Sisi's raids on the press

Egypt's Mada Masr – "We're not going to shut up"

Raids on Egypt's last independent news outlet, Mada Masr, have left its staff shaken but defiant. Reporters are working under "increasingly hostile" circumstances in Cairo, reveals journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous in interview with Diana Hodali

The news portal Mada Masr has been reporting critically in Arabic and English about political and societal topics in Egypt and the Middle East since 2013. It is considered the last independent investigative outlet in Egypt and has long been a thorn in the side of President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi's government. Access to the website has been blocked in Egypt since 2017, and this summer the country deported an American who worked for the outlet.

Over the weekend, the government raided the outlet's editorial offices in Cairo. At the end of the operation, police arrested the site's editor-in-chief and co-founder, Lina Attalah, as well as journalists Mohamed Hamama and Rana Mamdouh. The day before, authorities had also detained well-known Mada Masr reporter Shady Zalat. All four were later released.

Journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who has worked at Mada Masr for a year and a half, agreed to be interviewed.

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You were present when the raids took place. What happened?

Sharif Abdel Kouddous: At about 1:30 p.m., a group of nine plainclothes security agents armed with pistols entered the office by force. They moved in very quickly and aggressively, spread themselves throughout the office. The first thing they did immediately was to confiscate everyone's phones and laptops. They were quite intimidating. When we asked who they were, they refused to answer and became even more agitated.

Three hours passed, with different officers periodically questioning Lina Attalah and Mohamed Hamama. They also questioned two foreign freelancers — an American and a British citizen — and two members of the France 24 TV crew who had come there to interview Lina. At around 4:30 p.m., they asked Lina, Mohamed Hamama and Rana Mamdouh to come out into the hallway, and the officers and took them away. This was really a horrible moment. We had to stand there and watch them being led away, not knowing what fate awaited them.

Do you have any idea why they chose them?

Kouddous: Lina is the editor-in-chief and the co-founder, and she told the officers that she was the one responsible. So her selection makes sense. It's unclear why the other two. They're both journalists who cover critical issues, and maybe it's because of what they wrote. But we can only guess.

The raid came in the wake of the largest wave of arrests since President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi formally came to power in 2014. About 4,000 people have been detained since protests broke out at the end of September. Were you and your colleagues expecting something like this?

Kouddous: The work environment has certainly become increasingly hostile in the past few months. We publish not knowing what will happen. We go to our offices not knowing if they'll be raided. We see our more-well-known colleagues worry that they might be arrested. We go home not knowing if we'll wake up in our houses in the morning. This is the kind of atmosphere it's become.

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