CAIRO: A suit accusing state TV Anchor Azza el-Hennawy of insulting President Sisi will not be considered, Lawyer Tariq el-Awady told The Cairo Post Thursday.
Lawyer Samir Sabry had filed a complaint that was motioned to state security prosecution accusing Hennawy of “implementing an agenda to attack the Egyptian state and its president… to defame the state internally and internationally…and to incite people against the president by questioning his achievements,” read the report as published on Youm7.
In addition to the suit, Hennawy has faced bile from colleagues, some facetiously suggesting weight limits for those appearing on air.
“I advise Essam el-Amir, the head of the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) first to place a scale outside Maspiro studios …a 150 kg-presenter cannot appear on the screen,” Tamer Amin, Al-Hayah TV anchor said Wednesday.
Amin later claimed he was criticizing Hennawy for her performance, not attacking her for having criticized Sisi.
Right to criticize
“A state president is a political position that should be vulnerable to public evaluation, and saying that he has failed to fulfill his position is not an insult,” Awady said, adding that Hennawy’s remarks “are categorized under right to criticism.”
In her TV talk show Sunday, Hennawy slammed President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi for calling on Egyptians to work for the sake of the country, while he “does not.”
“Egyptians are working but most of the country’s leaders, and may be all of them are not, and in fact, you [President] are also not working; there is no one single file that you have solved so far since you assumed your position as a president of Egypt.”
She said that Sisi has promised that after the first two years of his tenure, Egyptians will see a new Egypt, “the period is about to end, and we are waiting.”
During the episode that has been largely shared on social media, Hennawy cited shortcomings of the government, saying all promises were “lies,” referring to a hike in prices of basic items “that is impoverishing the people.”
Regarding state’s reconciliation attempts to restore smuggled public money from Tycoons like Hussein Salem, Hennawy said that there are thousands like Hussein Salem in Egypt “that you [Sisi] can arrest and try them by law, instead of borrowing or telling Egyptians to [donate with 1EGP].”
Speaking at the Strategic Development in Egypt 2030 conference in February, Sisi’s remarks on flourishing the state’s economy stirred mockery after he asked Egyptians to “say good morning to Egypt with 1EGP.”
“If I could be sold [for the sake of the economy], I would sell myself,” Sisi said, creating more controversy and even criticism by media practitioners who found the phrase as “humiliating” as should not be said by a president.
Discussing the news with Hennawy, Journalist Osama Shehata, despite disagreeing with Sisi’s controversial quote, described it as “emotional,” but she interrupted him saying, “the country will not be built by emotions.”
Shehata has said that Hennawy’s discourse was “biased” and reflects “black image,” he said during the episode as he argued she is not giving him equal chance to respond to her questions.
“We just want our state to have real social justice, real justice and respect to its citizens,” Hennawy commented.
She added, “We do not want enforced disappearances to happen, or wronged people to be imprisoned.”
“Had not the Press Syndicate strike, imprisoned journalists in Aqrab (Scorpion) or Torah would not have been treated.”
The high cost of dissent
The circulated episode has attracted huge support with the “bold” presenter as dubbed on social media; however she also faced a backlash by Sisi’s supporters.
“Insulting the President” is a listed crime in Egypt’s Penal Code with a punishment that was reduced from imprisonment to a fine of 30,000 EGP ($3,800.) Being accused of this crime does not require arrest or remand, since the defendant does not face a trial, Lawyer Awady explained. How an insult is defined under the law, however, is often subjective, with those criticizing policies or laws seen as contemptuous.
In late 2015, Hennawy was suspended for a month after she called on Sisi to “consider corruption at town councils and hold officials accountable,” starting with himself, in comments on severe damage caused by rains across the country at that time.
However, last year, Egyptian law student Amr Nohan was jailed for three years by a military court over posting a satirical picture of Sisi showing him with Mickey Mouse ears. Nohan received the prison sentence as the picture was considered breaching military rules as he was arrested few days before finishing his compulsory military service.
Human rights groups, including the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI,) have urged for canceling the charge from the penal code as it “gives [the President] a sacred status which is not acceptable,” saying that “political criticism is an essential part of freedom of expression.”