Egyptian Journalist Wins Arab Newspaper Award

Ibrahim Essa, Editor-in-Chief of Al Dustour, the daily newspaper in Egypt, has been awarded the 2008 Gebran Tueni Award, the annual prize of the World Association of Newspapers that honours an editor or publisher in the Arab region.

The prize, which is made in memory of Gebran Tueni, the Lebanese publisher and WAN Board Member who was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in December 2005, recognises Mr Essa’s commitment to freedom of the press, his courage, leadership, ambition and high managerial and professional standards. Mr Essa will receive the award during the 3rd Arab Free Press Forum, to be held in Beirut, Lebanon, next week (full details here). He said he was honoured to receive an award associated with Gebran Tueni and WAN because of their defence of press freedom in the Arab world and beyond.

“Moreover, the award gives a kiss of life to writers in Arab countries, where the press is suffocated,” he said.

Al Dustour, founded in 1995, was closed by the Egyptian authorities from 1998 to 2005 after it published a letter from the militant group Gamaa Islamiya. Its circulation has grown from 50,000 when it resumed publishing, to 120,000 today, in large part because of Mr Essa’s leadership.

Mr Essa remains determined to provide professional and quality coverage of events, despite censorship, indictments and court cases.

He was sentenced to two months in prison in September 2008 for “propagating false news and rumours causing a general security disturbance and harming the public interest” in connection with articles concerning the health of President Mubarak. He was pardoned by the President in October.

Mr Essa is currently appealing another conviction and is free on bail pending the outcome. In September 2007, Mr Essa, along with Adel Hammouda of the weekly al-Fagr, Wael al-Abrashi of the weekly Soat al-Ommah, and Abdel Halim Kandeel of the weekly al-Karama, each received one-year jail sentences for ‘defaming the president’.

Mr Essa and Al Dustour journalist Sahar Zaki had earlier been sentenced to a year in prison for “insulting the president” and “spreading false rumours” for their April 2005 coverage of a legal case against President Mubarak. The prison sentence was dismissed on appeal in February 2007 and the two were fined 22,500 Egyptian Pounds (3,200 Euros).

About 30 journalists work for Al Dustour. Most of them are young and committed to independent journalism.

The award carries a 10,000 Euros scholarship to enable Mr Essa to undertake advanced newspaper leadership training.

Gebran Tueni was a unique figure in WAN affairs for almost 20 years, as a leading member of its Press Freedom Committee, a Board member for more than a decade, a regular participant in missions to press freedom “hot spots” and a constant advisor and support to the leadership of the organisation on Arab and press freedom issues. WAN and the Tueni family created the award to encourage other courageous and independent publishers, editors and newspapers in the Arab world.

The inaugural Gebran Tueni Award, presented in 2006, was made to Nadia al-Saqqaf, Editor-in-chief of the Yemen Times. Last year’s prize went to Michel Hajji Georgiou, a senior political analyst at the French-language daily L’Orient-Le Jour in Lebanon.

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