June 23rd, 2014
06:06 PM ET

Zakaria: The old Egypt is back

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about Monday's conviction in Egypt of three Al Jazeera English journalists accused of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood.

Fareed, what does this ruling in Egypt, going against these Al Jazeera journalists, say about what's going on in Egypt right now? A new president has just been elected.

It tells us the old Egypt is back. That is, the deep state – the state of Mubarak and Nasr, the state that ruled in an uninterrupted military dictatorship – is back because despite the claims they're moving toward democracy and trying to create genuine transition to pluralism, freedom of the press is entirely under siege and under attack from the state.

Look at the charges. These journalists, who are very fine professional journalists, are being essentially charged for criminal activity for aiding terrorists, which is entirely untrue. Two of them sentenced to seven years. One was sentenced to an additional 10 years. Do you know why? He was charged with possession of ammunition. Why? While covering these protests this man found a spent casing, in other words a used shell. He happened to put it in his pocket as a souvenir. For that act, he has been sentenced to an additional three years in jail. This is how absurd these charges are.

Is there a possibility this can be overturned and these three journalists can be freed?

They're all really fine professional journalists whose only sin was to commit journalism. That's all they were doing – covering the story. The phase Egypt is going through right now, judges have been doing mass sentencing where they sentence hundreds of people to death at a time, just shows how ludicrous the whole process is. Some of those sentence haves been overturned on appeal. That’s possible in this case.

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It's also possible that the president, frankly, could summarily dismiss the whole thing. Egypt has turned into a dictatorship, which means if President el-Sisi decides he wants to dispense with these sentences, he will do it. So I think if there was enough international pressure brought to bear – I think Secretary Kerry has been very good, but privately should be pushing them harder. I think it wouldn't hurt if President Obama were to speak out on this.

The issue of freedom of press is at the heart of building a new democracy. If that's what Egypt wants to do and they will not allow journalists to operate freely, they will not allow the free flow of information, then the whole thing is a sham.

The White House today began with a statement saying, "The White House strongly condemns the conviction and sentencing of these Al Jazeera journalists in Cairo," adding the verdict "flouts the most basic standards of media freedom." Here's the sensitive issue. We know Egypt is an important strategic partner in that part of the world. The United States provides Egypt with a lot of military and economic foreign aid. If Egypt continues to arrest journalists for simply doing journalism, sentencing them to seven or 10 years in prison, there will be outrage in the United States, and a lot of that pressure for foreign aid for Egypt will go away.

That's true. It's a very complicated subject. Egypt gets a lot of that foreign aid because it signed the Camp David Accords, returning land to Israel. It's tied in with a broader strategic puzzle. It will be difficult to withhold the aid without unraveling that, including the peace treaty with Israel.

However, I think it's very important for the United States to send a signal that the United States does not believe Egypt is on the right track, that these are terrible, terrible mistakes. As Secretary Kerry said, they're losing faith with the people of Egypt. I think it would be perfectly reasonable to suspend a variety of programs – the U.S. has some military aid, non-military aid, other kinds of contact. Because it's not just bad for journalists. It's terrible for Egypt. When you think about it, in terms of attracting tourists, part of the lifeblood of Egypt's economy – all this is sending exactly the wrong signals.

Topics: Egypt

soundoff (134 Responses)
  1. Tahir

    Military rule is the only solution for greater US interests.

    June 25, 2014 at 7:04 am |
  2. john smith

    Stay away from Egypt for sure!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    June 25, 2014 at 7:15 am |
  3. Rafiq

    "It (Egypt) signed the Camp David Accords, RETURNING LAND TO ISRAEL"!!!!!!!
    You definetly need to see a psychiatrist.

    June 25, 2014 at 7:18 am |
  4. Greg Simon

    Your ideas and Obama are same failed ideas. Middle East burning, oil prices up because of stupid American policies.

    Mr Zakaria leave Egypt to his own. How much more $$$ u must spend and Americans must die to teach the world American failed Democracy. What democracy I should say teach the world Chicago style corruption.

    June 25, 2014 at 7:22 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      Well put, Greg. Thank you.

      June 25, 2014 at 8:19 am |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini@

        I did not write that.

        June 25, 2014 at 11:26 am |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

        But I did! Greg has it right.

        June 25, 2014 at 12:40 pm |
    • daren

      well done

      June 26, 2014 at 8:46 am |
    • Tom

      Excellent coverage Zakaria. Egypt is ruled by cannibals again. Morsi, good or bad was elected by a wide margin. They threw him away and forced the western agenda on Egypt. If anybody is thinking that Egypt will be normal, they are just wrong. The fall of Morsi will wipe out the dictatorship of middle east for good. Saudis injected 18 billion to topple Morsi. Shame.

      July 2, 2014 at 9:33 am |
  5. Joe

    It is funny how anyone and everyone become an expert in Egypt affair. Mr. Zakaria leave Egypt alone. They are doing the best as they can.

    June 25, 2014 at 8:25 am |
  6. Shireef

    Why do you people focus on what Fareed Zakaria says and twist it? This is his and CNN'S opinion(s) about the situation in Egypt especially when it comes to freedom of press and speech. Needless to say, however, that is being attacked by the mockery of a court system in Egypt with the trial of the Aljazeera reporters. He is speaking in defence, in my humble opinion, of his fellow journalists. I for one, am not a journalist but I stand in solidarity with freedom of speech and press anywhere in this world. Great piece Mr. Zakaria!

    June 25, 2014 at 9:31 am |
  7. Bram

    Who are you to judge "fine proffecional journilists" your history is week, your facts wrong...Egypt didnt give land back to Isreal. Israel gave land back to Egypt. Who granted you the wisdom to judge the Egyptian courts, on what basis do you claim their innocence. Do you have any facts or is it your known unbalanced and biased reporting comming through. I dont know the real truth about what happened so I wouldnt comment and nor should yoy. "The old Egypt" as you call it was far better off than the Morsi Egypt, a terror based theocracy. Now Sisi isnt perfect and Democracy doest take hold overnight.. Its better to try a new path than to tred one based on terror and exclusion...ie Iraq. Sisi needs to unite the country but within an atmosphere of peace and progress and not of division and terror. Your supposed journialism is a joke as is much of the reports out of aljazira and cnn.

    June 25, 2014 at 10:16 am |
    • Marvin

      Bram, You are absolutely right. "Old Egypt" was certainly better than the "interim Egypt" which was nothing but a terror based theocracy of Muslim Brotherhood. "New Egypt" under Sisi has at least a chance for peace and stability.

      June 25, 2014 at 11:34 am |
      • robaby

        Terror based theocracy? Are u kidding me? Morsi never even implemented Sharia law and he was even keeping peace with Israel. Has your hatred of muslims blinded you?

        June 25, 2014 at 12:10 pm |
      • Thinker23

        Robaby... Morsi simply did not have time to implement the Sharia laws. He did not have enough time to revoke the peace treaty with Israel as well. Such things can not be done overnight. There is little doubt, however, that he WOULD implement both if he was given enough time and opportunity

        June 26, 2014 at 12:52 pm |
      • Socrates

        Finally the US has a real friend. The US has to start picking its friends more carefully, please, people.

        June 27, 2014 at 8:38 pm |
  8. Marvin

    Glad to see that the old Egypt is back. Good to see that a secular leader like Sisi has ended the brutal and violent theocracy of Muslim Brotherhood. Now he is dealing with the propaganda machine, aka Al Jazeera, of the Muslim Brotherhood also. He is doing everything he can to stabilize Egypt and establish peace there. I am truly thankful that Sisi put these anarchists in the guise of journalists behind bars.

    June 25, 2014 at 11:30 am |
  9. Silverado

    The so called Al Jazeera Journalists were caught with bullet casings in their possession. That's evidence!! Can't ignore evidence. These Qatar funded agents were there to make news by creating chaos – they were not there to report news. They were only disguised as journalists. Their disguise did not work.

    June 25, 2014 at 11:39 am |
    • Thinker23

      How exactly could these journalists harm the great country of Egypt and its brave leader Sisi with the used bullet casing, in your opinion?

      June 26, 2014 at 12:55 pm |
  10. robaby

    Sisi regime just sentenced a christian copt to death for being a Brotherhood member, how's that kangaroo court going?

    June 25, 2014 at 12:13 pm |
  11. Tarik Toulan

    Fareed Zakaria is a half-baked analyst who utterly fails to judge the current state of affairs in Egypt. He also fails to realize that Egypt's democratic process was kidnapped for one year by the backward, fascistic MB regime, and is now retrieved in full under the leadership of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, where the rule of law prevails for the first time in Egypt since the days of Nasser.

    June 25, 2014 at 5:03 pm |
    • reason1984

      Fareed Zakaria is a mouthpiece for the Muslim brotherhood.

      June 27, 2014 at 8:13 am |
  12. Thinker23

    When the former dictator Mubarak was removed from power I've said that sooner rather than later the people of Egypt would be cheering the new military dictator.

    I was right...

    June 26, 2014 at 12:58 pm |
    • GoodGuy

      You are so ... smart. So are Egyptians.

      June 26, 2014 at 3:07 pm |
  13. Jerry Levy

    Mr. Zakaria, there is only one Middle Eastern country with real press freedom, that would be Israel.

    June 26, 2014 at 1:02 pm |
    • Sean Lu

      Has it to do with that Israel has also received largest sum of the US foreign aid?

      July 1, 2014 at 1:33 pm |
  14. GoodGuy

    So, Egypt is back to where she was and some hundreds or thousands people got killed for the taste of ... Arab Spring journey.

    June 26, 2014 at 3:09 pm |
  15. USAPeasant

    The journalists should be free, but leave El-Sisi be for now. To his defense Egypt has seen enough turmoil, it must be a hard spot to be in seeing as all ready two have lost their Throne in this decade's Game of Thrones. It is good to be merciful though, let that be a sign to keep Egypt from the chaos. The one who is the good servant for Egypt's Thone must love God and love his neighbor.

    June 28, 2014 at 7:20 am |
  16. Hank

    FZ is a shill for the MB

    June 28, 2014 at 12:40 pm |
  17. Hank

    Globalist lapdog 2

    June 28, 2014 at 12:42 pm |
  18. Hank

    Did I mention plagiarist?

    June 28, 2014 at 12:42 pm |
  19. Mohamed

    I have a better story for you Fareed try to explain the 15 cars belonged to US embassy in Cairo in January 2011 killing Egyptian people in a clear "Hit and Run" american style ... for your small head these cars are protected by codes changeable every day by US embassy ...

    June 30, 2014 at 5:04 am |
  20. moody aglan

    If Mr zakaria knows anything about the terrorists, he talks about Egyptian affairs, how about he comes to Egypt and while he is walking down the street and a bomb explodes right next to him, he would not be talking about democracy but about retaliation not human rights jumbo nonsense

    July 1, 2014 at 6:03 pm |
  21. tinykhan

    I don't mind restricting the press in some countries. Reasoning is they use the press to whip crowds into a frenzy that ends up getting people killed, buildings burned, and too much conflict. Report about a cartoon of Mohammad....riots and an embassy gets attacked. Report about lack of of some subsidy, neighborhoods go to war. Can one really blame the govts for just trying to keep the calm by not spreading rumors and stories?

    July 2, 2014 at 1:45 pm |
  22. Nanson Hwa

    Freedom of the Press does not mean journalists have the privilege of fabricating stories, misrepresenting the facts or distorting the truth. It does mean however, to print the facts as they are when they conform to reality of the situation without personal bias.

    July 3, 2014 at 1:25 am |
  23. Pedro

    The US turned a blind eye on the cup de etat that the military orchestrated, just because we did not like the ideas or the policies of the elected president. The US should stop acting to change regimes. I love our system, but other people from other countries may have a different idea about their lives should be lived.
    Now we have a military dictatorship oppressing the press and the people.

    July 3, 2014 at 9:12 am |
  24. Joseph gdhttfgh

    Need to nuke all these radical Islamic and other countries now. If we don't it's only a matter of time until they detonate a dirty bomb or worse yet, an EMP device and send us back to the Stone Age.

    July 5, 2014 at 11:05 am |
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