mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Egypt under Sisi
Egypt’s Upper Hand

Egypt might be moving toward releasing imprisoned journalists in return for recent pledges of Qatari and Western support—but it’s not fully there yet. As The Wall Street Journal reports:

An Egyptian appeals court ordered a retrial on Thursday for three Al Jazeera English journalists who were convicted in June of aiding a terrorist organization by spreading false news, a case that was widely condemned as politically motivated.

At the hearing, which lasted only minutes, the journalists weren’t granted bail pending their retrial and the judge didn’t explain his decision.

Al Jazeera is based in and funded by Qatar, which until recently had been highly supportive of the former Muslim Brotherhood government and critical of the Sisi regime. Now though, under pressure from the Saudis, the Qataris seem to be trying to make up—and probably not coincidentally, Al Jazeera agreed to close  Mubasher Misr, its “Live Egypt” channel.

This move, then, might be a reciprocal gesture from Egypt’s politicized judiciary; it probably also is a thank-you to the West. One of the journalists has Canadian citizenship, and another Australian; those countries have brought pressure on Egypt to release the journalists, as has the United States. Recently, the U.S. delivered the long-delayed, much-sought Apache helicopters, the withholding of which was seen as a major diplomatic stumbling block in Egypt’s relations with the West, to the Egyptian military.

But if this is a conciliatory gesture, it’s a small and conditional one. The Sisi government clearly thinks it has the upper hand, and isn’t afraid to draw out the process, presumably to maximize the value of its ongoing, high-stakes diplomatic negotiations.

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