AFTER three journalists for Al-Jazeera English were sentenced for between 7 and 10 years in jail on charges of aiding terrorists and endangering national security last week, the Egyptian judiciary not only suppressed the media but also signalled that autocratic days for the country are looming at large. The judicial decision on sentencing the journalists without any political interference cannot and will not stand.
This verdict in many respects hints at how the future Egypt under Mr. Al-Sisi and his government will act like. Firstly, this verdict is most likely to stand as an obstruction in the path of Egypt's transition to democracy. Secondly, it also confirms Egypt under its new ruler is not prepared to take leadership roles in Africa and the Middle East.
Britain, Australia, US and Canada have all denounced the conviction of last week while saying that they will create pressure on Egypt for changing the verdict. But rationally speaking, if the Egyptian government somehow decides to retrace its steps and releases the imprisoned journalists, then that too will have to come by influencing the judiciary. No matter what happens, clearly Egypt's space for press freedom has shrunken.
In particular, it was amusing to follow a group of critics in the international media agencies assuming that the journalists were actually casualties of a geopolitical battle between Egypt and Qatar, which owns the Al-Jazeera network. If we take this supposition to be true then Mr. Sisi and his anti-Muslim Brotherhood elements should have deported the journalists and stopped Al-Jazeera functioning in Egypt. This would have, at least, prevented Sisi's government from directly attacking the freedom of speech in that country.
For this writer it was the timing of the verdict that was quite fascinating to follow. Barely 24 hours had passed the after US decided to approve a $575 million military aid to Egypt crashing came the verdict for the journos. A dictator behind the façade of a democratic leader often behaves idiotically. Thus his true colours got revealed considering what he plans to do with anyone who stands as his opposition.
What Egypt needs today is a fair exposure of facts on what its leaders plan to do with its people; and what can a better tool other than the various forms of journalism if given the opportunity to practice it freely and fairly. However, the underlying message is that if the Al-Jazeera journalists were persecuted for simply doing their job then the Egyptian regime had wrongfully attempted to jail journalism -- and whoever does that usually fails in his/her endeavours.
The writer is Current Affairs Analyst, The Daily Star