Egypt deports journalist Peter Greste. Will it free his Al Jazeera colleagues?
Peter Greste, an Australian reporter, was convicted last year in a widely criticized trial that underscored authorities' determination to crack down on dissent after a 2013 coup. Many other journalists and activists have been detained.
Two other Al Jazeera reporters were convicted last year along with Mr. Greste of abetting the Muslim Brotherhood – the now-banned Islamist movement that controlled Egypt's presidency until July 2013. Their trial was widely criticized by human rights groups as a sham; Al Jazeera launched a global campaign urging Egypt not to make journalism a crime.
Yet even as US and other Western powers chided Egypt's crackdown on dissent, including the jailing of the Al Jazeera journalists, they also swung their support behind Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army general who led the popular 2013 coup and was later elected as president.
It's unclear if Egypt's apparent concession to Australia, which had called repeatedly for Greste's release, extends to Mohamed Fahmy, who holds joint Canadian and Egyptian citizenship. The other detainee, producer Baher Mohamed, is Egyptian. Al Jazeera said it welcomed Greste's release, but "will not rest until Baher and Mohamed also regain their freedom," reports the Associated Press.
President Sisi said in November that he would consider pardons for Greste and Fahmy. Egypt's top appeals court recently ordered a retrial of the three men citing procedural errors.
The Christian Science Monitor reported that the court's verdict in June 2014 on the three Al Jazeera journalists was seen largely through a prism of domestic and regional politics.
Lawyers and rights groups say the evidence in today’s case was flimsy, and that this was a politicized trial intended to punish Egypt’s archrival Qatar, which owns the Al Jazeera network.
Qatar is a staunch supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, and has offered sanctuary to parts of its senior leadership as they escape Egypt, where the group has been blacklisted as a terrorist organization.
Sunday's deportation come on the heels of a major attack on Egyptian troops in restless Sinai. The bombing and mortar attack last Thursday killed at least 30 military personnel and prompted Sisi to cut short his attendance of an African Union summit in Ethiopia. He has publicly blamed the violence on the Muslim Brotherhood, even though an insurgent group newly affiliated with the Islamic State had claimed responsibility.
While the release of Greste is likely to be widely applauded, Egypt continues to hold thousands of other prisoners that human rights groups say have not received a fair trial and should be considered as political prisoners. As the Monitor's Dan Murphy wrote last month, Egypt has come full circle since its much lauded 2011 uprising against a previous strongman, Hosni Mubarak.
Since the coup, the clock of political change has been relentlessly turned back, with almost every avenue for political dissent shut down and the heroes of what many Egyptians called a revolution in jail, in exile, or simply keeping their heads down. Twitter and Facebook aren't mobilizing tools for social protest – they are places where activists can be tripped up by sharing political views.
Mr. Mubarak's two sons were convicted last year of corruption. Last week they walked free after their conviction was declared invalid.