Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘al-Jazeera’

Egypt Sullies Its Own Name

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 29th August, 2015

Al Jazeera threeEarlier today, a court in Egypt sentenced three journalists from Al Jazeera TV to three years in prison on the trumped-up charges of aiding a terrorist organisation (the Muslim Brotherhood) and producing false news in order to defame the name of the country. But it is this verdict which has sullied Egypt’s reputation. It is an egregious assault on the freedom of the press and blatantly political, underlining just how far President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has dragged Egypt back to a pre-2011 Revolution era of military-backed dictatorship and suppression of dissent. One of the three people sentenced today, the Australian Peter Greste (a former colleague of mine at the BBC), was fortunately safely out of the country, having been released after a vigorous international campaign after a first, prolonged trial collapsed. But the verdict could seriously now compromise his work as a foreign correspondent, as any country that has an extradition treaty with Egypt could receive a summons to send him to Cairo.

Abdel Fatah el-SisiHowever the real tragedy is the fate of his two AJ colleagues, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, who had been out on bail but must now return to prison — for the “crime” of simply doing their job. It is a terrible blow to them and their families and should trigger strong renewed international protests, not just from NGOs but also from Western governments, including Britain’s. David Cameron astonishingly invited President Sisi to come on an official visit to London later this year, with the announcement about that being made the day after ousted president Mohamed Morsi was sentenced to death by another court. That invitation should now be withdrawn. By staying silent, Britain would instead be condoning what are clear assaults on human rights, including freedom of expression, which would mean that not only is Egypt’s reputation tarnished but Britain’s too.

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Keep up the Pressure to Free Al Jazeera Journalists

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st February, 2015

Al Jazeera trialIt is great news that for once the rumours proved to be true and that Peter Greste, an Australian former colleague of mine at the BBC, currently employed by Al Jazeera, has indeed been released after 400 days in a Cairo jail. He is now returning home to join his family. However his Arab colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed still remain behind bars. Their only “crime” is that they were doing their job, reporting on events in Egypt at the time that President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown in a military coup. The trial was a travesty and although it got a lot of international media coverage thanks to my friend Patrick Kingsley of the Guardian and others, foreign governments did not do enough to pressure the Egyptians to release all the journalists. I fear that now the Egyptian government will revel in its perceived “humanity” in releasing and deporting the foreigner Peter, but we must not forget those who remain behind. Freedom of the media — and of expression generally — is under huge pressure right across the Middle East, including in countries that are seen as firm allies of the West. The moral authority of nations such as the UK and the United States can only thrive when it stands up for its liberal principles — which means London, Washington and other capitals need to be making clear that authoritarian regimes cannot expect political, financial and military support unless they respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

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Egypt: Please Release the AJ3 NOW!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th December, 2014

imageIt’s now one year since three Al Jazeera journalists have been in prison in Egypt, for the simple “crime” of doing their job. One of them is a former colleague of mine at the BBC, Peter Greste, from Australia, from where his family and friends have organised a formidable lobbying campaign for his release. The other two — equally worthy of sympathy and support — are Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy. President Sisi’s government disapproved strlngly of the way that the Doha-based Al Jazeera covered the coup against ousted President Mohammed Morsi, as well as the grotesque human rights abuses that have taken place against Muslim Brotherhood supporters and pro-democracy activists. The farcical trial and subsequent imprisonment of the Al Jazeera 3 is one of the most egregious attempts to stifle press freedom anywhere in the Middle East — a region that is not short of bad examples. Sadly, Western governments, including in Washington and London, have been fairly muted in their criticism of Sisi and his henchmen. While this may be partly an attempt to woo Cairo into releasing the AJ3, I fear it is more a case of Realpolitik, in which the major Western powers see Egypt as an important ally, as well as a friend to Israel. In my view, this is extremely short-sighted, and further undermines the West’s claim to moral authority. It is important that people around the world, as well as governments and media organisations, stand up and protest about human rights abuses and the suppression of the media. And for my part, on this sad first anniversary of the AJ3’s incarceration, I ask General Sisi and his colleagues politely, both for the sake of the three individuals concerned and for the sake of Egypt’s dignity and reputation abroad, please release Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baker Mohamed immediately!

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Human Rights and the Arab World

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 11th December, 2014

imageOver the last three decades, much of the world, from Brazil to Indonesia, has moved from dictatorship to democracy, but despite the so-called Arab Spring that began with Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia in December 2010, most of the Arab world has remained immune. Several states, such as Syria and Bahrain, are even worse than they were when it comes to the situation of civil society and human rights. Especially tragic is the most populous Arab state of all, Egypt, which was so full of hope during the 2011 Revolution, but where things have returned to their previous brutal state following the coupl against Mohammed Morsi in July last year. As the United States and several other western countries view Egypt as a crucial ally they have been restrained in their criticism of some of the gross outrages that have taken place in Egypt over the past 18 months, so it has been left to NGOs and some of the international media — notably Al Jazeera — to make their concerns known. Prominent among the former has been the International Coalition for Freedoms and Rights (ICFR), which has sent everal missions comprised largely of lawyers to Cairo during 2014. Egypt has similarly been the Central focus of ICFR’s first conference this week in Istanbul, which I have been attending and which will lead to the creation of a lawyers’ task force to monitor situations and to disseminate information, as well as a media group. While so much of the West is concentrating on the War on Terror it probably needs reminding about the values it is meant to stand for, including democracy and the respect for human rights, which are alas so lacking in so many Arab States.

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Egypt: The Elusive Arab Spring

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 26th August, 2014

Wafik MoustafaWafik Moustafa bookDuring the first few weeks of 2011 I was glued to Al Jazeera’s English-language TV channel as the revolution in Egypt unfurled and President Hosni Mubarak eventually stood down from power. But this proved to be a hollow victory for the predominantly liberal and often secular young demonstrators who had been so visible in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Elections led to Mohammed Morsi of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood becoming the new president, but the new government’s swift moves to islamise the state led to renewed mass protests and Morsi’s ousting in a coup. Now Egypt is led by Field Marshal Abdel Fatah El Sisi, who many critics see as a sort of Mubarak Mark II. In fact, the repression against dissent is even worse now than it was in Mubarak’s final years. But all this was predictable, of so argues the British-Egyptian doctor Wafik Moustafa, in his thought-provoking book Egypt: The Elusive Arab Spring (Gilgmesh, £24.95). Dr Moustafa is unique in having stood for both the Egyptian presidency (against Mubarak) and as a prospective UK MP (for Bootle) — both lost causes, as Mubarak made sure for 30 years that the veneer of democracy eventually applied to quieten criticism from Washington would not threaten him through the ballot box, and Dr Moustafa is a Conservative who had little chance of ousting Labour in Britain’s industrial north west. His book is a very personal take on events, both during the three years of the so-called Arab Spring and in his recounting of Egypt’s modern history, from a liberal, cosmopolitan perspective. He obviously thinks Egypt is the poorer for losing former IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei from frontline politics (not a view particularly widely shared among ordinary Egyptians) and he is (probably justifiably) harsh on the record of the late Colonel Nasser, whose standing in the Egyptian street nonetheless seems to be rising again, with a little help from El Sisi. The author ranges wider than the Egypt of the title, looking at events across the whole Arab world, as well as specific issues such as the media. The order of chapters is at times a little strange — an account of the Egyptian monarchy coming towards the end of the book, for example — but the late alterations and additions made necessary by political developments in 2013 are reasonably well integrated into the whole, and all in all this is a stimulating read, which will be particularly appreciated by those who are not already Middle East experts and want an accessible and literate overview of Egypt’s situation and the multitude of challenges facing the country’s future.

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Alan Duncan, Free to Speak

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th July, 2014

Alan DuncanArab Spring EgyptWhen Lord Lothian invited International Development Minister Alan Duncan to address the Global Strategy Forum at the National Liberal Club today on the Arab Spring three years on, he can have had no inkling that Mr Duncan would be ministerially defenestrated the previous night. But in a way that was an advantage as the speaker was therefore bound by no government conventions and limitations and was able to give a wide-ranging yet penetrating overview of recent events in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). I liked his concept of “3D” British foreign policy, i.e. diplomacy, development and defence working in conjunction, and he has clearly put his experience in the oil industry to good use while in office, though he was pretty pessimistic about developments in Libya, in particular. I queried him on Egypt, as he’d said the West was maybe too quick to welcome the ousting of Hosni Mubarak; surely, I said, the West has been too quick to welcome the arrival of Field Marshal Sisi, given the appalling current record of torture and imprisonment, which has even affected journalists working for international media outlets, such as my former BBC colleague, and now Al Jazeera journalist, Peter Greste? Where Alan Duncan and I were much more aligned was when he spoke of the need to approach the Arab-Israeli conflict from a position of principle — in other words recognising the compound injustice (and indeed humiliation) perpetrated against the Palestinians by successive governments of Israel. It would have been good to press him further on his hints at possible consequences of the tensions between different Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, but maybe now he is more of a free agent it will be possible to winkle more out of him in such important debates.

Link: http://www.globalstrategyforum.org/

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Iraq 10 Years On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 17th April, 2013

The Cordoba Foundation - Iraq 10 Years : Examining A Decade Of Turbulence Conference-The Commonwealth Club, London, United KingdomThe Cordoba Foundation - Iraq 10 Years : Examining A Decade Of Turbulence Conference-The Commonwealth Club, London, United KingdomThe tenth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq has provided an occasion for reflection on the pluses and minuses of that operation and its aftermath. Having been in Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG) last month I know that many Kurds there think of the War as a Liberation, and I can understand why, given the dreadful persecution they suffered at the hands of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen; it did indeed constitute genocide. But I am also aware, from my last visit to Baghdad, in December 2012, just how shattered Iraq remains as a state. Sunni have been pitted against Shia (who are now dominant) and fatal bombings in the capital are commonplace. As I said in a speech to the Cordoba Foundation and Al Sharq Forum’s Conference at London’s Commonwealth Club, “Iraq 10 Years On”, the Americans made a terrible mistake in pushing de-Ba’athification so far that they sacked the army and police force, as well as many officials — a mistake they notably did not make in Germany in 1945 after the defeat of the Nazis. Saddam was a monster, of that I have no doubt; his torture centres bore all the hallmarks of a true sadist. But the Bush-Blair invasion did not usher in a period of faultless democracy and peace. I never believed it would. Moreover, as Wadah Khanfar — former head of Al Jazeera — pointed out at the same conference, the Iraq War, together with the new Arab Awakening, and all the baggage of Western interference in the Middle East and the unresolved Palestinian situation, has left a region in turmoil. It is not just Iraq that is dysfunctional but the entire MENA region, and I suspect it will take decades before things settle down. Whether that will be within the same b0undaries as the current countries is by no means sure. After all, most of the countries in the Middle East are artificial constructs, the result of the notorious Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Balfour declaration and the British betrayal of Arab nationalists led by the Hashemites. Moreover, given the Syrian civil war and renewed political activity regarding the Kurdish question in Turkey, it is not impossible that some time in the future there will be an independent Kurdish state. The KRG are currently sticking to their line that they will be happy with devo-max in Iraq, but if Iraq effectively ceases to be a coherent country then there will be a big temptation to go it alone, which could have far-reaching regional implications.

Photos by Richard Chambury (richfoto). 1: Daud Abdullah, Rosemary Hollis, JF, Matthew G Banks; 2: JF.

Links: http://www.thecordobafoundation.com & http://www.sharqforum.org

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The Mubarak Dilemma

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 5th January, 2012

Sitting in Beirut watching Al Jazeera as Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s ousted President, was being wheeled into the Cairo courtroom today for the prosector’s final statement raised mixed emotions inside me. Like many of my Egyptian friends, I am still in a half-daze of disbelief that the Revolution actually managed to get rid of the wretched man. But as a European — and therefore a citizen of a continent which has eschewed the death penalty (at least so far as the EU 27 are concerned) — I am also perplexed by the prosecutor’s demand for the death sentence. I have no doubt of Mubarak’s guilt, not only in overseeing the killings and harassment of protestors duing the Tahrir Square demonstrations, but also of presiding over threee decades of a corrupt regime in which torture and human rights abuses were commonplace and he and his family syphoned off not millions but many billions of dollars. To add insult to injury, he was even trying to engineer a succession for his favourite son, Gamal, who has at times during recent weeks been alongside him in the dock. Unlike in the case of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, an even more monstruous dictator who was despatched without dignity after his death sentence, Mubarak is unlikely to face the hangman’s noose. He is seriously ill — though how seriously is a matter of controversy– and he is quite likely to expire before all legal proceedings (including probable appeals) are exhausted. I believe the highest level of command in the Egyptian army would also be extremely reluctant to see their former Commander in Chief swing. But in the meantime, many of us who metophorically popped champagne corks when Mubarak finally resigned may well find ourselvew obliged to sign petitions against his execution, in favour of life imprisonment, on humanitarian grounds.

 

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Wadah Khanfar, Al Jazeera and the Arab Spring

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 6th October, 2011

The Arab Awakening has been an emotional experience for many people in North Africa and the Middle East; I confess I too wept on 11 February when the announcement finally came in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that Hosni Mubarak had stepped down and a great roar went up from the crowd, who were just finishing their prayers. All this seen live on Al Jazeera, of course, the Qatar-based channel that streamed the Egyptian Revolution. This evening, at City University in London, the recently retired (or evicted?) Director General of Al Jazeera, the Palestinian-born Wadah Khanfar, admitted while giving his largely unscripted James Cameron Memorial Lecture that he too had wept twice during the events of the recent months. Once was when his car ran into a celebrating crowd on the Corniche in Doha on 11 February and people who recognised him entered his car and kissed him to thank him for the contribution to the Arab Spring (if one must call it that) of freedom and democracy by his channel. The second time was when an Al Jazeera reporter who had been arrested and tortured in Libya by Gaddafi’s thug apparatus came back to Doha after his release and presented Wadah Khanfar with an apple, which had been given to him by one of his jailors, who had brought it from his garden and who apologised for his treatment, thanked him for what Al Jazeera was doing and said that he and the other officers had only done what they had done because the regime was holding their wives and children hostage.

After the lecture, I asked Wadah if the fact that he had been replaced as Director General by a member of Qatar’s ruling family might signal a change in editorial policy. He said no, and I would like to believe him. But there is no doubt that several rulers in the Gulf were very angry about Al Jazeera’s initial reporting of the crackdown against demonstrators in Bahrain. And I fear that if the Arab Awakening does eventually sweep through the GCC states, Al Jazeera might be emasculated and then die.

 

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Syria’s Protests Intensify

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 8th April, 2011

Syria saw its biggest pro-democracy demonstrations yet today, with the most bloody clashes with security forces happening in the southern town of Deraa, where unrest first broke out. According to Al Jazeera, up to 27 people were shot dead there today and many of the injured are too afraid to go to hospitals for treatment in case they are searched out by security forces. The government insists that unidentified masked gunmen were responsible for the killings, a claim rejected by protestors. The demonstrators want not only a lifting of the decades-long state of emergency — which was vaguely promised by the government last month — but also much greater political freedom. Though President Bashar Al-Assad is widely seen as less hardline than his late father, there has been widespread disappointment both in Syria and abroad that he has not ushered in more profound reforms, despite recent disturbances. There have been some counter-demonstrations in his favour; I witnessed young people gathering for one in the city of Tartus last week. But ever larger numbers are coming out on the streets to express anger at the government, perhaps inspired by similar uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. However, yet again there seems to be a leader in a state of denial, like some of his counterparts in other Arab states blaming foreigners for the unrest. But the Arab awakening has definitely spread to Syria and the question now is who will blink first: the security forces or the protestors.

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