Two former Al-Jazeera employees were in Washington last week to accuse the Qatar-based news network of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which some in Congress want to designate as a terrorist group.
The two men have separate lawsuits against Al-Jazeera.
Speaking to reporters at the National Press Club on June 22, former Al-Jazeera English bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy pointed to a 2009 interview with Egyptian theologian Yusuf Al Qaradawi, who had a regularly broadcasted show, “Sharia and Life,” on Al-Jazeera, as proof the news network had conspired with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood is an Islamist organization banned in Egypt since 2013. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was elected Egypt’s president in 2012. He was overthrown in a military coup in 2013. In the Al-Jazeera interview, Qaradawi was asked if it is acceptable for a person to blow himself up in Syria to target President Bashar al-Assad’s forces at the expense of civilian casualties.
Qaradawi said: “One may blow himself up only if the Al Gamaa [Muslim Brotherhood] needs him to do so.”
That condoning of violence was proof of Al-Jazeera’s conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood, according to Fahmy.
Fahmy himself was accused of belonging to the Brotherhood. He and other Al-Jazeera journalists were in Cairo in 2013 covering protests following Morsi’s overthrow when authorities arrested and charged them with belonging to the Islamist organization.
Fahmy was incarcerated for 438 days and his case was retried before he was pardoned by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2015.
He is suing Al-Jazeera in a Canadian court seeking 100 million Canadian dollars for representing him as a part of the Muslim Brotherhood without his knowledge, among other reasons. Fahmy said his case will have a public hearing in January.
“My colleagues and I, including cameraman Mohamed Fawzi, did not conspire with the Muslim Brotherhood group designated as terrorists,” said Fahmy, who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. “Al-Jazeera did, and on behalf of the Qatari government to control the general direction of the coverage.”
Fawzi, who attended the news conference, was also charged, convicted and sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison. Fawzi fled from Egypt to the United States before he could be imprisoned. His asylum case is pending.
Fawzi is suing Al-Jazeera in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He is seeking a $2.4 million judgement and $5 million in punitive damages. His case has not yet gone to trial.
The two former Al-Jazeera employees’ news conference comes as Qatar is under an economic and travel blockade by neighbors Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. One of their demands is that Qatar shut down Al-Jazeera.
Asked how the Qatar blockade affects his case, Fahmy said his case is against Al-Jazeera and what happens to Qatar is not relevant.
But Fahmy and Fawzi’s Washington attorney, Martin McMahon, warned Qatari leaders that the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act could be invoked against Qatar. The act allows U.S. citizens to sue foreign governments in U.S. courts if the government sponsored an act of international terrorism.
Foreign governments are normally immune from being sued in U.S. courts under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
McMahon said that Fahmy has compiled affidavits and emails from former Al-Jazeera employees and Egyptian officials as evidence to prove Al-Jazeera was conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood.
McMahon said the documents are a “criminal indictment against Qatari leaders and the Muslim Brotherhood leaders for sponsoring international terrorism.”
McMahon said Fahmy’s “dossier” will also empower Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to deem Al-Jazeera and Qatari officials as a “specially designated global terrorist.”
As a result, their properties in the United States can be foreclosed upon and bank accounts closed, he said.
Some in Congress have already tried designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group. Sen. Ted Cruz (R – Texas) introduced the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act in January. The bill has not left committee.
Responding to Fahmy’s lawsuit, an Al-Jazeera spokesman told Reuters that Fahmy should seek compensation from Egyptian authorities rather than go after the news network.
“All governments have news outlets they don’t like, but they don’t use spurious grounds to put journalists in jail,” the spokesman said. “If Fahmy wants to seek monetary compensation from anyone, it should be from his jailers.”