Fareed Zakaria: Sentencing of Journalists Signals the Old Egypt is Back

Fareed Zakaria
Fareed Zakaria

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about Monday’s conviction in Egypt of three Al Jazeera English journalists accused of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood.

Fareed, what does this ruling in Egypt, going against these Al Jazeera journalists, say about what’s going on in Egypt right now? A new president has just been elected.

It tells us the old Egypt is back. That is, the deep state – the state of Mubarak and Nasr, the state that ruled in an uninterrupted military dictatorship – is back because despite the claims they’re moving toward democracy and trying to create genuine transition to pluralism, freedom of the press is entirely under siege and under attack from the state.

Look at the charges. These journalists, who are very fine professional journalists, are being essentially charged for criminal activity for aiding terrorists, which is entirely untrue. Two of them sentenced to seven years. One was sentenced to an additional 10 years. Do you know why? He was charged with possession of ammunition. Why? While covering these protests this man found a spent casing, in other words a used shell. He happened to put it in his pocket as a souvenir. For that act, he has been sentenced to an additional three years in jail. This is how absurd these charges are.

Is there a possibility this can be overturned and these three journalists can be freed?

They’re all really fine professional journalists whose only sin was to commit journalism. That’s all they were doing – covering the story. The phase Egypt is going through right now, judges have been doing mass sentencing where they sentence hundreds of people to death at a time, just shows how ludicrous the whole process is. Some of those sentence haves been overturned on appeal. That’s possible in this case.

It’s also possible that the president, frankly, could summarily dismiss the whole thing. Egypt has turned into a dictatorship, which means if President el-Sisi decides he wants to dispense with these sentences, he will do it. So I think if there was enough international pressure brought to bear – I think Secretary Kerry has been very good, but privately should be pushing them harder. I think it wouldn’t hurt if President Obama were to speak out on this.

The issue of freedom of press is at the heart of building a new democracy. If that’s what Egypt wants to do and they will not allow journalists to operate freely, they will not allow the free flow of information, then the whole thing is a sham.

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