EGYPT: Party leader buys biggest opposition newspaper
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‘A number of shareholders, who believe in Al Dustour’s role in defending liberties and calls for reform, will be the newspaper’s new owners,’ a statement issued by the paper’s former owner, Essam Ismail Fahmi, read on Tuesday.
Badawi will serve as the paper’s new chairman of the board and Reda Edward will serve as chief executive while Editor-in-Chief Ibrahim Issa and the rest of his editorial staff will retain their posts.
Despite not revealing the deal’s worth, Egyptian media reported that Badawi paid Fahmi about $3.5 million to acquire the majority of the paper’s shares.
Since the announcement of the deal, speculation has grown over Badawi’s real motives for investing in the paper, with some suggesting that the owner of Al Hayat satellite television channel might be creating a media empire that would serve his political interests.
Badawi, who was elected as Wafd leader in May, rejected such claims.
‘Al Dustour will maintain its independence and will never be a mouthpiece for Wafd party, who already has its own newspaper,’ Badawi told reporters.
Issa, infamous for his daring writings and critiques of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, said he believed that Badawi’s purchase was not politically motivated. ‘Badawi is a businessman in the first place. He bought Al Dustour in this capacity not in his capacity as president of Wafd,’ he says.
‘The paper’s editorial policy will not change and this has been stated in the new purchasing contract. The readers can wait and see,’ Issa added.
The paper was established by Fahmi in 1995 and forging a reputation of highlighting the regime’s malfunctions and advocating human and citizenship rights in Egypt. Al Dustour was banned in 1998 for publishing a letter issued by an extremist Islamist group, Al Gamaa al Islamiyya, in which it threatened to assassinate three prominent Coptic businessmen.
The government derided the action as ‘creating sectarian unrest’ between Muslims and Copts.
The paper was allowed to be published again in 2004 and has made waves since.
In 2006, Issa and another Dustour reporter were sentenced to a year imprisonment for running an article about a lawsuit filed by a citizen against Mubarak, accusing the president of misusing public money. The sentence was later demoted to a few hundred dollars fine.
Issa was once again sentenced to two months in jail in 2008 for ‘publishing false information and rumours’ when he wrote that Mubarak’s health is deteriorating in 2007. The editor was later spared imprisonment by a presidential pardon.
-- Amro Hassan in Cairo