Fahmy free, but lots of blame to go around

by | Sep 25, 2015 | Opinion

Jeremy Appel
News Editor

Welcome home, Mr. Fahmy.

After rotting in Egypt’s notorious Tora Prison for more than a year, Canadian Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy is now able to return home to Vancouver. Egyptian General-President Abdel Fattah Sissi officially pardoned Fahmy on Wednesday.

And for what crime did he earn the ire of Egypt’s military junta? It’s a bit complicated.

Fahmy, along with Al Jazeera colleagues Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste, was arrested in December 2013 while covering the aftermath of a military coup that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s first democratically elected government.

They were charged with terrorism and fabricating news, which are, at least ostensibly, ridiculous charges.

According to Fahmy’s own account in the Globe and Mail, published as an op-ed in March, his employer is at least partially to blame.

Al Jazeera’s operations in Egypt can be thought of as the “Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Fahmy worked directly for Al Jazeera English (good), but the Qatar-based broadcaster also operates Al Jazeera Arabic (bad) and Mubasher Misr (ugly), both of which support the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. The latter is an outright mouthpiece for the Brotherhood.

Qatar supports the Brotherhood, not only in Egypt but also in Syria, Libya, Turkey through the ruling AKP and Palestine through Hamas, so it’s not particularly surprising they would support outlets that uncritically air its views.

At some point in 2013, Fahmy discovered footage he had recorded for broadcast on Al Jazeera English was being used for Mubasher Misr without any discretion. His employers had not consulted him.

Fahmy’s concern that his footage appearing on the Muslim Brotherhood’s propaganda network could land him in a lot of trouble with Egyptian authorities was dismissed by his superiors.

“I have been clear in my rhetoric that this case is about freedom of speech in the sense that three journalists have been silenced,” Fahmy wrote. “Yet, what can’t be ignored is the political score-settling between Qatar and Egypt that has left us pawns behind bars.”

Alleging negligence, Fahmy sued Al Jazeera for $100 million in Canada this past May. The outcome of the suit is still pending.

For what it’s worth, Al Jazeera denies any wrongdoing.

Conceding some of Fahmy’s footage may have wound up on Mubasher Misr, the network said he was not alone in that regard. Mubasher Misr uses footage from international wire services all the time.

The problem with this reasoning is that Al Jazeera doesn’t have a legal responsibility for employees of Associated Press or Reuters. They do, however, have an obligation to protect their own journalists on the ground.

“The advice of Fahmy and many others in Al Jazeera was taken into consideration,” the network said in an online response to Fahmy’s suit. How reassuring.

The Harper government must also take its share of the blame for Fahmy’s plight.

A request made by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression for the prime minister to secure Fahmy’s freedom was rebuffed as recently as Tuesday, the day before his pardon.

The government said it’s too busy trying to get re-elected to bother with such trivialities, as if they had done anything to get Fahmy released when they weren’t in campaign mode.

This lead to Fahmy’s main lawyer Amal Clooney lambasting the Harper government’s handling of the whole ordeal.

“If I were a Canadian citizen, I would want to see my prime minister now showing leadership on the global stage,” Clooney told the CBC only a few weeks ago.

Sissi apparently agreed, decrying the court’s guilty verdict a few weeks ago and then issuing the pardon.

You know things are screwed up when Egypt’s military dictator is the voice of reason.