In his second letter from Egypt’s Tora Prison, Al Jazeera’s Peter Greste writes: Journalists are never supposed to become the story. Apart from the print reporter’s byline or the broadcaster’s sign-off, we are supposed to remain in the background as witnesses to or agents for the news: never as its subject.
That’s why I find all the attention following our incarceration all very unsettling. This isn’t to suggest I am ungrateful. All of us who were arrested in the interior ministry’s sweep of Al Jazeera’s staff on December 29 are hugely encouraged by and grateful for the overwhelming show of support from across the globe. From the letter signed by 46 of the region’s most respected and influential foreign correspondents calling for our immediate release; to the petition from Australian colleagues; the letter writing and online campaigns and family press conferences – all of it has been both humbling and empowering.
We know we are not alone.
But what is galling is that we are into our fourth week behind bars for what I consider to be some pretty mundane reporting.
I’ve produced work in the past that has involved lots of detailed investigation, considerable risk, and not a small amount of sweat, that I wished the authorities would have been even a little bit offended by. Yet too often it has slipped out with infuriatingly little response.
This assignment to Cairo had been relatively routine – an opportunity to get to know Egyptian politics a little better. But, with only three weeks on the ground, hardly time to do anything other than tread water. So when a squad of plainclothes agents forced their way into my room, I was at first genuinely confused and later even a little annoyed that it wasn’t for some more significant slight.
This is not a trivial point. The fact that we were arrested for what seems to be a set of relatively uncontroversial stories tells us a lot about what counts as “normal” and what is dangerous in post-revolutionary Egypt. [Continue reading…]