An email, a pub quiz and the Al Jazeera three

“I got a letter from the government/the other day/I opened and read it/It said they were suckers/They wanted me for their army or whatever/Picture me givin’ a damn – I said never”

Embed from Getty Images
Peter Greste (R) and Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy (L) inside the defendants’ cage at the police institute near Cairo’s Tora prison

CHUCK D’s defiant blast launching Public Enemy’s ‘Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos’ are the lyrics that form one of the greatest opening verses of any song.

In typically uncompromising style Chuck ain’t bending, regardless of his opponent’s position of apparent strength. As ever speaking truth to power holds no fear for Chuck.

I got my own letter, via email, not from the government but a previous UK Prime Minister’s chief spokesman and rather than the army he wanted me for his pub quiz team.

Picture me sitting in a pub, chillin’ with Alastair Campbell – I said never. But I can’t say I wasn’t surprised to receive an email from Tony Blair’s former spokesman, especially as I’ve never met or spoken to him and he now wants me to join him for a pub quiz.


Turns out the invite wasn’t actually from Al, or AC as he signs his emails. While his email says ‘Twm: I reckon you should be on my team’ for the pub quiz it is in fact , like tens of other messages, a sales pitch. For some reason, at some time, I’d given the Labour Party my email address and the man formally known as Britain’s best known spin doctor is looking for donations to party funds from those willing to bid to win a place on his pub quiz team.

ACampbell 1

These days Campbell likes to portray himself as a professional Burnley Football Club supporter and a willing commentator on his mental health battles and dislike of the Tories. What we don’t hear so much from him about is his actual work as a communications adviser.

Last summer he admitted to being paid to talk to the military junta that has swept aside the democratically elected government in Egypt – and killed thousands of protesters on its way to regaining control of the north African state.

Alastair hasn’t said who’s paid him, but says it wasn’t the regime of president, or field marshal Sisi. You can read more about Al’s altruistic Egyptian adventures here.

Just as Chuck Ridenhour took exception to an invitation he’d never asked for, I defiantly fired an email back rejecting Campbell’s offer. But I suggested the communications specialist might like to bring up the topic of the the Al Jazeera English journalists, Australian Peter Greste; Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, with his Egyptian friends.

All three have been held in jail for more than a year on charges of spreading false news and aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, in reality they are only guilty of practising journalism. You can read more about the campaign to release the three, who are still in custody as they await a retrial, here.

While Chuck could call on Flavor Flav and the S1W, the paramilitary security wing of Public Enemy, to break him free, the journalists need influential people who can communicate with the Egyptian rulers, to lobby on their behalf.

As hurtful as the crimes committed against the three are, they are lucky in that voices across the world are speaking out and raising attention to their plight. How many more are rotting in Egyptian prisons – and prisons across the world on political charges? How many have been killed without so much as a show trial?

Last week, as AC was ignoring my reply, his pal Sisi was being praised by the richest of the world’s rich at the World Economic forum in Davos for that all redeeming act of ‘bringing stability’. At Davos Sisi was suggesting he was keen for the situation of the jailed journalists to be resolved. While the three remain in prison, Sisi’s words are as cold as the ski resort where he delivered them.

They must continue to count down the days of their sentences that run from seven to 10 years, while they await the retrial, that was ordered at the beginning of the year, and expected to be held by the end of this month. Peter Greste’s elderly mother has spoken of the cruel toll rumours of his release are having on him.

Will AC, like Chuck D, choose to speak truth to power or shape the ‘truth’ on behalf of those in power? As for the pub quiz, like I said I don’t give a damn.

Below is my email reply to Alastair Campbell.

Hello there AC,

Really odd that you should invite me to your pub quiz as we’ve never met – and I of course severely doubt you will ever see this reply to your on spec email.

However I could not pass up the opportunity to raise with you – or some poor sod in the Labour Party office, should anyone actually read this – my wish that through your continued work – or as you call it ‘unpaid advice’ – to the Sisi regime in Egypt you will take the opportunity to press for the release of the jailed journalists known as the Al Jazeera Three.

Taking you at your word (why wouldn’t I?) I trust you are able to speak freely with the Egyptian military junta and you feel in no way inhibited from raising its poor human rights record because of any promise of a pay cheque from the military men who overthrew and imprisoned an elected government, no matter what western opinion is of that administration.

As you will be aware the Al Jazeera English journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed have been held in jail in Egypt for more than a year – their only crime ‘committing journalism’.

While an Egyptian court has now ordered a retrial on the charges they had aided the Muslim Brotherhood they at present remain in custody, a situation which I’m sure you must find unacceptable. Al Jazeera and the men’s families have called for their release as have the Australian, Canadian and other governments .

You are now a well known mental health campaigner, I’m sure you can empathise with the situation these three have found themselves in. Personally I cannot imagine the mental torture these men must be facing, knowing they could be held captive for between seven and 10 years. I’m sure you would agree such a prison sentence, even if justly imposed, would place a mental strain on any prisoner – hopefully not an unbearable one.

I doubt the three could have really prepared themselves for the possibility they would be jailed, doing their jobs and working for a well respected broadcaster. For Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy their anguish must surely be deepened by being held thousands of miles away from their homes.

You are of course on record telling Channel 4 News that you believe the Al Jazeera Three should be freed. While I’m sadly unable to join you for the pub quiz, thankfully not due to unjust incarceration, I do hope you will take the opportunity to use your contacts with the Egyptian dictatorship for the release of these three and a greater respect of human rights in Egypt generally.

Cheers. Maybe you will manage to do the right thing


Twm Owen

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