Egypt's main state daily in a spat with parliament speaker

AP News
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Posted: Mar 01, 2017 12:12 PM
Egypt's main state daily in a spat with parliament speaker

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's flagship state newspaper on Wednesday accused the parliament speaker of making "inappropriate" comments and borderline abuse of authority in a rare public spat between two of the country's leading institutions.

The quarrel between the 141-year-old Al-Ahram daily and the speaker began earlier this week when he harshly criticized the paper's coverage of the legislature, a 596-seat chamber packed with supporters of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Al said the paper was mismanaged and had better remember that "we finance it." He later made conciliatory comments about Al-Ahram — but that didn't stop a scathing front-page commentary by the paper's editor-in-chief from being published Wednesday.

Mohammed Abdel-Hadi Alaam said Abdel-Al's criticism was inappropriate and condescending and that he should double check his facts before he speaks.

"The speaker of parliament is a man of the law who should verify his facts and not recklessly make accusations against a veneered institution," the editor-in-chief wrote.

The spat has reignited controversy over Abdel-Al, a zealous el-Sissi supporter who has not taken kindly to criticism of his heavy-handed style of running the chamber. Responding to recent media reports of lavish spending by the legislature when Egypt suffered an economic crisis, he said the house's finances were a national security issue that must not be publicly discussed.

Ahmed el-Naggar, the paper's board chairman, demanded an apology from the speaker, calling him a "minion" in a Facebook post. Al-Ahram, he added, was "bigger than those who seek to wrongly tarnish its image."

However, the spat appears to be more about decorum in public remarks than free speech. The parliament is widely seen as a rubber-stamp house while Al-Ahram, a traditional government mouthpiece, rarely criticizes or questions the president's policies.

Earlier this week, Abdel-Al oversaw the expulsion of a lawmaker critical of the government's human rights record and of the speaker's suppression of criticism of the government.

The lawmaker, Mohammed Anwar Sadat, was charged with leaking a confidential draft law to foreign diplomats and of forgery. He has denied the charges.

The quarrel comes against a backdrop of a government crackdown on critics, mostly Islamists but also secular pro-democracy activists, that began following the 2013 ouster by the military — led by el-Sissi at the time — of the country's elected Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi. Thousands have since been jailed and hundreds killed in street clashes as authorities took back freedoms won by the 2011 popular uprising.

Separately, Abdel-Al said this week that he planned to sue on behalf of parliament the editor of independent Al-Maqal daily for defamation of the legislature.

The editor, Ibrahim Issa, is among the few opposition voices left in Egypt's mostly pro-government media. He was recently forced out from hosting a political TV talk show — a fate met by several hosts before him, including a female presenter deported to her native Lebanon hours after her dismissal.

Issa has frequently argued that el-Sissi has evolved into an authoritarian leader.