On June 23, 2014, an Egyptian court sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists to between seven and ten years in prison. They were accused of aiding and consorting with the Muslim Brotherhood political movement that the military rulers of Egypt labeled as terrorist and banned following their overthrow of the elected, Muslim Brotherhood president and government on July 3, 2013. The court ruling has been condemned worldwide and has sparked protest actions by journalists. Enclosed are three news items reporting on the meaning and implications:
1. Interview from Egypt on Democracy Now, June 23 (video and transcript) with Egyptian journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Abdel Fahmy, the brother of one of the convicted, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy.
2. How secularists and liberals became enablers of Egyptian junta, By Haroon Siddiqui, Columnist, Toronto Star, June 26, 2014 (full text below)
3. Stephen Harper’s blasé reaction to Mohamed Fahmy verdict reflects double standard, by Thomas Walkom, National Affairs Columnist, Toronto Star, June 26, 2014 (full text below)
4. Stephen Harper should have slammed Egypt for jailing Canadian journalist, editorial, Toronto Star, June 26, 2014 (full text below)
How secularists and liberals became enablers of Egyptian junta
By Haroon Siddiqui, Columnist, Toronto Star, June 25 2014
Why are we surprised that Egypt has sentenced three journalists, including a Canadian, to years of imprisonment after a sham trial on phony charges? What did we expect from the Stephen Harper government other than that it doesn’t care? Why are journalists and media institutions so shocked at the absence of press freedom under the Egyptian military junta that has been running a police state for more than a year?
It is the secularists and liberals, both in Egypt and the West, who have a lot of explaining to do as the enablers of the army in Cairo that strangled a nascent democracy and has replaced it with a Gulag.
Those who should have stood up for democracy instead chose to cheer the military coup that toppled Egypt’s first-ever civilian and elected president, Mohammed Morsi, so virulently opposed they were to his Muslim Brotherhood. They supported or remained silent about:
The unjustified labelling of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, even though it has operated peacefully for decades.
The security forces killing about 2,500 peaceful civilian protesters — often using live ammunition, according to Human Rights Watch.
The detention of about 16,000 people, many of them without charge; and
The sentencing of 529 people to death in March, another 683 in April and yet another 180 this month in mass trials that lasted minutes and heard little or no evidence.
This week’s unjustified prosecution of Mohamed Fahmy, a dual Canadian and Egyptian citizen, plus his two Al-Jazeera colleagues is just a small part of ongoing mass repression.
Harper has at least been consistent. He who champions democracy in Ukraine likes military rule in Egypt. So does Israel. So do Saudi Arabia and other monarchies in that region. Our prime minister thinks, like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that the Egyptian generals have brought “stability” after the democratic disruptions of the Arab Spring.
Harper’s stance is also tied to his wooing of Jewish Canadian votes, as well as Coptic Canadian votes for the Conservative Party.
Not until this week did he say anything about the Fahmy case. Nor did he have much to say about Canadians Tarek Loubani and John Greyson detained in Cairo last year. He has not said a word about Khaled Al-Qazzaz, a permanent resident of Canada married to a Canadian citizen, Sarah Attia of Toronto. Qazzaz had gone back to Cairo inspired by the dawn of democracy and worked in Morsi’s office, where he helped arrange a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. After Morsi was removed, Qazzaz was thrown in solitary confinement. He has rotted in jail since, without charge. Harper has had nothing to say to his wife, either, and Foreign Minister John Baird is too busy to meet her.
The oil-rich sheikhs, too, have been clear why they opened their wallets for President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi — a reward for crushing democracy and the Muslim Brotherhood, whose offshoots across the Arab world pose the most potent democratic opposition to entrenched autocratic regimes.
There’s also nothing much new about the American hypocrisy of recently renewing itsannual military aid of about $1.5 billion to Egypt, after making namby-pamby noises about human rights.
What is inexplicable is how so many pro-democracy individuals and groups succumbed to the propaganda skilfully orchestrated by the Egyptian army, its pliant media and their backers in the West, including the poison-spewing Islamophobes.
Coptic Christians, for example, may have reasons not to trust the Brotherhood. But their prejudice blinded them to the fact that for decades they faced persecution under the ostensibly secular military regimes, and that in the post-Tahrir Square era, it was the security forces that sent armoured vehicles to mow down a peaceful Coptic demonstration.
Women have good reason to fear the misogyny of some Islamists. But many women choose to forget that Field Marshall Sissi is the same man who justified virginity tests on women. And that it is the security forces that sexually assault women to keep them away from public demonstrations.
What started out as a crackdown on the Brotherhood has been extended, as it was bound to be, against secular dissenters — bloggers, academics, filmmakers and human rights groups, such as the April 6 Youth Movement.
Morsi was an inept president. The Brotherhood tried to monopolize power. But that was no reason for the disappointed to have formed an unholy alliance with an army that has a history of oppression.
Back in power, the torturers and murderers are not going to be easily dislodged.
Stephen Harper’s blasé reaction to Mohamed Fahmy verdict reflects double standard
By Thomas Walkom, National Affairs Columnist, Toronto Star, June 26, 2014
It had to be dragged from him, but eventually Prime Minister Stephen Harper said something about Mohamed Fahmy, the Canadian sentenced to seven years in an Egyptian jail for committing the crime of journalism.
“The Egyptian authorities are very aware of the position of the government of Canada and we will continue to press that position going forward,” Harper told reporters Thursday in response to questions about the trial and sentencing.
What exactly is that position? Is Harper, like Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, “shocked, dismayed, bewildered” by the severe sentences handed down Monday to three Al Jazeera journalists?
Is he “appalled,” like British foreign secretary William Hague? Does he, like U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, conclude that “injustices like these can simply not stand if Egypt is to move forward”? Not quite.
“On the case of the journalist in Egypt, we have been very clear about our deep concerns, not just about the verdict but about this process,” Harper said. “We have expressed those to the authorities.
“Obviously, there are some difficult circumstances here.”
You could call that a measured response. Or you could call it milquetoast.
You could also argue, as Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird did Tuesday, that quiet diplomacy gets the best results (although Baird’s own record suggests otherwise).
The prime minister says the government has made its concerns clear to Egypt over prison sentences imposed on three journalists there. Egyptian-Canadian Mohammed Fahmy was one of those convicted on terrorism-related charges.
But what’s intriguing about Harper’s remarkably diffident reaction is that this very political prime minister figures he can get away with it. He calculates that, in the end, most Canadians inclined to vote Conservative won’t care about the fate of a 40-year-old Egyptian-Canadian journalist.
Certainly, the government is going out of the way to point out that Fahmy is a dual national, a citizen of both Canada and Egypt.
Baird has suggested that this is the central problem, noting Tuesday that “when you’re a citizen of Egypt you’re subject to Egyptian law when you’re there, not Canadian law.”
In fact, as Fahmy’s Australian colleague Peter Greste found out, anyone who happens to be in Egypt is subject to Egyptian law, dual citizen or not. Greste, too, has received a seven-year sentence for the crime of spreading what the Egyptian government calls false news.
Fahmy’s problem is not that he is a dual citizen. It is that Egypt’s military-dominated government has a grudge against his employer, Qatar-based Al Jazeera.
His other problem is that the Harper government is selective when it comes to helping Canadian citizens in trouble abroad. It reserves its efforts for those who will produce the best political results.
In 2007, for instance, Harper had strong words of backing for Huseyin Celil — a dual citizen, but one who was imprisoned in China by a Communist regime. “We view Mr. Celil as a Canadian citizen,” the prime minister said then. “At all opportunities, we have taken the time to raise his case, to express our concerns, to demand that justice be done.”
A year later, Harper leapt to the defence of Brenda Martin, a Canadian sentenced to five years in a Mexican jail for Internet fraud. After the prime minister personally intervened, Martin was allowed to serve out her time in Canada (where she soon won parole).
Other Canadians, however, have received short shrift.
Harper had no brief whatsoever for Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Canadian stranded in Sudan for six years after Ottawa refused to renew his passport. Eventually, a federal court judge forced the government’s hand and Abdelrazik came home.
Nor has the Harper government been much help to Bashir Makhtal, a Canadian caught up in Somalia after U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces invaded in 2006. Makhtal escaped to Kenya where he was illegally handed over to the Ethiopians and jailed.
Ottawa could have threatened to cut back the more than $100 million in foreign aid it gives Ethiopia each year. But through Baird, then transport minister, it pursued quiet diplomacy instead. Eight years later, Makhtal is still in an Ethiopian jail.
Stephen Harper should have slammed Egypt for jailing Canadian journalist
Editorial, Toronto Star, June 26 2014
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is making Canada, and his Conservative government, look feeble and unprincipled with his milquetoast reaction to the long prison sentence imposed on a Canadian journalist in Egypt, after a shabby trial on bogus charges of trying to destabilize the country.
So far all Harper has done is voice “deep concerns” about this travesty of justice, and only on Wednesday – three full days after the sentencing. Nor has he called for the journalist’s release.
Other world leaders were faster off the mark and fiercer in decrying the assault on press freedom. U.S. President Barack Obama’s officials denounced the “chilling, draconian sentences” imposed on Mohamed Fahmy and two fellow Al-Jazeera journalists, and called for them to be pardoned. Britain’s David Cameron was “completely appalled.” Australia’s Tony Abbott was “shocked … dismayed … appalled” and vowed to lobby for their release.
But Canada’s initial reaction was shameful. On Monday junior minister Lynne Yelich said Ottawa was “very disappointed” and “concerned.” Then Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird popped up on Tuesday to defend that limp response, saying Ottawa doesn’t indulge in “bullhorn diplomacy.”
What the Harper government doesn’t indulge in, apparently, is any pointed criticism of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi or his ugly regime. El-Sissi is the former general who deposed Egypt’s elected president Mohammed Morsi in a coup last July and then had himself anointed president in a farcical election last month.
And he has no bigger cheerleader than Harper.
The Prime Minister appalled many Canadians by hailing el-Sissi’s coup as a “return to stability.” He was on a jaunt to Israel at the time, and his upbeat take on the toppling of an elected government seemed to mesh nicely with the views of his hosts who had no time for Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. Then when el-Sissi was installed as president Harper trotted out Baird to welcome “a key step along Egypt’s path to democracy.”
The fawning would make a vulture gag. El-Sissi has launched a campaign of political repression that has seen 16,000 jailed including reporters who irritate the authorities, 1,400 killed and hundreds sentenced to death in mass trials. Canada has rarely looked so utterly unprincipled.
Yet for all his creepy support Harper couldn’t get the time of day from el-Sissi when Ottawa voiced muted concern that Fahmy was getting a raw deal, along with Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohammed. In a TV address el-Sissi flatly rebuffed calls to pardon them. Egypt’s “exalted judiciary” is beyond reproach, he declared. That leaves Fahmy and Greste facing seven years in maximum security, and Mohamed 10.
Granted, it is never easy to go to bat for Canadians who get into trouble abroad. Dual nationals such as Fahmy can be even harder to help. And sometimes it is best to hold off on the megaphone diplomacy and work the back channels. But if the Harper government couldn’t get justice for Fahmy it could at least have loudly decried this vicious injustice.
Is this the Tories’ self-proclaimed “principled” stance in foreign affairs? To cheer on a coup and look the other way when it abuses one of our citizens? Egypt is reverting to the autocracy it was under Hosni Mubarak, before the Arab Spring swept Mubarak out and Morsi into office. Canadians can see that. So can our close allies. The Harper government disgraces the nation by coddling a violent regime that has nothing but contempt for values we hold dear.