by Khalil Charles
The unconditional release of the Australian Al-Jazeera Journalist Peter Greste back to his home country has been welcomed by the Australians and the International community. However, it casts a shadow of doubt on the future of his two colleagues, who remain detained.
Despite the overturning of guilty verdicts on the 1st January, which had handed down seven-year prison terms for the two men, Peter Greste and Mohammed Fammy and a ten-year sentence to Baher Mohammed, the latter two remain in custody in anticipation of a retrial. There are hopes for Fammy who is a Canadian/Egyptian dual national, who may also be released and deported to Canada in the next few weeks.
Greste’s release follows renewed detentions and killings of protesters marking the 2011, January 25th revolution. According to Amnesty International, the Egyptian government has been intimidating witnesses and detaining journalists in an attempt to cover up the killings.
At least 27 are believed to have died including two women and a 10-year-old Coptic boy. The government has denied that there has been a cover up but admits holding at least 500 people across the country, blaming supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood for staging illegal marches.
According to eyewitnesses, peaceful protestors chanting “bread, freedom and social justice” march towards Talaat Harb Square in Cairo, when security forces began to shoot birdshot rounds and tear gas at them. Graphic and disturbing pictures of the death of Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh depict the last moments of her life.
Outside the capital in El Mattariqa and Ain Shams, Amnesty believe that at least 17 people died in the violence including a Coptic Christian child who died after he was struck by a bullet in the neck. Prosecutors have accused around 80 people of protesting without a license, attacking the security forces, disturbing the peace and destroying private property. Initially just 10 lawyers were allowed to represent the 80 defendants.
The Egyptian authorities under Sisi faced international pressure for its human rights abuses and for its crackdown on his opponents. Estimates say that up to 41,000 have been detained since the overthrow of the democratically elected President, Mohammed Morsi. Tens of thousands more have been arrested but later released.
Since coming to power, Sisi who had worked with the American military for three decades and had taken his basic training course at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1981, has vowed to dismantle the Muslim Brotherhood – who have been banned and labeled ‘terrorists’.
In a US military report long before he staged the coup against President Morsi, “U.S. officials expressed confidence that General Sisi will maintain close ties with the U.S., which provides Egypt with $1.3 billion a year in military aid, and uphold Egypt’s peace deal with Israel.”
Some commentators have claimed the backing for Sisi’s coup came firmly in the corridors of the Pentagon. Military.com claims, “General Al Sisi was in permanent liaison by telephone with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (right together with Al Sisi) from the very outset of the protest movement. Press reports confirm that he consulted him several times in the days leading up to the coup d’etat. It is highly unlikely that General Al Sisi would have acted without a ‘green light” from the Pentagon.”
Since then, Sisi has been in the pockets of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – in particular Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait who between them have pumped $20 billion in economic assistance. The aid appears to be conditional on further repression of the opposition: Muslim Brotherhood.
According to the Economist magazine, Sisi’s plans for the economy has gone from bad to nearly catastrophic since the fall of Mubarak and President Morsi. The financial journal warns, “The country is being kept afloat by the Gulf monarchies…. That is not sustainable. Unless Egyptians are given a chance to prosper, there is likely to be another popular explosion. … Sisi sounds hostile to market economics. He has praised the kind of military-led state intervention that proved wasteful in the past, promising the familiar grandiose schemes in the desert rather than bold, simple moves to fix the problems of the 90% of Egyptians still squeezed into the Nile Valley.”