No doubt, current events in Egypt are testing our understanding as well as the practice of the freedom of speech and the concept of liberties at large. Two articles that I have come across in the past 6 months have paid homage to the concept of liberties in two distinct fashions.
Last July, Dr. Amr El Zant has written an interesting article titled, “Rescuing the Egyptian Public Domain”. In this article, Dr. El Zant argues that the only tangible change in Egypt that was brought about by the “continuing revolutionary process” was opening the public domain for more discussions that touched all facets of life in Egypt. These emerging voices have broadened the reach of criticism to touch both incumbents and predecessors. While some of the arguments brought forward in this newly opened public domain were undeniably futile, it is only the continuation of such discussions that will in turn allow the public to digest all offerings and accept it or reject it according to logic and prevailing circumstances. However, the fear that Dr. El Zant has projected at that point is that the current high-octane environment may effectively close the door for such debates and exchanges under a heavy barrage of accusations and name-calling.
This fear expressed by Dr. Amr has indeed started to materialise and manifest itself. We fast-forward to another article written last week by activist Esraa Abdel Fatah titled, “An Unprecedented Crime”. Esraa argued that the flurry of recordings depicting renowned activists and “revolutionaries” which has been recently leaked by the media is a clear violation of the law. Esraa has concluded that what is happening is an act of revenge against all the forces who have participated in the 25 January Revolution.
Now, the interesting mix here is that the current situation provides us with a fascinating predicament. The public domain remains open at an expensive price which is liberties. Here comes the Travolta part. In the 2001 flick “Swordfish”, the villain character Gabriel – played by Travolta – asked Stanley – played by Hugh Jackman : “Here’s a scenario. You have the power to cure all the world’s diseases but the price for this is that you must kill a single innocent child, could you kill that child Stanley?”
In our case, although, I am not certain it will only be a single child who will be killed here, nor am I so sure that we are curing the world’s diseases; however, one thing is clear: the public domain will remain open.
Attempts to silence the press are usually highly unsuccessful. In several countries, there are laws that either exist or are being considered that allow journalists to keep their sources without fear of prosecution. Now whether this extreme freedom of press amounts to an unprecedented crime or as Esraa feared or whether it is being used to publicly shun certain people remains to be seen. However, we must ensure that the public domain remains open. The society is bound to self regulate at some point of time. The public has to learn to discern the truth from the plethora of information that they are being faced with. They must distinguish between attempts to inform and attempts to manipulate. Thomas Jefferson once wrote that: “The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary to keep the waters pure”.