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Monday, August 31, 2015

Al Jazeera, Ms. Clooney and Al-Sisi

Cairo, Egypt--the courtroom was bathed in perspiration as a lone Calliphora (aka blue bottle fly) landed on the shoulder of a young man sitting in the galley. The insect, with its numerous transparent eyes, probably mistook the young man for decayed meat, but the man paid no attention to the insect. He was totally focused on the verdict that Judge Hassan Farid was about to give in the retrial of three al-Jazeera journalists.

Marwa Omara sobbed as she learned that the journalists, which included her husband, Mohamed Fahmy, were heading back to jail as they were convicted on charges of broadcasting "false news" (aka 'propaganda') and operating from a local hotel without a license.

This was a great news day for the media. They turned towards the weeping Marwa as she held her head in her hands (lucky for her it was still attached to her neck) and stuck microphones and cameras in her face, hoping to catch a whimper or a gasp, and perhaps a meandering tear flowing from her reddened eyes.

British-Lebanese human rights lawyer and George Clooney's wife, Amal, placed a hot arm around the weeping woman, and in spite of the stifling humidity and heat, Marwa found comfort in the gesture. 

This was the first thing Amal Clooney did after hearing the verdict, a verdict condemned by foreign governments like the UK as well as the USA, and other foreign rights groups.

The bottle fly simply flew off to find better sustenance after it learned that the three al-Jazeera journalists were sentenced to three years in prison instead of the harsher sentences originally doled out. 

The three were originally sentenced in July 2014. Mr. Greste and Mr. Fahmy were originally given a seven year sentence and Mr. Mohamed got ten years in the slammer.

Mr. Grete, an Australian journalist, was tried in absentia as he was deported back to the land down under earlier in the year.

The three are accused of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, a known terrorist organization courted by President Obama, but the journalists vehemently denied it.

Mrs. Clooney was surrounded by a gaggle of media folks as she was ready to undertake the difficult task of defending the Egyptian-born Canadian, Mr. Fahmy.

"We have two avenues," she told Lyce Doucet of the BBC, "but the one we are pushing for the most is for President Sisi to issue a pardon."

"To issue a pardon would mean the conviction is reversed and it would apply to all journalists, not just those who are foreign," she said.

And that's the rub.

Another possibility would be a deportation law President Sisi introduced last year that would allow Mr. Fahmy to leave Egypt using his Canadian passport in the same way Greste was returned to Australia back in February. But their colleague, Baher Mohamed is an Egyptian and would therefore serve his 3 years plus 6 months for possessing a spent bullet casing, aka cartridge.

President Sisi had said several months ago, "I wished they were deported right after they were arrested instead of getting put on trial." He also hinted at a possible pardon once "the trial's session have finished."

However, with Al-Jazeera's legal appeal in the air, this ordeal, already 2 years old, could drag on and a pardon would be lost in the shuffle. Now the question is whether Sisi would want to intervene and when.

George Clooney's wife, Amal, insists Sisi stepped in before, and darn it, he can do it again.

According to Amal, Egypt is fourth in the jailed journalists competition according to media watchdogs, but Egyptian officials deny that any journalists are detained for reporting the news, but are detained for their links to groups involved with terrorist activities, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Is it true that Al-Jazeera would be so, shall we say, 'Islamocentric,' that they would report falsely about how Egypt is trying to take a more secular position in the world as it decries jihad and terrorism? Could it be that this media organization is, as their accusers claim, anti-Semitic, anti-American and pro-Muslim Brotherhood?

Just because Al-Jazeera (AJ) once reported that on the day of the September 11, 2001 attack Jews were told in advance not to go to work that day does not necessarily mean AJ is anti-Semitic.

Just because the AJ Beirut bureau chief held an on-air birthday bash for a Lebanese Muslim militant, Samir Kuntar (his friends call him 'Koont') convicted of killing four Israelis, including a 4-year-old girl, does in no way imply AJ doesn't like Jewish folk.

Just because AJ had a weekly show "Sharia and LIfe" by Yusuf Qaradawi, and Egyptian cleric, who "argues clearly and consistently that hatred of Israel and Jews is Islamically sanctioned," it does not necessarily imply anti-Semitic feelings for those Jews. 

It merely explains how Islam feels about them.

Erik Nisbet, an expert on Arab media and professor at Ohio State University, claims that anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism is woven into the fabric of AJ's Arabic reporting, but c'mon, they're catering to religious Muslims and what choice does AJ have but to show their support for their hatred?

Just because AJ is state media owned by Qatar, and has also been accused of being pro-Wahabi, does not make them anti anything except what the Wahabis are anti about. 

Google them.

So can you blame President Sisi and Egypt for taking AJ's journalists to task for reporting "false news"? Maybe he knows something we don't.

Maybe the blue bottle fly didn't want to be anywhere near an Al Jazeera journalist.