The media have been buzzing over news released today that Egypt is putting 43 foreigners, including 19 Americans, on trial for “illegally operating in Egypt,” and receiving funds from abroad without permission from Egyptian authorities for their human rights and pro-democracy groups. Facing trial is Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and an employee of the United States-based International Republican Institute. (IRI develops political parties, civic institutions and open elections among other civic-minded activities.)
The American public is up in arms and its government is spitting mad that its revolutionary experiment has grown to bite the hand that feeds it to the tune of $1 billion a year. Congress wants to rescind that billion-dollar gravy train to Egypt. Yet Egypt’s crack down is more than just on NGO’s and civic groups. From a USA today article on the trials:
Among the people referred by Egypt’s Justice Ministry for prosecution are two American and two Egyptian employees of the International Center for Journalists, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit dedicated to raising standards in international journalism. In Egypt, the organization was working to improve citizen journalism by teaching people how to cover news events fairly, responsibly and in context, President Joyce Barnathan said Monday.
So training journalist has become a federal offense in Egypt. One of the first tells of any dictatorship is how they treat the dissemination of media. In Nazi Germany in the early 1930s, Hitler made sure that every media outlet featured his inaccurate, hateful and generally repugnant characterization of the Jewish population. Writing in “The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust,” author Jeff Herf says ordinary Germans could not escape the fact that Hitler and his ilk wanted the complete annihilation of the Jews because of their vice grip on the media.
“If a person could understand German, read a major newspaper, listen to the radio news…and view the ubiquitous Nazi political wall newspapers, he or she would know this basic fact.”
The recent arrest of two ICFJ employees is disturbing. But helping citizens learn how to tell their own stories is worth the risk. Nothing undermines tyranny faster than a free, accurate and truth-seeking press.