By Ray Hanania
The Government of Egypt has forcefully denied assertions that it bullied or intimidated international attorney Amal Alamuddin Clooney, the wife of Hollywood movie superstar George Clooney.
Amal Clooney is working to represent Al Jazeera (alJazeera, Al-Jazeera) journalist Mohammed Fahmy, who was convicted in an Egyptian court of libeling the government and of working for the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which has been declared a terrorist organization by the Egyptian Government and many European nations. Fahmy is of Egyptian Canadian heritage and his plight has caught much international attention.
Clooney alleged in a PR letter to the international media that she had been threatened by the Egyptian government if she continued to represent Fahmy in an appeal of his 7-year jail sentence.
In the letter, published on the anti-Arab online news website, Huffington Post (in six languages), which has been accused in the past of discriminating and censoring American Arab writers who have criticized Israel or Israel’s rightwing government, Amal Clooney has demanded that Egypt pardon Fahmy, denying that he fabricated stories or was supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
(Amal Clooney apparently only started writing for the biased Huffington Post news sight in August 2014 at about the time she took on Fahmy’s case. Huffington Post has only offered a one-sided perspective on the case, showcasing celebrity attorney Amal Clooney’s views.)
Egypt’s government issued a statement denying the accusations, publicly declaring that Amal Clooney is welcome to come to Egypt any time and to pursue without hinderance Fahmy’s legal rights in Egypt’s courts, which only recently were freed from tyranny following the overthrow of former dictator Husny (Hosni, Husni) Mubarak. Mubarak’s successor, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi, who also was sworn into office in January 2012, was subsequently overthrown from office one year later after his government was accused of undermining Egyptian freedoms, civil rights and of imposing an Islamic dictatorship.
Morsi was replaced by a temporary government and new elections were held. The office was filled by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi on June 8, 2014 following new elections.
But Fahmy’s freedom and journalistic endeavors have been caught in the middle of a battle in which neither side, Al Jazeera or the Government of Egypt, is any better than the other.
The Arabic Satellite news channel Al Jazeera has been a bitter foe of the Al-Sisi government and its news coverage favored the Muslim Brotherhood. And over the years, Al Jazeera has taken sides politically on every issue from Egypt to Syria to Lebanon and has published vicious columns attacking moderate Arabs who have advocated peace based on compromise with the State of Israel.
This columnist was viciously attacked by Al Jazeera in 2011 in a column that repeated a wide range of fabrications and false accusations involving the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. The authors of the column attacking me were allowed to publish false claims because Al Jazeera panders to extremists and activists, rather than to embrace professional journalism. Al Jazeera clearly opposes those who advocate peace based on land compromise with Israel.
That makes me wonder about Al Jazeera and the charges against Fahmy. As a professional American Arab journalist myself for more than 40 years, I briefly worked as a volunteer commentator for Al Jazeera for several years, but broke with the news organization when its editors began criticizing me for my political views in support of Palestinian-Israeli peace.
The online satellite channel then commissioned two non-journalist extremist activists to write a column attacking me in 2011, and refused to allow me to refute the false allegations and the many inaccuracies published in the column that Al Jazeera continues to tout on its website.
While I do not know Fahmy, and oppose censorship of any kind, it is disingenuous of Amal Clooney and Al Jazeera to act as if they adhere to journalistic ethics or in in fact professionals rather than partisan activists.
Al Jazeera is owned and operated by the government of Qatar, which has been a strong advocate of Hamas, which opposes peace based on compromise and has even battled with other Gulf States that have challenged growing religious extremism in the Middle East and especially in Iran, which is run by a dictatorship, itself.
I have to wonder why Amal Clooney doesn’t question the tyrants who own and operate al-Jazeera, or the unethical practices the Arab satellite channel currently embraces.
It doesn’t help Fahmy’s case that he is associated with al-Jazeera or with the dictators in Qatar.
Earlier this year, two pro-Western and moderate Gulf Arab States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, recalled their ambassadors to Qatar over Al-Jazeera’s biased coverage and negative attacks against those two countries.
In other words, “biased media” at Al-Jazeera is not a new accusation at all.
While I hope Fahmy is released from prison, he should be released on the basis of honesty and not on a false campaign of slander initiated by a high-priced celebrity attorney, Amal Clooney, whose history has included serving as an advisor to the Government of Bahrain, which also has been accused of civil rights violations and oppression against journalists there.
The irony in all this is that Al Jazeera doesn’t help Fahmy’s case by continuing to embrace partisan activism over professional journalism when it suits its political agendas, or that it engages a high profile attorney who has represented and worked with tyrannical governments, and publishes her comments not in the Arab media but an online news site, the Huffington Post, which has a history of discrimination of some American Arab writers who have been too critical of Israel’s extremist government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Rather than helping Fahmy’s case, Clooney is merely stirring the pot and hoping that her celebrity status will win Al Jazeera a political victory over Egypt which has been struggling to overcome violence and terrorism that sometimes has been fed by extremist Arab World media.
Although I have challenged Egypt’s military coup, I also have criticized the Muslim Brotherhood for their embrace of religious fanaticism and curtailing of Egyptian civil rights. It comes down to supporting the lesser of two evils, and sadly when we look at this mess, Egypt’s government headed by President Al-Sisi is in fact the lesser of the many evils that threaten to throw Egypt and the Middle East into further conflict.
Al-Jazeera’s role in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood has also enabled religious extremism and made it difficult for journalists like Fahmy to do their jobs without the shroud of Qatar’s political tyranny hovering over his journalism shoulders.
Egypt may be a mess, but both Al Jazeera and now Amal Clooney are now helping to make it even worse by playing politics with civil rights and partisan Middle East agendas.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and columnist. He is the managing editor of The Arab Daily News and an outspoken critic of both Al-Jazeera and the Huffington Post for their unjournalistic policies of discrimination. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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