Global outrage has erupted over the harsh prison sentences meted out to Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed last Monday. The three were successfully prosecuted in an Egyptian court for allegedly “undermining” Egypt’s “national security” supposedly by supplying false news and aiding terrorist movements deemed threats to the Egyptian government.
Being Al Jazeera reporters helped as both the trial and the subsequent conviction of the three was a continuous subject of broadcasts and news reports fielded by the Qatar-based news organisation. As such, the backlash against the Egyptian government over social media was almost instantaneous following the issuance of the verdict, which spurred equally swift responses from governments of the free world…
US secretary of state John Kerry said it was “chilling and draconian”, British prime minister David Cameron condemned the verdict as “completely appalling” while Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop – whose fellow countryman, Peter Greste, was one of those convicted – said that the “Australian government simply cannot understand it based on the evidence that was presented in the case”. Australia, the Netherlands and Britain all summoned their respective Egyptian ambassadors to explain the verdict in what marked the fiercest international condemnation of Egypt’s crackdown on dissent since the murder of over 600 anti-government protesters last August.
On top of these, were bevies of statements of condemnation from other governments and human rights watchdogs all over the world. All nice, of course. But the key to achieving the only real outcome out of all this that matters is concrete action. Indeed, the families of these journalists are waiting for governments to “go beyond banal statements and apply real pressure to help reverse the verdicts.” These specific next steps prescribed by those closest to the victims of this outrage represent the real deal in achieving an outcome that satisfies Western ideals of “freedom”
and “freedom of expression”. The trouble is, this is Egypt. And what is going on in Egyptians’ minds seemingly does not necessarily jive with what the free world believes to be sensible. The Guardian report continues…
Inside Egypt, where al-Jazeera journalists are portrayed as terrorists due to their perceived support for the ousted Mohamed Morsi, many cheered the verdict. “Aljazeera channel are evil,” wrote one Twitter user in a typical response. “They support only the [Muslim Brotherhood] and change stories and want to show Egypt [is] not safe for tourism.”
It is quite evident that the rather Euro-centric assumption that the rest of the world aspires to be free is a rather big one that is being tested today. As the Guardian report further observes, “the verdict may have revealed the limits of foreign influence in Egypt, with Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry issuing a ‘complete rejection of any foreign interference in the country’s internal affairs’.”
The West and the rest of the “free world” that supposedly is in orbit around it has racked up quite a sorry historical track record of failing to follow through such banal condemnation with concrete action whenever the national interests numbers fail to stack up. The most recent example is the case of the Crimea which the Russian Federation Army simply marched in and took from the Ukraine amidst the loud howls of protest from the “Western” world. Closer to home, there is also all the tiptoeing going on around the evident and blatant violation of “international law” by China as it mounts its own walk-in-the-park encroachment into disputed territory in the West Philippine Sea.
Indeed, the latter one presents a rather confronting case-in-point. If documented International Law is shown to be lacking any real teeth, what more the unwritten notion that “freedom” is a presumed aspiration in the Third World?
So, it seems, the world’s polticians and diplomats can cry bloody “freedom of speech” all they want. A desperate government such as that of Egypt’s with a far more real stake in making three foreign journalists poster examples of what happens when you do stuff within the state that it doesn’t find amusing is in a pretty lofty enough position to call the real shots in this whole affair.
The question is…
What will the West actually do beyond all the talk?
Stay tuned folks.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.