The outrageous sham that Egypt's President calls independent justice should stand as a warning not just to journalists working in the country, but to Egyptians themselves. If Sisi can stare down world-wide condemnation, think how little thought he will give to anyone who has no international voice
Politicians can not function without media exposure - whether that be fair or propaganda.
Political journalists can not function without politicians - be they democratic, autocratic or anywhere in between.
The symbiosis of these two spheres legitimizes the respective worlds of voters and audience/readers.
Egypt, which so briefly but so seductively appeared as capable of contorting itself into even an embryonic democracy has, with the jailing of three Al Jazeera journalists for doing their job, erased any pretense that it even wants to be a democracy.
Egypt has destroyed its legitimacy by refusing to tolerate critics. For Egypt journalists have become a means by which to score political points against the Qatar government, and perhaps curry favour with the Saudi government.
The machinations of this are pretty basic.
The Saudis were actively opposed to the elected Muslim Brotherhood which eventually replaced the Kingdom’s preferred dictator Mubarak.
The Qataris however had been quick to support the Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi.
Morsi was ousted in a coup d’etat, the leader of which is now the elected President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
The Qataris own Al Jazeera.
Sisi’s lot believe Al Jazeera to be an overt supporter of the Brotherhood because of this link. Tarred by association.
It seems many Egyptians have swallowed this Kool Aid and despite it being a crucial player in bringing the Egyptian Revolution to the world, Al Jazeera’s support in Egypt has plummeted.
News sites in the region point to suspicion that Al Jazeera is influenced editorially by the Qatari Emir.
The prosecutors in the trial of the three journalists produced absolutely no evidence publicly that could support the terrorism charges and ultimately the verdict.
The trial before a judiciary Sisi declares to be (surely tongue in cheek) independent and respected gave no reason for the convictions and harsh sentences.
Sisi’s Pontius Pilate act would have perhaps had a whiff of credibility if there had been any evidence.
Instead the farce stands as prima facie evidence that the role of the current judiciary is unchanged from those which preceded it - to do the government’s political bidding.
It was the same under the elected Morsi.
He went rogue on democracy almost as soon as he took office, and journalists paid then. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report 78 assaults against journalists in Morsi’s first year in office, and intimidation was regularly meted out by Brotherhood supporters.
The then Constitution purported to enshrine press freedoms but it left journalists exposed to excessive punishments for what was called “malpractice”.
The Constitution was, in short, contradictory in many aspects where no sooner had freedom of opinion been given in one Article than it was taken away in another.
Courts had and still have the freedom to shut down media outlets as they please.
The reign of Sisi has already produced raids on media outlets, violence, aggression, closures and suppression of critical comment.
Al Jazeera is now an illegal network banned from operating in Egypt.
Egypt’s status according to the latest Freedom House analysis of global freedoms of the press is, unsurprisingly, an unambiguous ‘Not Free’
It has declined from ‘Partly Free’ in 2012 because of official toleration of “campaigns to intimidate journalists, increased efforts to prosecute reporters and commentators for insulting the political leadership or defaming religion, and intensified polarization of the pro- and anti-Muslim Brotherhood press, which reduced the availability of balanced coverage”.
It is into this abyss that Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed, amongst many others, have fallen.
Journalists in newsrooms around the world are doing their best to bring attention to the fact that journalism is not a crime.
Their photographed and broadcast mass vigils with black taped-up mouths, solid reporting and basically keeping up the pressure needs to be backed to the hilt by democracies around the world.
Some, notably the British and the Australians, are going for it.
Canada, late to the party but nevertheless here finally, says Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy will not be stripped of his Canadian citizenship, as would be required for anyone convicted of terrorism under a controversial new federal citizenship law (Bill C-24) which came into effect last week.
The Americans have lost some face due to Secretary of State John Kerry confirming the US will pay Egypt another $1.3 billion in military aid, and that he is confident Sisi will take human rights in the right direction.
Hours after Kerry’s visit to Cairo the Al Jazeera 3 were denied the most basic of their human rights...not unlike those rotting away in Guantanamo for years without trial. Just saying.
True democracy can not exist without a free media.
The media is part of the political process.
Sure at times the media machine veers off track from its pure goal of producing and disseminating knowledge to itself become a powerful political, economic and cultural actor.
But then ‘media’ is no more an amorphous mass than any other sector of society. Not all bankers rip you off; not all priests molest; not all Muslims are terrorists; not all politicians lie...etc...etc.
Without question the digital age and the massive media mergers have impacted on the perhaps quaint ideal of journalists as the custodians of democracy.
But there is no doubt without them, democracies and any other form of governing would be more dangerous than they are now.
This was highlighted in a very sober fashion by a full page blank ad taken out by Al Jazeera in the New York Times. In small type the only words which appear are “this is what happens when you silence journalists”.
There is an intense focus on these three journalists, particularly in the unrelenting support by Al Jazeera - a story in every single news bulletin to the point I can repeat the script by heart!
They are but three of many journalists in prison in Egypt and elsewhere around the world.
It is to be hoped that awareness and pressure will change their situation, but so far Sisi is clinging to his ‘independent judiciary’ line.
This judicial sham is a warning to the whole of Egypt because one thing is for sure, Sisi will not stop suppression of dissent at the newsroom door.