HARPER: A voice for democracy and secularism is silenced in Egypt

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

After more than a dozen death threats, longtime Egyptian journalist Mohamed Gohar decided he finally had to leave his Cairo home for Canada.

Mr. Gohar, 66, launched 25TV three years ago, employing more than 100 young protesters from Tahrir Square and training them as journalists. The 24-hour-a-day network, named after the Jan. 25, 2011, revolution that ousted longtime President Hosni Mubarak, became immensely popular because it focused on democracy and secularism, and stayed away from ties to the government and political parties.

But the network also got him into trouble. Mr. Gohar’s first run-in happened in 2011 when members of the military and the Muslim Brotherhood entered his offices near Tahrir Square after a number of Coptic Christians were killed nearby. Mr. Gohar, who is a Sunni Muslim, sheltered some Christians and later smuggled them to safety. One of them was a priest who left disguised as a Muslim sheik holding a Koran to escape.

Upon taking power last year, the Muslim Brotherhood-backed government of Mohammed Morsi jammed the signal of 25TV, effectively putting it out of business. Mr. Gohar tried to negotiate to reopen the network, but Mr. Morsi and his allies apparently saw the network as a significant threat to their policies emphasizing Islamic law.

“It is a long fight,” Mr. Gohar told me in an interview. “Egypt is fighting Islamic fundamentalism [trying to] turn the entire Middle East into religious states.”

Mr. Gohar worked as a videographer and producer for some of the most storied names in American television news, including Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings and Barbara Walters. He even produced my first story as a television correspondent in 1980.

When I visited him two years ago, I saw the excitement at 25TV. He had created a cooking show that incorporated political conversation. Ghalia Mahmoud, who became known as “the cook of the revolution,” prepared recipes aimed at those with little money and answered telephone calls about cooking and politics. Meat could be used only once a week, and the budget was $4 a day. Her show became a huge success — as did many of the news programs on 25TV.

Mr. Gohar supported the July 3 removal of Mr. Morsi as president, saying he was “trying to turn the country into an Islamic state.” But he strongly opposed the subsequent attacks that left hundreds of protesters dead. “I disagree with killing civilians for any reason,” he said.

Mr. Gohar would like the military to call for new elections aimed at creating a democratic and secular state. “The military misunderstood the message from the people. The millions in the streets wanted to fight the fundamentalism,” Mr. Gohar said. “We need the army to build democracy as soon as possible.”

The longtime journalist also criticized the disjointed course of President Obama’s policies toward Egypt. “He supported former President Mubarak, then the Muslim political groups, and now he criticizes the military,” he said. “We don’t know what he wants in the Middle East.”

A significant voice stands silent, as 25TV remains off the air. Information always has been important in Egypt, whether through the media or via the street. I hope the Egyptian military will allow the network to reopen to give Mr. Gohar a vital voice for democracy. Instead of looking for ways to retaliate against Egypt, the Obama administration should help 25TV and organizations like it to reinvigorate dialogue rather than deadly street battles.

Christopher Harper is a professor at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20.” He can be contacted at charper@washingtontimes.com or on Twitter @charper51.

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