A bureaucratic screw-up or a mighty blow at press freedom struck by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s democratic Germany on behalf of an Arab dictator? Who on earth decided that German cops were going to pounce on poor Ahmed Mansour – one of Al Jazeera’s top journalists – at Tegel airport in Berlin on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by a regime which has just sentenced its previously elected President to death?
It isn’t good enough for Mansour and his lawyers and Al Jazeera itself to demand his freedom. Merkel herself is going to have to provide an explanation. It was bad enough for her to have staged a grindingly embarrassing meeting two weeks ago with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, whose own election victory was achieved with 96.1 per cent of the vote, a figure which – please excuse me for saying so – even Adolf Hitler might have envied. True, Sisi signed an €8bn (£5.7bn) deal with Siemens – but is that the price of a reporter’s freedom?
Merkel’s authorities have even started talking about extradition – an outrageous suggestion since this would place Mansour, holding a UK passport and thus involving David Cameron in his fate, in the hands of Egypt’s brutal intelligence service. Their questioning techniques were developed around 60 years ago from – please excuse me again, but surely Frau Merkel knows this – Nazi war criminals who were happy to ply their trade for Nasser now that the Führer was dead.
Of course, Arabs love conspiracy theories, and it could be true that Mansour’s arrest – as he was about to head back to Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Qatar – has more to do with his recent scoop in northern Syria, when he interviewed the leader of the Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra, a group which Qatar tacitly supports and which wants to benefit from US aid to anti-Assad rebels. Al Jazeera’s love affair with the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo doomed three of its journalists there to months in prison – and now, it seems, Ahmed Mansour is to be added to the list.
To state that Egypt’s arrest warrants should be taken seriously – this one involves the “torture” of a lawyer in 2011 – is ludicrous, since thousands of protesters, civil rights activists and journalists have already been banged up in Egypt’s prisons on trumped-up charges. Reminds one of a dark moment in a certain European country’s history. Ex-corporal? Moustache? But he’s dead, isn’t he?