What’s next for two Al Jazeera journalists still imprisoned in Egypt?

After the release of Peter Greste, Jeffrey Brown talks to Borzou Daragahi of the Financial Times in Cairo about the intense international pressure put on Egypt to release the jailed Al Jazeera journalists, and the decision to impose a mass death sentence on violent protesters.

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    We invited Egypt's ambassador to the United States to appear on tonight's program. The embassy didn't respond to our request.

    Joining us now from Cairo is Borzou Daragahi, Middle East and North Africa correspondent for The Financial Times.

    And, Borzou, welcome.

    There's been conjecture that the release of Peter Greste was tied to Al-Jazeera's closing of its Egyptian channel. Make that connection for us. And what's known at this point about what led to his release?

  • BORZOU DARAGAHI, Financial Times:

    Well, we know that there have been intense negotiations on multiple planes.

    There have been ongoing talks in Doha and other parts of the Arabian Peninsula, other cities there, between Egyptian, Qatari, Saudi and Emirate officials for months now in an attempt to work out this conflict that has created this breach between Qatar on the one hand and Turkey to some extent, although Turkey wasn't involved in the talks, and the other so-called pro-U.S. moderate Arab states, and that these talks have included, for example, lawyers, international lawyers working on various issues, including the billions of dollars now from Qatar that are in the Central Bank of Egypt.

    And we also know that there's been intense attempts by Canadian, Australian and other Western officials trying to get this issue resolved, to get this — get these journalists freed, and this has been going on for many months now. Every single Western diplomat that's come here has raised this issue. The Western journalists, as well as many civil liberties NGOs, constantly bring up the matters of these three journalists.

    So there's been intense pressure on the government here.


    And what's the situation for the other two Al-Jazeera journalists at this point? What's the likelihood of their release?


    Well, based on the indications that I'm getting, it looks very much possible that one of those journalists, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, who is a Canadian-Egyptian dual national, may very well be free, on the condition potentially that he would have to renounce his Egyptian citizenship and leave the country as a Canadian, as just a Canadian citizen.

    Now, I happen to know Mohamed Fadel Fahmy. And this must be such a tough decision for him, because he is truly someone who loves this country, loves Egypt, loves being an Egyptian. And this must be such a harsh thing for him to do, to have to renounce that Egyptian citizenship.

    As for the other one, Baher Mohamed, we don't know what is going to happen to him. He has in many ways the worst situation. He has only an Egyptian passport. He's been sentenced to 10 years in prison. He has three children, including one that was born while he has been in captivity.

    And he wouldn't be obviously part of any such extradition deal that Peter Greste got and that Mohamed Fadel Fahmy might get.


    Now, today, we also saw the mass death sentence for Muslim Brotherhood supporters. This is clearly part of the continuing crackdown there. Does President Al-Sisi still have a lot of public support for this?


    Well, I think that he does have a lot of public support.

    I think, in part, the local media here is sort of complicit in whipping up hysteria, in making a lot of incitement on air, in whipping up anger from the public against any kind of dissidents, any kind of leftists or Islamists or secular activists who challenge the current status quo.

    And so I think there is still a lot of support for it publicly, but, interestingly, perhaps less support than there was six months ago, as Egypt's economy, at least the macroeconomic improvements that we have been seeing, have not really trickled down to street level yet.


    And just very briefly, Borzou, we saw the U.S. State Department expressing its concern and anger over this. Does our government — is it being heard? Does it have any influence in these matters?


    I think it does. And I think there are well-meaning people around Sisi and perhaps Sisi himself who are aware of how bad these sorts of things look, these mass sentencings of scores of people to death, these continued detentions of people, including, for example, one photojournalist — his name is Mahmoud Abu Zied — who has been in prison for 540 days.

    Apparently, his mental health is failing. And he spends most of his days sitting in a corner of the cell basically just suffering and has not yet been formally charged with a crime yet. But I think that there are forces within the security establishment and the judiciary and the Interior Ministry and the intelligence services who have a very hard-line approach to any kind of opposition to the current status quo.


    Borzou Daragahi of The Financial Times in Cairo, thanks so much.


    It's been a pleasure.