A day after giving Al Jazeera 'green light' to broadcast, Egypt detains its journalist
Egyptian security forces detained an Al Jazeera journalist late Sunday, according to a press freedom watchdog, on the same weekend the Qatari broadcaster reported live from Cairo after an eight-year ban.
Rabee Al-Shaykh, an interview producer, was arrested on arrival at Cairo airport, the Arab Media Freedom Monitor (Ikshef) said. He had flown in from Doha to visit family.
Al-Shaykh was immediately transferred to the headquarters of Egypt's National Security Agency and questioned for several hours. The notorious State Security Prosecution (SSP) later ordered his detention for a period of 15 days on charges of spreading "fake news".
Ikshef said the incident ran contrary to the improvement of Egypt-Qatar relations, including the reinstatement of the country's respective ambassadors. It was particularly worrying since it came a day after Al Jazeera broadcasted live from the Egyptian capital, Ikshef added.
According to Egyptian security sources, the live reporting from Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Aqla precedes the planned reopening of the offices of Al Jazeera's Cairo offices, due in the coming weeks.
The broadcaster's wholesale closure had been a central demand of Egypt and a number of Gulf states when they launched a blockade on Qatar in March 2017. Its offices in Egypt had been shut since July 2013, when they were raided by security forces hours after the military coup against President Mohamed Morsi.
Ikhshef added that the end of the broadcasting hiatus was taken to be a signal of Egypt's changing stance towards the broadcaster and its staff. This prompted Al-Shaykh, a citizen of Egypt, to return home to visit his country.
Egypt is known to be one of the world's most repressive environments for journalists, with the Al-Sisi regime having stifled criticism via security forces and laws criminalising dissent.
In February, Egyptian authorities released Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein after more than four years in detention without trial. In 2013, three journalists were arrested for spreading "fake news" – Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed.
Greste was released in 2015 while the remaining two were released in 2020 under a presidential pardon.