of Egypt’s Media Syndicate, concurred with Gabr on the need to have a minister of information to coordinate the media work between the competent media parties in the country.
“The fact that the constitution provides for the work of the media and press authorities is not in conflict with the existence of a Ministry of Information and their responsibilities do not overlap. Also, according to Law No. 180 of 2018 to establish SCMR, the council has three competences within the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Communications and the Ministry of Investment and International Cooperation, in such a way that serves both the public and private press and media institutions, be they online or printed, and to issue and renew their licenses,” Saadah said.
Mohammad Saad Abdul Hafiz, a member of the EJS council, said that the main responsibilities of the minister of information are yet to be determined, while parliament spokesman Salah Hassab Allah indicated in press statements that the role of the minister would be limited to coordinating between the three media authorities — the NPA, National Media Authority and SCMR — and to control the editorial policy of the national press platforms.
Abdul Hafiz told Al-Monitor there is no conflict between the responsibilities of the new minister and the work of the media bodies, whose prerogatives are clearly provided for in the constitution and the pertinent laws.
He, however, concluded, “The reinstatement of the ministry comes after a major failure on the media landscape with the state controlling the media. Instead of changing the press policies and focus on informing the public and provide analysis, those in power have been devising ways to redirect the media landscape by appointing a person with considerable expertise, believing that it would be sufficient to make a change by merely changing the connection tool between those in power and the media. This step might lead to the return of the public opinion to the media sphere.”