Egypt on Tuesday suspended the broadcast licenses of 12 satellite channels–mostly devoted to religious themes–and issued warnings to 20 others about their alleged involvement in "inciting religious hatred and violence" and in promoting medical products without authorization from the Health Ministry, Information Minister Anas al-Fiqi announced in a press release on Wednesday.
The suspended religious channels include the Al-Rahma satellite channel, owned by prominent Salafi figure Mohamed Hassan, and the Safa (Kuwait) and Ayat (Saudi Arabia) channels.
Critics, for their part, see the recent suspension of privately-owned Egyptian media institutions as a strategy aimed at curbing media freedoms in the run-up to next month's parliamentary elections. They also point to the cancellation earlier this month of popular news talk show Al-Qahira Al-Youm and the sacking of Ibrahim Eissa, former editor-in-chief of independent daily Al-Dostour and vocal critic of the government.
According to al-Fiqi, however, the moves aim merely to safeguard public well-being.
"These corrective measures are intended to protect the Egyptian and Arab publics from broadcasters determined to make calls for murder, degradation of religious groups, and the endangerment of people living with serious illnesses–all in the pursuit of profit and extremist ideologies," the minister declared.
"Among the most egregious of these violations are repeated broadcasts by extremist presenters calling for the excommunication, banishment and murder of Shiite Muslims," al-Fiqi added.
Last June, French broadcasting regulators warned France-based satellite provider Eutelsat about alleged anti-Semitic content aired by the Al-Rahma channel. Al-Rahma has also adopted a strong position against Egypt's Coptic Church following controversial remarks made by a Coptic bishop last month in which he questioned the authenticity of certain verses of the Quran.
Earlier this month, Al-Baraheen, an Arab satellite company that brodcasts the Al-Khaleegiyah, Al-Nas, Al-Hafez and Health & Beauty satellite channels, was temporary suspended for allegedly airing programs that included incitement to religious hatred.
In his press release, al-Fiqi pointed to the Al-Khaleegiyah channel in particular, which has repeatedly hosted radical Sunni Muslim presenters who reportedly called for the banishment, excommunication and murder of Shiite Muslims.
Other channels, meanwhile, have been suspended for providing medical advice by unlicensed practitioners and marketing alternative medical products and herbal cures for serious medical conditions–such cancer and Hepatitis B and C–without official authorization from the Health Ministry.