Yes, but. That’s the only way to react to the news from Cairo. Yes, it’s good news there’s to be a retrial of the three Al Jazeera journos fraudulently banged up in Cairo’s Tora prison for more than a year. But they weren’t freed yesterday as their colleagues hoped. Yes, the Egyptian appeal court reported flaws in their original hearing. But they still won’t be given bail. Yes, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi could order the deportation of two of them. But he hasn’t done that.
Most important of all, yes, the “gates of hope” –a new mantra used in the Al Jazeera studios in Qatar yesterday – have been opened. But no, the damage has been done. An Arab military autocrat has locked up three innocent reporters for more than a year – and got away with it. Neither the anger of the world’s press nor the mini-mouse roar of President Obama has induced al-Sisi to abandon this charade. So he can do it again. And so can all the other kings and princes and presidents of the Middle East.
In short, we journos count for a lot less than we did a year ago. True, the Al Jazeera Three are victims of a Qatari-Egyptian dispute over the Muslim Brotherhood, as prisoner Mohamed Fahmy has publicly stated (and we shall hear more from him later). Oddly, the reporters were hostages-in-reverse. Qatar wasn’t asked to pay for their release. It was the emirate’s decision to sue Egypt for closing their Cairo offices that may have kept Peter Greste, Mr Fahmy and Baher Mohamed behind bars. But the testimony against them was a pack of lies. None of which stopped friends of al-Sisi – among them, of course, the Beloved Blair – maintaining good relations with the president and former general that rescued his country from the iniquities of Brotherhood dictatorship (etc, etc).
Seven Al Jazeera reporters sentenced in absentia still risk being deported to Cairo for trial if they pop up in other Arab countries. Egyptian journalists themselves remain in jail. As do Arab reporters throughout the region. The Egyptian press, after a brief renaissance following Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow, has retreated into passive submission, happily slandering their imprisoned colleagues. All, in all, a pretty mess.
Now I imagine al-Sisi will let the lads out of jail when a suitable number of days or weeks have passed. Egyptian pride must be maintained, even when it looks suspiciously like the imperial arrogance once exercised by the British. But reporting the country is going to be a dodgy affair in coming years. How many foreign television crews are going to risk chatting to the Brotherhood opposition now that it is a “terrorist” organisation? Not many, I fear. Which means that al-Sisi and the courts have won – however wide the gates of ‘hope’ may have opened yesterday.Reuse content