The BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera launched a concerted campaign against Egypt for arresting journalists who arrived in country on tourist visas, set up shop in a hotel room without accreditation and filed scathing reports that were aired on a channel banned in the country for airing Muslim Brotherhood propaganda.
Tens of foreign journalists gathered outside the BBC’s headquarters in London with their mouths taped in protest. Others posted photographs of themselves on social media holding banners with the slogan “Journalism is not a crime”.
Heads of State, including US President Barack Obama and then UK Prime Minister David Cameron, got in on the action with condemnatory statements against the Egyptian government, not to mention implied threats. The fuss was such you’d be forgiving for thinking the detainees were kept hanging from their ankles or routinely electrocuted.
President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi was constantly slammed for not releasing those detained despite his expressions of regret that they weren’t deported and his insistence that he was not empowered to offer presidential pardons until the judicial process ran its course.
Well now it appears that there is one set of values being applied to Cairo and quite another to Ankara. Where are the hordes supporting freedom of the media now? No taped-up mouths in evidence. No ‘heroic’ campaigns in the name of freedom of expression. Silence apart from a few token articles and news segments.
Turkish authorities have ordered the closure of 131 newspapers, news agencies, publishers, and television and radio stations, which, obviously the western media does not consider a headliner. Arrest warrants have been issued for 89 media executives, journalists, columnists and employees. Amnesty International has called this purge “a brazen attack on press freedom”.
I can only imagine the international uproar were Egypt to take a similar path. When Egyptian police knocked on the door of the Press Syndicate and went in to quietly arrest two wanted criminals there was an international brouhaha ignited by the western media.
At the time when Egypt’s press freedoms were the topic of a whipped-up furore over its arrest of Australian Peter Greste and his two colleagues, Cairo was falsely painted as the world’s worst offender. In reality, Iran ranks 169th, China 176th and North Korea 179th in the 2016 World Press Index, all way below Egypt, while Turkey ranks slightly higher in the report compiled prior to the latest crackdown.
Moreover, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists 2015 Prison census cited Turkey as the top jailer of journalists for two years running with 14 behind bars as opposed to five in Egypt. In 2013, Turkey also topped that ‘honours list’ for the second year running.
In May, two respected Turkish journalists working for the Ankara bureau of the Cumhuriyet daily, Erdem Gul and Can Dundar, were sentenced to five years and five years and ten months respectively for revealing state secrets. A month later, the editor-in-chief of the Kurdish paper Ozgur Gundem was arrested along with two journalists charged as terrorist propagandists. Authors, screenwriters and human rights defenders have also been jailed.
The treatment meted out to Egypt by western governments and their media, as opposed to the way Turkey is treated, smacks of gross double standards. A glaring example is the cancellation of flights to the Red Sea resort of Sharm Al Shaikh in response to the downing of a Russian passenger plane.
Britain started the ball rolling even before the investigation had got off the ground, followed by other European countries and Russia that stopped all flights to and from Egypt. Malaysia lost three planes in a single year. Germany lost one that crashed into southern France. Paris airport came under terrorist attack and so did Istanbul airport. Those countries rightly receive offers of help and sympathy.
Egypt has received nothing from either the UK or Russia apart from a conveyor belt of airport inspection teams and promises. Sharm Al Shaikh and neighbouring resorts are struggling to survive in spite of the country’s massive investment in airport security and the country is suffering from a lack of foreign reserves.
Many British expats who’ve made their home in Egypt are fuming over Boris Johnson’s characterisation of Egypt as being in crisis during a joint press conference with John Kerry days after the attempted coup in Turkey. The British press assumed he’d made a mistake and was referring to Turkey, but, no, the Foreign Office reaffirmed that he did, indeed, mean Egypt. The outraged Brits have posted a petition on the UK government website headed “Make Boris Johnson apologise to the People of Egypt for his untrue comments”.
Erdogan has recently accused the head of the US Central Command General Joe Votel for siding with the coup plotters. “Know your place!” he snapped. “We appreciate Turkey’s continuing cooperation and look forward to our future partnership ...” was the general’s reply. The Turkish President has also cautioned western leaderships to “mind your own business!”
Turkey gets the kid gloves treatment, whereas Egypt’s economic progress is being constantly undermined; that’s as clear as day; perhaps because Nato member Turkey — which houses America’s tactical nukes at its Incirlik airbase, stems the flow of refugees to Europe and is looking to get cosy with Russia — has more leverage. No room for values in geopolitical power plays!