Two separate media sources within the intelligence-controlled Egyptian Media Group (EMG) say that they have received explicit orders from the presidency’s media office to refrain from covering President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” program on any TV channels, websites or newspapers owned by the media conglomerate.
A source from D Media, another media company owned by Egypt’s General Intelligence Services (GIS), also confirms that similar instructions have been issued to its subsidiary network, DMC.
“60 Minutes,” an American program broadcast by the CBS television network, announced on Thursday that it would air an interview with Sisi on Sunday evening (Monday at 2 am local time in Egypt), describing it as “the interview Egypt’s government doesn’t want on TV.”
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, tell Mada Masr that the presidency’s media office justified its request as an attempt to minimize losses resulting from the president’s media appearance — which it described as “unsuccessful” — particularly after failed attempts by the government to prevent the broadcast of the interview altogether.
According to the statement released by CBS, the Egyptian ambassador in Washington contacted the network after the interview was recorded in an attempt to dissuade it from broadcasting the segment. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not released a statement regarding this claim, and the ministry’s spokesperson did not respond to Mada Masr’s request for comment on the matter.
The sources reveal that the orders relayed to the media companies also stressed on the need for these outlets to refrain from denying the CBS claim about the Egyptian ambassador’s request — so as not to provoke CBS management, which has material evidence that it may release to back up its report, potentially causing the Egyptian government further embarrassment, the sources explain.
The sources say that the gag order issued by the presidency’s media office also applies to personal social media accounts of media figures associated with the two Egyptian media organizations.
Both D Media (which owns the DMC network, Radio 9090, and the Mobtada news website) and EMG (the parent company of a number of media organizations, including ONtv and the Youm7 news organization) belong to the GIS. In December 2017, Mada Masr published details of EMG’s acquisition by Eagle Capital Financial Investments, a private equity fund owned by the intelligence body.
On Friday, CBS released a behind-the-scenes clip of Sisi’s interview, in which a “60 Minutes” producer says that Sisi’s aides “wanted all the questions in writing before the interview,” a request that the program refused to comply with.
In the clip, “60 Minutes” anchor Scott Pelley, who conducted the interview with Sisi, also states that CBS producers did “not care” if questions were asked that would anger the president.
CBS reports in its statement that, when asked if military cooperation between Egypt and Israel was the closest it has ever been, Sisi replied, “That is correct…We have a wide range of cooperation with the Israelis.”
This would constitute the first time Egypt’s president’s admits to military cooperation between Egypt and Israel, in an ever-growing liaison to combat militant activity by Islamic State affiliates in Sinai that has seen Egypt reportedly going as far as to allow Israel to conduct airstrikes in the peninsula.
Regarding figures compiled by Human Rights Watch about the existence of about 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt, Sisi is heard — in the preview released as part of the CBS statement — as saying, “I don’t know where they got that figure. I said there are no political prisoners in Egypt. Whenever there is a minority trying to impose their extremist ideology we have to intervene regardless of their numbers.”
The preview also features the case of Mohamed Soltan, a dual Egyptian-US citizen who was detained between August 2013 and May 2015 and sentenced to life in prison in Egypt for publishing false news. Soltan later managed to exit the country after he renounced his Egyptian nationality, under a 2014 law allowing the deportation of foreign nationals convicted in Egypt.
“I was targeted because I had a camera. I had a phone and I was tweeting,” Soltan is quoted as saying in the CBS statement, adding that he was tortured as he was held in solitary confinement. “Guards that were assigned to me…would pass razors under the doorstep and the officer doctors would say to me, ‘Cut vertically, not horizontally so you can end it faster.’”
The CBS statement also includes Sisi’s responses to questions regarding his responsibility for the deaths of over 1,000 protesters during the forced dispersal of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in in 2013, which took place while he was defense minister. “There were thousands of armed people in the sit-in for more than 40 days,” Sisi is quoted as saying. “We tried every peaceful means to disburse them.”
After dispersing the sit-in, the Egyptian government claimed that it managed to seize 12 firearms in the midst of thousands of protesters who were dispersed that day, the statement adds.
60 Minutes is one of the most prominent US television programs, and has conducted in-depth interviews with a number of former world leaders since it began airing in 1968, including Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Palestine’s Yasser Arafat and Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, as well as more recent interviews with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visited New York City in September of last year to attend the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, during which time he was interviewed by CBS. At the time, Egypt’s State Information Service released a statement saying, “During the interview, the president reviewed the Egyptian vision on various regional and international issues as well as counter-terrorism efforts and the economic reform adopted by the Egyptian state.”