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Egypt severly curtails press freedom ahead of elections

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Earlier this month, the firebrand journalist Ibrahim Eissa was fired from his post as editor in chief of the independent daily Al Dustour by the paper's new owners, one of whom is a business tycoon and a member of the Al Wafd opposition party. Also, a private satellite channel owned by another businessman took a television show that Mr. Eissa hosts off the air.

Eissa – who's written articles critical of Mubarak and his son and heir apparent, Gamal, and has raised the sensitive issue of Mubarak's health – told McClatchy that the government was openly flouting the Obama administration's calls for a fairer election process.

"The regime is interpreting Obama's advice and wishes in its own way," Eissa said. "It will not stop rigging the elections, but it will stop the talk concerning the rigging of the elections."

The defiant editor claimed that his former patrons were currying favor with the authorities, and that his dismissal may have bought the Wafd party more seats in the next parliament.

The moves marked a dramatic setback for journalists, who'd had greater freedom since 2004. Eissa credited former President George W. Bush, who urged Middle East allies to democratize, a form of direct pressure that the Obama administration so far has seemed reluctant to employ.

Egyptian journalists had pounced on the opportunity to criticize the state after years of censorship. Entrepreneurs saw it as a lucrative new market, as the public flocked to dynamic independent publications and satellite evening news programs that became mainstream Egypt's daily news digest.

"Despite all of George Bush's transgressions, his good deed was in calling for political reform in the Middle East," Eissa said.

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