Journalism under fire in Egypt
Another blow to the hopes that first arose during the great Egyptian uprising of 2011 was delivered on Monday when a corrupt court sentenced a group of Al Jazeera journalists to seven to 10 years in prison. Their crime was making the new military dictatorship look bad while reporting on the aftermath of the July 2013 coup against the elected government of Mohammed Morsi, according to CNN.
The three journalists, Peter Greste, an Australian citizen, Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian citizen, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian citizen, were essentially forced to endure a show trial where everything from a BBC podcast to a music video by pop star Gotye was used to paint them as subversives.
In this case, according to the Egyptian state, they were dangerous because they were reporting on how, in the aftermath of the coup, the ruthless new regime began imposing a bloody new order, even carrying out massacres against followers of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist party to which Morsi belonged.
This is but yet the latest sad chapter in the death of the Egyptian revolution. The most popular of the Arab Spring uprisings has now been strangled by new, tyrannical hands which now seek to silence all voices and blind any eyes that might see the regime of general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (who recently "won" the presidency with a whopping 96 percent) for what it is, a brutal, authoritarian replay of the kind of regimes that have plagued the Middle East.
And while journalists now face the horror of prison in Egypt (and it is horrific, simply read the accounts by writers like Robert Fisk), there was U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday visiting Cairo to shake hands with el-Sisi. While Kerry offered light critiques, akin to a tap on the wrist, he also promised the Obama White House would continue to fund and arm the Egyptian regime.
Yes, this trial was a another sad chapter in Egypt's slide back into darkness, but it is also the latest, typical display of biased U.S. support for brutal thugs who we happen to like. El-Sisi joins the long list of dictators such as Chile's Augusto Pinochet, Nicaragua's Anastasio Somoza, Iraq's Saddam Hussein, and Iran's Shah who ruled their countries like fiefdoms, yet were funded and armed by the United States because they were allies who opened up their economies to foreign control and smashed any local, radical forms of resistance. Hosni Mubarak, the dictator overthrown in the 2011 Egyptian uprising was also a close U.S. ally, even considered "family" by Hillary Clinton.
In this hemisphere what is happening in Egypt is not an alien phenomenon to the peoples of Latin America. While the U.S. continuously criticized the elected, socialist government of the late Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Obama happily looked the other way when the Honduran military overthrew the elected government of Manuel Zelaya in June 2009. Zelaya's crime was that he was a progressive who was building links with Venezuela and Cuba, and even then the most radical action he ever undertook was to raise the minimum wage, a big no-no for the local, U.S.-aligned oligarchs.
Today the repressive governments of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain remain on the White House's good side, despite their brutality against anyone who might threaten their thrones. Rest assured that with this sentence being passed down a day after Kerry's visit, it was delivered with the approval of the Obama White House. While el-Sisi styles himself a nationalist, he would never carry out a major act in defiance of his paymasters.
Such a typical, farcical tyrant is el-Sisi, that his own pronouncements would make great satire if they were not so tragically real. For example Al Jazeera reported on May 8, that el-Sisi "warned newspaper editors Thursday not to cover freedom-of-speech issues or press for other democratic reforms, as such actions could lead to protests that jeopardize national security." El-Sisi went on to claim that certain reporting could lead to protests which could of course endanger tourism.
Meanwhile in a dispatch for the London Review of Books, author Tariq Ali described the Orwellian cult the new regime is imposing on Egyptian society. Even underwear is being made featuring el-Sisi's face, because the dear leader must be everywhere the eye can see. It is the kind of government that is now jailing journalists.
After the sentencing of the three Al Jazeera journalists, continuing U.S support for the Egyptian dictatorship will continue to plant seeds that could grow into carnivorous nightmares over time. Support for the Shah led to the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. The 2003 invasion of Iraq shattered that country and support for the ultra-corrupt Nouri al-Maliki government has now led to the current crisis where Islamic radicals have overrun the border with Syria and are marching towards Baghdad. Already in Egypt there is a brewing Islamist insurgency in the Sinai, and when el-Sisi fails to deliver any solutions to continuing social inequality and social chaos, they will find new recruits.
Those who will live and grow up under the current Egyptian regime will be denied the right to speak out, the right to raise their hands and the right to report on what's happening in their own country. And tragically, they will associate the United States with that form of government because el-Sisi is our friend. How does it affect you or me? Save that question for the next time our president appears on TV, trying to sell us war in a distant land, to target predators of our own making.