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The New Arab

Saudi Arabia 'bribes' Egyptian journalists with free Hajj visas

The Tiran and Sanafir deal inspired large protests in Egypt [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 August, 2017

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Both Cairo and Riyadh are desperate to win the Egyptian public’s approval of the sale of Egyptian sovereignty.
Saudi Arabia is giving free Hajj visas to 1,000 Egyptian journalists and their families in an attempt to lobby media coverage on the handing of two Red Sea islands to the kingdom, a source at the Saudi embassy in Cairo told The New Arab.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ratified the bill to hand over Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia late July. Prior to the ratification of the transfer, Egyptian activists and journalists took to the streets to protest the move which led to dozens of arrests and disappearances.

Both Cairo and Riyadh are desperate to win the Egyptian public’s approval of the sale of Egyptian sovereignty. Along with Sisi’s crackdown on dissent, Saudi Arabia is trying to buy Egyptian public opinion by bribing journalists with free visas to carry out their Hajj pilgrimage.

Saudi Arabia bribed journalists the same way last year, but only 300 visas were issued. Saudi ambassador to Egypt, Ahmad Al-Qattan made instructions to increase the number of visas.

According to the source, the Saudi embassy doubled the visas granted to government newspapers from 50 visas to each al-Ahram Institute affiliated newspaper. Akhbar al-Youm and al-Tahrir were all granted 150 visas each. Dar al-Hilal and Rose al-Yusuf were granted 150 visas each to split equally among themselves.

The number of private and party daily newspapers included in this scheme increased from 10 last year to 30 this year. Al-Masry al-Youm, al-Watan, al-Shorouq, al-Dustour and al-Bawaba were all included in the scheme.

Shortly after the bill handing over Tiran and Sanafir was ratified, Saudi Arabia rewarded MPs who voted in favour of the bill with coveted pilgrimage visas.

Around 1,800 visas, which permit holders to visit Mecca for the yearly Hajj pilgrimage, were handed over by the Saudi Embassy in Cairo to the Egyptian parliament's general secretariat, the source said. If divided equally among the MPs, each would receive three visas.

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