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Egyptian Authorities Detain Foreign Journalists

Dec 30, 2013
Originally published on December 30, 2013 5:42 am
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The crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is netting foreign journalists. A team from Al Jazeera English was detained by police yesterday. Egypt's military-led government has accused them of spreading false news and also of talking to members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Just a reminder, the Brotherhood is the movement led by Mohamed Morsi, who was deposed as president last summer. For more, we reached Shadi Hamid, an analyst with the Brookings Institution center in Doha. Welcome back to the show.

SHADI HAMID: Hi. Thanks for having me.

MONTAGNE: Tell us about these journalists. And also, Shadi, was there any basis at all for accusing them of spreading false news?

HAMID: Well, this is an international news team with Al Jazeera English, including an Australian journalist, Peter Greste. The accusation is that they're promoting incitement and promoting Brotherhood propaganda. Now, in today's Egypt anything that's critical of the government line is grounds for arrest or detention.

Journalists are supposed to be critical about government repression, so I assume that's what happened here. They felt that the criticism crossed certain lines. But it's hard to take any of these charges seriously. And that goes for most of the arrests that are happening in Egypt today on a daily basis were just talking about people who are protesting or opposing the government. But that's not allowed anymore to a large extent.

MONTAGNE: Well, about these journalists, though. Al Jazeera Egypt, the local Al Jazeera in that country, it was accused during Morsi's time as president of siding with the Muslim Brotherhood. So there's a history between the military rulers in Egypt and the backers of Al Jazeera. That's the government of Qatar. What about now?

HAMID: Sure. Yeah. This is a longstanding, long-sitting tension between Egyptian regime and Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera has been seen as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi. So this goes back, you know, several months now. And that's why Al Jazeera has faced a number of limitations in their coverage inside of Egypt.

MONTAGNE: Yeah. So this is all, as you suggested, in the context of a crackdown, generally speaking, on anything that's negative about the government. And you have warned in recent weeks what you see as the authoritarian tendencies of this new leadership. What are you basing that on?

HAMID: I mean, first of all, since the military coup in July, there have been several mass killings, including what Human Rights Watch calls the worst mass killing in modern Egyptian history, which happened on August 14th. But also more generally, right now even being a member of the Brotherhood without actually doing anything, even if you're staying at home, that is now punishable by five years in prison, according to the penal code.

And it's not just affecting Brotherhood members or Islamists but increasingly it's targeting liberals and leftists who were at the forefront of ousting President Mubarak in January 2010-11. And these were people that the whole world was cheering on, these revolutionaries. And just a few weeks ago, three of them, including Ahmed Maher, one of the most prominent, was sentenced to three years in prison just for organizing peaceful protests.

MONTAGNE: What, then, does this say about where the country is headed?

HAMID: So in short, we're not just seeing a return to the old Mubarak era, we're seeing something considerably worse. The goal here isn't to restrict dissent, it's to eradicate dissent.

MONTAGNE: Shadi Hamid is with the Brookings Doha Center. Thanks very much for joining us.

HAMID: Thanks for having me.


MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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