Egypt escalated its crackdown on press freedom this weekend when it raided the offices of Mada Masr, the last major independent news outlet in the country, and arrested and later released four of its editors.
Cairo remains a major ally of the United States in the Middle East, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday called on the Egyptian government to change course and respect the press. "As part of our longstanding strategic relationship with Egypt, we continue to raise the fundamental importance of respect for human rights, universal freedoms, and the need for a robust civil society," Pompeo said unprompted during a press conference.
BREAKING: Sec. Pompeo calls on the Egyptian government to “respect freedom of the press and to release journalists detained in a raid last weekend,” an apparent reference to the raid on Mada Masr, the last major independent media outlet in the country. pic.twitter.com/jAKyhHutSc
— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 26, 2019
Pompeo's rebuke might come as a bit of a surprise, considering the strategic alliance between the two countries and President Trump's apparent fondness for Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, whom he once called his "favorite dictator." Some analysts were waiting to see what Pompeo would say about the raids, especially after he continued to criticize U.S. adversary Iran for human rights abuses.
The raid was the latest episode in Cairo's expanding effort to subdue an independent press, turning the country into one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world.