At crucial point in #AJtrial, al-Jazeera provokes Egypt

At crucial point in #AJtrial

Many Australians have been following the lamentable plight of Peter Greste, the Australian journalist working for al-Jazeera who has been jailed along with two other al-Jazeera colleagues in Egypt since December on charges of conspiring with the banned Muslim Brotherhood to harm Egypt’s reputation.

They should now be doubly worried about both their fate and about the judgment of al-Jazeera which published an inflammatory report this week alleging wrongdoing in Egypt’s energy trade with Israel that could only serve to fan the flames of Egyptian anger against the Qatari-owned news organisation.

Al-Jazeera‘s biased and negative portrayal of Israel in its reports is well known, as AIJAC’s blogs and articles have pointed out on numerous occasions (such as here),  so is al-Jazeera’s role as an instrument of Qatari foreign policy.

It must be further added that this new “investigative report”, much like al-Jazeera‘s ridiculous report “Killing Arafat” from last year, is full of conspiratorial innuendo and overblown claims – something that I will address in a separate blog post.

It’s also true that AIJAC has, over the years, documented how al-Jazeera as an organisation had a clear preferential editorial bias towards the Muslim Brotherhood – although that in no way implies that AIJAC believes that Greste is guilty of the offences that Egypt charged him with. We most certainly do not.

That said, it would be fair to say that al-Jazeera‘s anti-Israel slant does not greatly differ from virtually all news organisations based in the Arab world – the only difference is that al-Jazeera is more global in its reach than others. It would also be accurate to say that practically the worst slur you can muster in the Arab world is to accuse other Arabs of colluding with Jews and/or Israel.

That’s why the timing of al-Jazeera‘s wild allegations of corruption and collusion between Egypt and Israel this week should particularly worry Greste’s supporters. On June 9, al-Jazeera aired an hour-long “investigative report” titled “Egypt’s Lost Power”, which was described on its website as follows:

Clayton Swisher from al Jazeera‘s Investigative Unit explores the corrupt deals that plunged Egypt into an energy crisis and now leave it facing dependency on Israel

It was aired in tandem with a multimedia report which contended that Egypt’s previous gas deals with Israel following Israel’s 1981 withdrawal from the Sinai was damaging to Egypt’s economy and energy security while enriching Israeli businessmen and Egyptian officials.

The al-Jazeera report then went further, contending that the gas mismanagement precipitated the energy crisis which was essential to deposing former president (and Muslim Brotherhood functionary) Mohammed Morsi and allowed Egyptian leader and newly elected president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to enrich his cronies while making Egypt dependent on Israel’s new offshore gas fields.

It has also spawned further articles on the website, such as the documentary’s Director and Executive Producer Phil Rees’ “Egypt-Israel ‘peace dividends’ enrich elite” on June 10.

The response has been predictable. Among the comments on the al-Jazeera website to Rees’ article were “Al-Sisi’s elder brother is PM of Israel and Al-Sisi is all out to protect Israel’s interests in Middle East,” and “Al-Sisi’s mother is a Jew from Morocco”, while on al-Jazeera‘s Facebook page, there were comments such as “Sisi sold out by his step father Israel” and “Egypt is a Zionist occupied land. Sisi and his soldiers are Zionist mercenaries.”

Indeed, al-Jazeera‘s report has begun to circulate throughout the Arab world, particularly by Muslim Brotherhood supporters and those who would seek to discredit Egypt’s current government. Among the English-language Arab websites, this has included the UK-based website Middle East Monitor.

Meanwhile, the new UK-based David Hearst/Ramzy Baroud pro-Palestinian Arabist venture Middle East Eye rode in on al-Jazeera‘s coattails with its own series of articles on the subject.

Given the close bonds between Egypt’s judicial system and the Sisi government, it’s difficult to imagine that this negative publicity will improve Greste’s chances of acquittal or receiving a light sentence if convicted (the prosecutor has reportedly asked for 15 years).

While it’s certainly al-Jazeera‘s prerogative to report as it chooses, the arguably reckless timing of the release of this provocative series will probably not endear the employer to their imprisoned employees, or raise hopes among those deeply concerned over this case.

Overall, it appears that, despite the loud trumpeting of the undoubted injustice that its reporters, including Greste, are experiencing in Egypt, their fate appears less important to al-Jazeera management than the imperative to publish conspiratorial material which serves Qatari political interests.

Ahron Shapiro