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Rain of terror: Egypt to crack down on ‘fake’ weather reports

Planned law would punish anyone talking about meteorology or using a weather forecasting device without consent

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 May, 2018, 2:34pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 May, 2018, 8:23pm

Donald Trump may routinely rail against the “fake news media”, but Egypt is going one better by cracking down on “fake” weather reports.

The head of the Egyptian Meteorological Association has said it is the only government body authorised to make predictions about the country’s weather, and is preparing a draft law to ban unauthorised forecasts.

Dr Ahmed Abdel-Al, the EMA chairman, said during a television interview that the bill seeks to punish anyone “talking about meteorology, or anyone using a weather forecasting device without our consent, or anyone who raises confusion about the weather”. The EMA is Egypt’s primary, if not sole, source of domestic information on the country’s weather patterns.

Egypt’s media operates in a climate of increasing pressure on journalists, with frequent accusations of fake news levelled at reporters and outlets, even those reporting in favour of the state. But false reports about the weather are very rare, except perhaps for the annual repetition of doctored photos showing snow covering the pyramids of Giza and the nearby sphinx.

Weather reports have occasionally become political, however, such as a 2015 claim by Egypt’s interior ministry that flooding in the coastal city of Alexandria was caused not by infrastructural failings, but members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood blocking drains with cement.

Timothy E Kaldas of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, a think-tank, said: “Regardless of whether or not this proposed law affects anything, it reflects the government’s view that it has a right to regulate any and all information, even information that should be a product of apolitical scientific analysis.”

In March, Egypt’s public prosecution office set up a hotline for citizens to report incidents of fake news in the media. The Egyptian parliament also approved a new anti-cybercrime law, giving authorities the right to shut down or block any websites that “endanger” the Egyptian economy or national security.

Egypt has blocked at least 497 websites since May 2017, according to the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression.

The country has experienced some unusual and extreme weather in recent weeks, including heavy rainfall and fierce sandstorms. Residents of New Cairo, one of the capital’s wealthier suburbs, were sent into a panic after poor infrastructure coupled with heavy rain turned streets into rivers. Officials from Egypt’s Administrative Control Authority were accused of being unprepared for the conditions, and were reportedly suspended and referred to public prosecutors.