Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Egypt Jails Al-Jazeera Journalists

 
"Abdel Fattah el-Sisi-عبد الفتاح السيسي" by Kremlin.ru. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.” Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Over the weekend, an Egyptian court sentenced three Al-Jazeera journalists to three years in prison. One of them, Peter Greste, an Australian citizen, is back in Australia and was sentenced in absentia. One of the others, Mohamed Fahmy, is a Canadian citizen.

The charges against them are directly related to their journalistic activities, including not having proper licensing and reporting false news damaging to public security. I believe these charges were motivated by Al-Jazeera’s reporting that was favorable toward the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian President El-Sisi has said he favors deporting rather than jailing the foreigners, but will not interfere with the courts.

According to article 155 of the 2014 Egypt constitution, the president of the republic may issue a pardon or reduce a sentence after consultation with the cabinet. The article reads: “General amnesty may only be granted by virtue of a law, ratified by the majority of the members of the House of Representatives”.

Egypt has been without a parliament since June 2012 when a court dissolved the lower chamber after ruling it was not constitutionally elected. In regards to deportation, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi issued in 2014 a presidential decree that allows foreign nationals to continue their pretrial detention or post-trial prison sentences in their home countries.

[…]

In June 2014 … El-Sisi said that Egypt’s authorities “will not interfere in judicial matters” following the first trial where the defendants were sentenced to between seven and ten years in jail. El-Sisi also said he did not wish to see the foreign journalists prosecuted through a criminal process, and would have preferred for them to have been deported.

The Canadian government is working diplomatically to have Fahmy returned to Canada (he is being represented by Amal Clooney, George’s wife). There is added political pressure on these diplomatic efforts due Canada’s ongoing federal election.

The British ambassador took a more direct approach, saying — in Arabic and on local Egyptian media — that he is “concerned that today’s ruling will undermine confidence in the basis of Egypt’s stability, both in Egypt and abroad.

I understand that support for Islamist groups comes from — or gets funneled through its home in Doha — and Al-Jazeera is sometimes used to spread agitprop for Islamist causes. However, I’m a strong believer in a free press and don’t think these journalists should be jailed.

There are 71 comments.

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  1. drlorentz Member

    Tenacious D:As far as I can tell, a lot of support for Islamist groups comes from or gets funneled through Doha, and Al-Jazeera is sometimes used to spread agitprop for Islamist causes. However, I’m a strong believer in a free press and don’t think these journalists should be jailed.

    Fair enough, but can we get Al Gore to visit Egypt and get arrested for his connection to Al-Jazeera? ;)

    On a serious note, it’s worrying for el-Sisi to get bad press over this.

    • #1
    • August 31, 2015, at 10:43 AM PST
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  2. Fred Cole Member

    Well, I’m sure that the US won’t say boo. After all, the US stood by when Sisi overthrew the democratically elected government and installed himself as ruler. Then we refused to call it a coup and continued to ship him weapons.

    • #2
    • August 31, 2015, at 10:54 AM PST
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  3. Zafar Member

    It’s gotten a lot of coverage here because one of the journalists is Australian.

    They really seem like trumped up charges; their purpose to intimidate journalists from providing information that the current Government finds inconvenient.

    drlorentz:

    On a serious note, it’s worrying for el-Sisi to get bad press over this.

    He’s getting the press he deserves, which is why they were arrested in the first place.

    • #3
    • August 31, 2015, at 5:44 PM PST
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  4. Carey J. Inactive

    Any Westerner who works for Al-Jazeera is trading with our enemies in the struggle against Islamism. The Egyptian government is at war with the Muslim Brotherhood. In wartime, journalists toe the line or there are, and should be, consequences. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for them. 

    • #4
    • August 31, 2015, at 7:51 PM PST
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  5. Fred Cole Member

    Carey J.:Any Westerner who works for Al-Jazeera is trading with our enemies in the struggle against Islamism. The Egyptian government is at war with the Muslim Brotherhood. In wartime, journalists toe the line or there are, and should be, consequences.

    Sisi, the guy who overthrew the democratically elected government of Egypt, is at war with the people he overthrew. Yes…

    So just to clarify: you’re okay with jailing journalists if they say the wrong thing?

    • #5
    • September 1, 2015, at 4:01 AM PST
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  6. Carey J. Inactive

    Fred Cole:

    Carey J.:Any Westerner who works for Al-Jazeera is trading with our enemies in the struggle against Islamism. The Egyptian government is at war with the Muslim Brotherhood. In wartime, journalists toe the line or there are, and should be, consequences.

    Sisi, the guy who overthrew the democratically elected government of Egypt, is at war with the people he overthrew. Yes…

    So just to clarify: you’re okay with jailing journalists if they say the wrong thing?

    If a journalist breaches operational security and puts troops’ lives at risk? Hell, yes. If a journalist is acting as propaganda conduit and giving “aid and comfort” to the enemy? Yes. It’s called treason. We execute people for it. Ask Lord Haw-Haw, if you don’t believe me.

    • #6
    • September 1, 2015, at 4:39 AM PST
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  7. Zafar Member

    The Guardian has a precis of the flaws in the case against the journos.

    Wrt “breaching operational security” – what these journalists had done was report on police firing on Egyptian civilians. I don’t think that was a matter of operational security but rather a matter of keeping the aid dollars flowing to Sisi because he is so awesome and easy to work with.

    As it turned out, he needn’t have bothered.

    • #7
    • September 1, 2015, at 5:38 AM PST
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  8. Fred Cole Member

    See, here’s the thing about those two standards,,Carey: They’re ridiculously subjective. They can very easily used to prosecute anyone who is inconvenient. (Not to mention the chilling effect it has on freedom of speech and freedom of the press).

    I barely trust the American justice system to prosecute such a crime. I sure as hell don’t trust the Egyptian government to do so.

    • #8
    • September 1, 2015, at 6:16 AM PST
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  9. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Fred Cole:Well, I’m sure that the US won’t say boo. After all, the US stood by when Sisi overthrew the democratically elected government and installed himself as ruler. Then we refused to call it a coup and continued to ship him weapons.

    Fred, I agree that refusing to call Sisi’s actions a coup was nonsensical, and I further agree that the Muslim Brotherhood was the democratically elected government of Egypt. Those are facts and you and I are agreed on them. However…

    That democratically-elected government was acting in unbelievably extra-constitutional ways; the kind of stuff that makes the sorts of things we go nuts over here look petty and cheap. This democratically-elected government was actively working to undermine what passed for freedom in Egypt and turn it into a single-party theocracy through fraud and murder. That’s why there were hundreds of thousands of people in Tahrir Square.

    Sisi and the military have very likely saved Egypt’s citizens from that fate (though they’ve got their work cut out for him if he doesn’t get the country back on a better footing).

    You know better than most that liberty and democracy are not synonymous; same applies to Egypt, if not more so.

    • #9
    • September 1, 2015, at 6:32 AM PST
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  10. Fred Cole Member

    So what you’re saying is that they were bad at the whole democracy thing. To which I’ll certainly agree. They were bad at the constitutional government thing. I’ll agree with that too.

    Democracy takes practice. Constoutional government takes practice. The MB government was elected with a small majority. They tried to govern like they won in a landslide. But they didn’t know to moderate their behavior because they’re bad at democracy.

    • #10
    • September 1, 2015, at 6:54 AM PST
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  11. Fred Cole Member

    But instead of giving democracy a chance to work itself out, for people to learn how it works and adapt their behavior, instead there was a coup.

    And what does everyone learn from this? That if you’re a Muslim fundamentalist there’s no point in even trying democracy, because you’ll end up dead.

    • #11
    • September 1, 2015, at 6:57 AM PST
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  12. Fred Cole Member

    When it comes to the MB, everybody has been scared [redacted]. They reacted as if Osama bin Laden had been elected president of Egypt. And at that point, the ends justifies the means and so overthrowing the democratically elected government was acceptable.

    Tom, you don’t know for sure that they would’ve succeed in establishing a theocracy. They would’ve probably been thrown out in the next election. Maybe not. Maybe they would have cancelled the next election.
    But we’ll never know because they never got the chance to let democracy work.

    [Editors’ note: vulgarity]

    • #12
    • September 1, 2015, at 7:00 AM PST
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  13. Fred Cole Member

    And so the long-standing lesson that everyone understands in the middle east was perpetuated: elections don’t change governments, governments change elections. And democracy isn’t worth trying.

    • #13
    • September 1, 2015, at 7:01 AM PST
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  14. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Fred Cole:So what you’re saying is that they were bad at the whole democracy thing. To which I’ll certainly agree. They were bad at the constitutional government thing. I’ll agree with that too.

    Democracy takes practice. Constoutional government takes practice. The MB government was elected with a small majority. They tried to govern like they won in a landslide. But they didn’t know to moderate their behavior because they’re bad at democracy.

    I agree in principle, but I think the lesson is misapplied here. Sometimes you need to let the kid touch the fire to learn, but this was the equivalent of barreling toward it at full sprint.

    We know from history that democratically elected governments can turn totalitarian and that’s exactly what we were seeing in Egypt. It’s very, very difficult to recover from that without bloodshed.

    • #14
    • September 1, 2015, at 7:23 AM PST
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  15. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Fred Cole: Tom, you don’t know for sure that they would’ve succeed in establishing a theocracy. They would’ve probably been thrown out in the next election. Maybe not. Maybe they would have cancelled the next election.

    I don’t know that, yes, but you’re presuming — incorrectly, I think — that there would have been another free election. The MB was giving every indication that it would fix all future elections.

    • #15
    • September 1, 2015, at 7:26 AM PST
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  16. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Fred Cole: And so the long-standing lesson that everyone understands in the middle east was perpetuated: elections don’t change governments, governments change elections. And democracy isn’t worth trying.

    That’s one plausible lesson, yes. Another is that — if you come to power — you shouldn’t get too greedy.

    Among the reasons why Erdogan is still in power in Turkey is that he knows exactly how to skirt the boundary of acceptable behavior in such a way that the generals won’t overthrow him as they have when his predecessors got dangerous.

    [Edit: Claire corrects me, and I rescind the material regarding Erdogan.]

    • #16
    • September 1, 2015, at 7:31 AM PST
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  17. Fred Cole Member

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:I agree in principle, but I think the lesson is misapplied here. Sometimes you need to let the kid touch the fire to learn, but this was the equivalent of barreling toward it at full sprint.

    We know from history that democratically elected governments can turn totalitarian and that’s exactly what we were seeing in Egypt. It’s very, very difficult to recover from that without bloodshed.

    Yeah. It’s turning totalitarian because when democracy became inconvenient, it was overthrown. To the cheers of American conservatives, I might add.

    The thing that really upsets me about Egypt is that it gives lie to all that Bush-era rhetoric about democracy and liberalization. It’s not about democracy. It’s about power and fear.

    • #17
    • September 1, 2015, at 7:53 AM PST
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  18. Fred Cole Member

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:I don’t know that, yes, but you’re presuming — incorrectly, I think — that there would have been another free election. The MB was giving every indication that it would fix all future elections.

    But they hadn’t yet. That’s the point.

    If they had created a theocracy, if they had ended democracy in Egypt, if they had fixed future elections, you’d have a case to make. And maybe they would’ve. But they didn’t. All the fear mongering about the Muslim Brotherhood got people spooked, and so everybody skipped a step and went straight to the coup.

    And the lesson is: Don’t bother with democracy. It’s easier just to use force.

    • #18
    • September 1, 2015, at 7:56 AM PST
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  19. Marion Evans Inactive

    Carey J.:Any Westerner who works for Al-Jazeera is trading with our enemies in the struggle against Islamism. The Egyptian government is at war with the Muslim Brotherhood. In wartime, journalists toe the line or there are, and should be, consequences.

    Really? You mean fine people like Joie Chen? Get serious. Also you know the US Air Force has a base in Qatar, right?

    • #19
    • September 1, 2015, at 7:57 AM PST
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  20. Tenacious D Inactive
    Tenacious D Post author

    For the moment, with the army keeping a firm lid on things, Egypt is better off than many of its neighbours like Libya and Yemen. However in the long run, I worry that the crack down on the MB (and these journalists were at worst sympathizers) will create a whole new generation of Sayyid Qutb-like martyrs.

    • #20
    • September 1, 2015, at 8:15 AM PST
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  21. Fred Cole Member

    Tenacious D:For the moment, with the army keeping a firm lid on things, Egypt is better off than many of its neighbours like Libya and Yemen. However in the long run, I worry that the crack down on the MB (and these journalists were at worst sympathizers) will create a whole new generation of Sayyid Qutb-like martyrs.

    Are they better off in the short term?

    They’re facing a serious ISIS insurgency in the Sinai and beyond. Is it better that Sisi overthrew the democratically government? Would a Muslim Brotherhood have greater legitimacy to fight an ISIS insurgency? If those jihadist insurgents had a way to express their values through the political system instead of through car bombs, would they use it? Would a democratic political system act as a release valve for those people?

    We don’t and can’t know the answers to those questions, because their democratically elected government was overthrown.

    • #21
    • September 1, 2015, at 8:22 AM PST
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  22. drlorentz Member

    Fred Cole:

    Democracy takes practice. Constoutional government takes practice. The MB government was elected with a small majority. They tried to govern like they won in a landslide. But they didn’t know to moderate their behavior because they’re bad at democracy.

    The proposition that democracy can work in any culture is unproven. Many in the West, more specifically in the Anglosphere, take this proposition for granted. It is not supported by empirical evidence. As an experimentalist in real life I favor empiricism, which includes taking the results of experiments seriously. So far, the results are not encouraging.

    At the very least, open your mind to the possibility that the presumption implicit in your statement may be wrong. This is not to assert that they can never learn, just that the practice period last several generations, which makes it of scant relevance to our own foreign policy decisions. In the meantime, they can cause lots of harm to others. In short, let them learn on their own nickel.

    • #22
    • September 1, 2015, at 8:30 AM PST
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  23. drlorentz Member

    Fred Cole:
    We don’t and can’t know the answers to those questions, because their democratically elected government was overthrown.

    Your implicit assumption that democratically-elected governments are superior in all contexts is unjustified. It would be more accurate to say that we like them best and they work best for us. See my previous comment.

    • #23
    • September 1, 2015, at 8:32 AM PST
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  24. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Sisi is fighting the battle that should be the #1 priority in our foreign policy: defeat radical Islam.

    He is a dictator, in a region where all non-Jewish states either have dictators or chaos. So in that sense, he is our SOB.

    If Sisi can succeed in promoting a non-radical version of Islam, then freedom can evolve, over time. Freedom – not democracy – is the essence of what makes America great.

    • #24
    • September 1, 2015, at 8:33 AM PST
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  25. Fred Cole Member

    drlorentz:At the very least, open your mind to the possibility that the presumption implicit in your statement may be wrong. This is not to assert that they can never learn, just that the practice period last several generations, which makes it of scant relevance to our own foreign policy decisions. In the meantime, they can cause lots of harm to others. In short, let them learn on their own nickel.

    I never said practice wouldn’t take several generations. I’m certain it would. It’s a complex thing, it doesn’t happen over night.

    However, I reject your assertion that that it’s of scant relevance to our foreign policy decisions. That’s the kind of valueless shortsightedness that’s led us to the current situation.

    • #25
    • September 1, 2015, at 8:34 AM PST
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  26. Fred Cole Member

    iWe:If Sisi can succeed in promoting a non-radical version of Islam, then freedom can evolve, over time. Freedom – not democracy – is the essence of what makes America great.

    What part of freedom evolving involves jailing journalists? Is that a step in the process?

    • #26
    • September 1, 2015, at 8:35 AM PST
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  27. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Fred Cole: If those jihadist insurgents had a way to express their values through the political system instead of through car bombs, would they use it? Would a democratic political system act as a release valve for those people?We don’t and can’t know the answers to those questions, because their democratically elected government was overthrown.

    We do know the answer, because ISIS in Iraq showed it to us. Democratic political systems are too advanced a step for people who are one step away from advocating a caliphate.

    • #27
    • September 1, 2015, at 8:35 AM PST
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  28. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Fred Cole:

    iWe:If Sisi can succeed in promoting a non-radical version of Islam, then freedom can evolve, over time. Freedom – not democracy – is the essence of what makes America great.

    What part of freedom evolving involves jailing journalists? Is that a step in the process?

    Step 1: Destroy radical Islam.

    Step 2: Promote liberty and freedom

    Step 3: Try democracy.

    These steps may not all be handled by the same government or type of government. But right now, Sisi is the only guy in the Middle East seriously trying to achieve Step 1.

    • #28
    • September 1, 2015, at 8:37 AM PST
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  29. Fred Cole Member

    iWe:Step 1: Destroy radical Islam.

    Step 2: Promote liberty and freedom

    Step 3: Try democracy.

    These steps may not all be handled by the same government or type of government. But right now, Sisi is the only guy in the Middle East seriously trying to achieve Step 1.

    So no freedom until radical Islam is destroyed. (However “destroyed” is defined.)

    You apply that just to Egypt? Or does it go for other countries? What about the United States? Would you accept the suppression of freedoms in the US (say, freedom of speech) until radical Islam is destroyed?

    • #29
    • September 1, 2015, at 8:42 AM PST
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  30. drlorentz Member

    Fred Cole:

    drlorentz:At the very least, open your mind to the possibility that the presumption implicit in your statement may be wrong. This is not to assert that they can never learn, just that the practice period last several generations, which makes it of scant relevance to our own foreign policy decisions. In the meantime, they can cause lots of harm to others. In short, let them learn on their own nickel.

    I never said practice wouldn’t take several generations. I’m certain it would. It’s a complex thing, it doesn’t happen over night.

    However, I reject your assertion that that it’s of scant relevance to our foreign policy decisions. That’s the kind of valueless shortsightedness that’s led us to the current situation.

    Shortsighted is a relative term. Is it shortsighted to only look a century ahead? How about a millennium? In foreign policy decisions, as with all human decisions, one must place greater weight on the present than the future. Discounting the future is a well-established principle in economics, more generally in life.

    Throwing around shortsighted isn’t an argument. You’re not getting off that easy.

    • #30
    • September 1, 2015, at 8:43 AM PST
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