The trend of harassing journalists on the world stage shows no sign of abating following the controversial arrest of noted Al Jazeera journalist Ahmed Mansour in, of all places, Berlin last weekend -- and, remarkably, at Egypt's request. The arrest came after Mansour's interview in Berlin with an expert on Islamist militants from a prominent German think tank.
Egyptian by birth, British citizen by intent, Mansour was clearly baffled when German airport security officers informed him an arrest warrant for him had been issued by his native land. The Egyptian government accuses Mansour of committing several crimes -- charges that defy logic and undermine the very rule of law. Yet why should one be surprised? Since taking power through a military coup, the Egyptian government has conducted a campaign of disappearances, torture, political intimidation and fabricated accusations against journalists, further eroding any credibility (which, frankly, the Egyptian government probably never had), legitimacy (which never existed) and, yes, rule of law (which it has never consistently exercised).
Mansour's arrest came on the heels of a state visit to Germany by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on June 3. The visit drew the ire of many high-profile German politicians vehemently opposed to the dictator's administration. By now, far more troubling questions than answers have arisen following the Mansour affair. The arrest sends a message that even in a country like Germany -- where rule of law is a guiding principle -- democracy sometimes counts for little.
An Egyptian court sentenced Mansour in absentia in 2014 to 15 years in prison for allegedly "torturing a lawyer in 2011 on Tahrir Square" in Cairo, epicenter of an anti-regime uprising that brought down then-president Hosni Mubarak. Mansour also was charged with rape, kidnapping and robbery, accusations that he vehemently denies. It's typical in some Arab countries that one can expect these sorts of tactics when challenging or reporting facts about the government. That's why the narrative in the West about democracy spreading in the Arab/Muslim world is a mighty illusion. Given the paltry evidence in this particular case, any rational individual would find these accusations ludicrous. How convenient it is these days that in order to silence journalists from doing their jobs -- reporting hard facts -- all a dictatorship need do is attach the word "terrorism" to any accusation. Then one's career and life is ruined, possibly forever.
What justice is there in this? More alarming following Germany's detention of Mansour is that British Prime Minister David Cameron has invited the Egyptian dictator to visit Great Britain. It's an invitation some British politicians and citizens find bizarre given Egypt's tarnished image in Europe, including its human rights abuses and obvious disregard for the rule of law, and Britain's own celebration of the 800-year-old Magna Carta. Some Brits understandably allege Germany and the UK are being more than a little hypocritical.
Even our own government displayed hypocrisy when it recently delivered two ships to the Egyptian Navy in addition to our annual $1.5 billion in aid. And how can we forget when the United States intentionally turned a blind eye on the Egyptian military coup that ousted, whatever else, a democratically elected president? These actions raise serious concerns in some Western media outlets including the Financial Times, which criticized the West for its rapprochement with this Egyptian government.
What is at the core of these senseless arrests and fabricated accusations? Relations between Qatar, home of the successful and surprisingly credible Al Jazeera TV channel, and Egypt have been extremely strained over Qatar's support for the former, short-lived Egyptian government under President Mohamed Morsi, now imprisoned.
Similar fates have befallen yet other Al Jazeera journalists, including Australia's Peter Greste and two Canadians of Egyptian descent sentenced in 2013 to up to 10 years in prison on fabricated charges of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. Faced with international uproar over its injustice, the Egyptian court deported Mr. Greste but held on to the two Egyptian-Canadian citizens pending a retrial. Why the silence of Canada and Western democracies over these atrocities? I honestly don't have an answer except to say politicians in these governments are cowards and hypocrites.
Equally worrisome: These tactics (intimation, unjust arrests, and false accusations) go beyond targeting journalists to include academia. Some have argued that at least in the United States we have academic freedom. Do we? Meanwhile, the group, Reporters Without Borders, has lambasted Egypt's sustained abuses of journalists.
To put the arrest of Mansour and the collaboration between Egypt and Germany in context, one needs to understand that Egypt's government is not only illegitimate but weak, which explains why it is trying to pull EU countries -- mainly Germany and the United Kingdom -- into its camp. It is manipulating Germany and others so the latter can provide it with diplomatic cover on the international stage.
The question is why does a Western democracy such as Germany become a tool for Al-Sisi's capricious regime that continues to engage in atrocities and human rights abuses? The bravado and absurd prating about democracy, freedom and other values amount to one thing: power. The democratic foundation on which the Western world has managed to exist is falling apart, principle by principle. Using history as my guide, the Roman Empire crumbled not because of foreign invasion, but from within. The conduct of Germany, the UK and even the U.S. suggests that Rome's fate also awaits them.
The good news, however, is Germany realized its mistake and immediately released Mansour. That's a small but important victory for journalism and justice -- at least, for the moment.