What’s really behind the silence of Harper on the trial of Fahmy in Egypt

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You would be forgiven for not knowing Canadian journalist and Al-Jazeera Egyptian Bureau Chief Mohamed Fahmy.  He’s hardly been making headlines in Canada lately, despite his incredible ordeal and rotting in an Egyptian jail for over 100 days on trumped up charges of being part of a terrorist cell, among other smears against him and his fellow journalists.  Not so much, however, for our Foreign Minister and Prime Minister who have not seen enough of the train-wreck of justice taking place in an Egyptian court to get off their behind and actually put some diplomatic pressure on the military Junta in Cairo in order to get the Canadian released.  It’s enough to make you say (as I did the other day to a friend) it’s a shame that Fahmy isn’t Ukrainian, as that country’s difficulties seems to be the only foreign policy priority in Ottawa at the moment.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, Egyptian justice is rapidly becoming an oxymoron.  Last March the world was appalled to learn that an Egyptian court in Minya sentenced 529 to death.  This despite many of them not being in court, having no lawyer present, nor the state presenting a shred of evidence against them.  This was widely condemned by the international community and human rights groups from all over the world.

Now we have this absurd show trial involving a group of internationally renowned journalists whose only crime appears to be that they work for Al-Jazeera, a Qatari based international news network which has the audacity to question the true intentions of Egypt’s future “President for Life” (he is currently running for office) and former supreme General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.  The regime perceives Al-Jazeera as being part of a sinister foreign plot designed to bring the Muslim Brotherhood back to power and destabilize the country’s political system by reporting on the often violent repression of democratic protest’s by the Brotherhood and other dissidents by the state.

To the extent that there is any coherence to the case put together by state prosecutors (they actually included an incriminating animal welfare documentary!), they claim that the journalists were out to “weaken the state’s status, harming the national interest of the country, disturbing public security, instilling fear among the people, causing damage to the public interest.”  Vague enough to include just about anyone who says a bad word about the current ruling class in Egypt.

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They are also being accused of membership in the now banned Muslim Brotherhood, a group that was outlawed on the grounds that they were “terrorists.”  Meaning, by extension these well-respected journalists are, ipso-facto, “terrorists” themselves!  Mind you ever since the ‘War on Terror” began in the U.S. back in 2001, every despotic regime (Russia, China, Syria, etc.) and even some democratic ones (Turkey) have been busy labelling their political dissidents as terrorists in their attempts to dehumanize their opponents and clampdown on legitimate criticism and democratic activism, both internally and abroad.

Fahmy has been denied his basic human rights already, with his jailers refusing to treat his shoulder injury and having thrown him in solitary confinement in an unheated cell during the middle of winter.  If that weren’t bad enough, for some inexplicable reason, the Canadian government seems almost completely oblivious to his suffering.  A search of the Hansard Blues ( the official record of Parliament) reveal a pitiful lack of outrage on the part of our parliamentarians with only the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, David Anderson, making a statement involving the typical offer of ‘consular assistance” (whatever that means!) to Fahmy and his lawyers.

Other world leaders including Conservative Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott have already taken a personal interest in the safety of their nationals (respected Australian journalist Peter Greste is also on trial).  So why the lack of any similar reaction by the Canadian government?  It could be any number of factors.  For starters, you might recall that the Jewish civil society groups with close ties to this government lobbied hard to keep Al Jazeera out of Canada back in 2010.  Indeed, among these folks, Al Jazeera is regarded with a great deal of suspicion for broadcasting anti-Israel stories and opinions.  Some in the government may even harbour some sympathy for the military regime in Cairo thinking that, though it might be deeply flawed, it remains better than the Morsi Presidency supported by Islamists that preceded it.  In other words, certain hawks will turn a blind eye to flagrant human rights abuses, even when they victimize a Canadian, under the current regime so long as they believe that Sisi is part of the broader “war on terrorism.”

Whatever their reasons, this situation is truly shameful and for the sake of Fahmy and defenders of freedom of speech and journalism everywhere, Prime Minister Harper must act forcefully and decisively in his efforts to liberate Fahmy and demonstrate his own support for the values that he purports to promote.

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Other articles by David DesBaillets

Was this Quebec election the most negative ever?
Harper has a bad day in court
The “Leprechaun” of Canadian finance takes his walk in the snow
Will Harper Turn his Back on Péladeau and Sun News?
Confessions of a lefty Jewish Canadian on Harper’s visit to Israel

Follow David DesBaillets on twitter @DDesBaillets

 

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