In a “shocking” turn of events, three Al Jazeera journalists were convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison in an Egyptian court earlier today. Somewhat strangely, one of those convicted was a canuck. Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian journalist, was among those tried, adding to the list of our countrymen in the news recently for their Middle Eastern shenanigans.The men were arrested in December from their Cairo Marriot hotel room, which we’ve heard is the swankiest hotel (still standing) east of Tripoli.
These charges stem from the fact that Al Jazeera is considered by the Egyptian government to be supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egyptian courts ruled last September is a terrorist organization, proving that calling your political opponents terrorists is no longer just a Western-World phenomenon. This conviction, however, was based on basically zero evidence from the prosecution, and was pretty much the exact type of trial you’d expect from, well, a Middle Eastern military dictatorship.
In the international outrage that followed the announcement, ‘authoritarian’ seemed to be the word that just about everyone missed. British Ambassador to Egypt James Watt said in a deeply enlightening press release that he finds the conviction disappointing and added that “freedom of expression is fundamental to any democracy.”
Democracy? I thought we were talking about Egypt.
It would appear that the Ambassador has forgotten that the current Egyptian government came to power in a military coup, and that they won their last election with almost 97 percent of the vote. So either Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi is the most popular Egyptian leader since King Tut, or the election was rigged. We’ll let you figure that one out for yourself, but if we were journalists in Egypt right now, we’d be a bit worried about saying the latter.
Another recent Egyptian courtroom outrage took place in March, when 529 Egyptians were sentenced to death for their participation in an anti-government protest that resulted in the death of a police officer. Yeah, sentenced to death. So Fahmy’s conviction is the Egyptian equivalent of two weeks community service.
All in all, our sympathies are with the families of these convicted Al Jazeera journalists and while we support the freedom of press in every country on Earth, we can’t say that we’re surprised by all this. What would be surprising is if Western governments acknowledged the unsettling political omni-shambles that Egyptians are facing, instead of cherry picking issues to be outraged about. But I guess if we want our leaders to take notice, we’ll need a clever hashtag to trend its way to relevance.