Geopolitics

Why The Third Jailed Al Jazeera Journalist Is Being Singled Out

Australian colleague Peter Greste has been deported, and Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy is expected to be released to Canada. But Baher Mohamed, the third Al Jazeera prisoner, is being treated differently for what appears to be a very simple reason.

Baher Mohamed (left) and Mohamed Fahmy in a Cairo court in March 2014.
Baher Mohamed (left) and Mohamed Fahmy in a Cairo court in March 2014.
Dalia Rabie

CAIROConvicted Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste is back in Australia, and reports suggest that fellow journalist Mohamed Fahmy will soon follow suit and be deported to Canada. But uncertainty still looms over the fate of their Egyptian colleague, Baher Mohamed.

The three men were arrested on Dec. 29, 2013, while reporting on the violent aftermath of former President Mohamed Morsi's ouster for Al Jazeera's English division. Prosecuted on terrorism-related charges for spreading false news with the intent of destabilizing the country, the international community was outraged when they were sentenced to seven years in prison.

Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer for Al Jazeera, received an extra three years for accusations that he possessed a bullet at the time of his arrest, meaning he received a 10-year sentence.

Greste was released from prison and deported Sunday in accordance with a recently passed law that allows foreigners to be deported at any point during their prosecution or detention at the request of their home countries.

Judicial sources say the deportation law doesn't apply to dual citizens, which is why Fahmy, who also holds Canadian citizenship, has renounced his Egyptian nationality in a bid for his release.

Jihan Rashed, Mohamed's wife, is frustrated at the injustice. "Are foreigners the only human beings? Is the Egyptian not a human being as well?" she asks.

Rashed laments that little attention has been given to the Egyptian citizen in this case, suggesting that Greste was only released to "shut up the foreign media."

"But how about you actually look into the case?" she demands.

On Thursday, Jihan Rashad launched an international appeal in search of a country that would grant a passport to her husband that might help lead to his release.

When President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued the decree last November to facilitate the deportation of foreign detainees, Greste and Fahmy's families and lawyers fought to invoke the new legislation.

"They went to their countries and their embassies," Rashed says. "But who do I go to? I want my voice to reach the prosecutor general and the Journalists Syndicate. I want my embassy."

Not alone

A group of journalists is now trying to put the spotlight on Mohamed's situation, calling for social media users to circulate his picture and raise awareness about his ordeal.

"His name is Baher Mohamed," former head of BBC Arabic Online, Hossam al-Sokkari, wrote on his Facebook page. "Unfortunately, you haven't heard about him a lot, even though he is in the same case as Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy."

Sokkari lamented that Greste's and Fahmy's names are more widespread, simply because they have foreign nationalities.

Journalists Syndicate board member Khaled al-Balshy also decries Mohamed's continued detention, especially after Greste's release. "You can't release one and have the other two remain in jail when they were all imprisoned in the same case," Balshy says.

"Egyptian nationality cannot be an obstacle that prevents your release," he argues. "Egyptian nationality has now turned into punishment."

But Mostafa Nagy, a member of the journalists' defense team, points out that Greste was "deported," not "pardoned." Legally, he should either be retried in his home country or serve the rest of his sentence there, he says.

Balshy says that the journalists' campaign calls not only for Mohamed's release, but also for the pardon of all Egyptian journalists behind bars.

The Journalists Syndicate has compiled a list of all the imprisoned journalists, including those who aren't syndicate members, and has presented it to the general prosecutor and other governmental entities, Balshy says.

"We are not just calling for imprisoned journalists to be released. We are calling for an environment that prevents the arrests of journalists in the first place," he explains.

Where's the retrial?

In January, the Court of Cassation accepted the defendants' appeal against their guilty verdict and ordered a retrial. But Rashed says that she isn't sure what to expect for her husband, the syndicate's campaign notwithstanding.

Mohamed's fate now rests solely with the judiciary, says Rashed, who's wondering how the court will handle the case in light of recent developments.

"One of the defendants has been released, and the other is in the process of being deported," she says. "How can you still prosecute the producer who was working under them?"

Nagy reiterates Rashed's assertion that Baher's only chance for release lies in the retrial. He says that the defense team would demand his release pending the trial.

Following Greste's deportation, Al Jazeera released a statement demanding the release of the two remaining journalists.

"We will not rest until Baher and Mohamed also regain their freedom," wrote Mostefa Souag, acting director general of Al Jazeera Media Network. "The Egyptian authorities have it in their power to finish this properly today, and that is exactly what they must do."

Rashed says that Al Jazeera is working on Mohamed's case and won't rest until he's free, but that "they only hear the news, like us."

Amnesty International also released a statement calling for Fahmy and Mohamed's immediate and unconditional release.

While hailing Greste's release, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, kept the pressure on authorities. "It is vital that in the celebratory fanfare surrounding his deportation, the world does not forget the continuing ordeal of Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy, who remain behind bars at Tora Prison in Cairo."

Mohamed has three young children. He missed the birth of his youngest son in August 2014 while he was in prison.

In his first interview since his release, Greste called on the authorities to set Fahmy and Mohamed free.

"I feel incredible angst about my colleagues, leaving them behind," Al Jazeera reported Greste as saying. "Amid all this relief, I still feel a sense of concern and worry. If it's appropriate for me to be free, it's right for all of them to be freed."

In a press conference, Greste's family also confirmed that he would not rest until his colleagues were released.

As for Rashed, she says she will keep fighting for her and her children. "I wish I could be proud of my Egyptian nationality," she says. "I want there to be justice and dignity, but this is not the case. This is my right and my children's rights. I want my rights in my own country."

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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