News / Middle East

    Column: Egypt Equates Political Dissent with Terrorism

    Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy speaks to members of the media during his meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, at the State Department in Washington.
    Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy speaks to members of the media during his meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, at the State Department in Washington.
    For Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy – born in New York and for nine years Egypt’s ambassador in Washington – this has been an uncomfortable homecoming.
     
    On the one hand, the Barack Obama administration has promised to restore $650 million in US military aid suspended after last summer’s coup; on the other hand, Fahmy has been hard-pressed in public appearances this week to defend the military-dominated government’s harsh crackdown on civil liberties.

    Fahmy has urged Americans to be patient with what he called Egypt’s “transformation” and await the result of presidential elections scheduled next month. But Americans familiar with Egypt’s political history say the situation now is far worse than it was under Hosni Mubarak and that the trend lines are not good.

    Mubarak, the autocratic president deposed in a popular revolution three years ago, governed under a “state of emergency” imposed after the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat. The current government, dominated by president-in-waiting Field Marshal Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, is in the process of codifying that repressive regime, says Michelle Dunne, an Egypt expert and former US diplomat now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
     
    Dunne told VOA that Egypt is following the example of Saudi Arabia by “making dissent a terrorist crime,” something Jordan is also planning to do. Indeed Saudi pressure – expressed through billions of dollars in economic aid to Egypt – may have had something to do with Egypt’s decision late last year to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. Saudi Arabia has also designated the Brotherhood a terrorist group.
     
    The Brotherhood clearly botched its exercise of power during the year-long presidency of Mohamed Morsi and some members have resorted to violence since Morsi's ouster. But the pendulum has now swung too far in the opposite direction and authorities are casting too wide a net against both Islamist and secular opponents.
     
    Already, more than 2,000 people have died in political violence since the July 3 coup -- most of them killed by government forces -- and more than 20,000 people have been arrested. This week’s sentencing of 683 people to death in connection with anti-government violence was the latest example of obscene excess. Although the sentences are to be appealed, next month’s presidential elections cannot be considered legitimate without participation by the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party as well as liberal groups including the also banned April 6 Youth Movement which helped instigate Mubarak’s overthrow.
     
    Fahmy, appearing at the Center for Strategic and International Studies this week, underlined the economic challenges faced by Egypt, whose population of 90 million will hit 100 million by 2030. “We need to grow 8-10% a year just to make ends meet,” he said. But the crackdown and the ever more constricted field for political activity is a recipe for more instability, which will continue to repel tourists and many foreign investors.
     
    The Obama administration, facing more urgent crises in Syria and the Ukraine, has been sending mixed messages to Cairo. While both the White House and State Department criticized the latest death sentences, the administration announced last week that it intended to go ahead with the sale of 10 Apache helicopters to Egypt for use against al-Qaeda linked gangs in the Sinai.
     
    The announcement faced some Congressional pushback. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee responsible for approving foreign aid, said Tuesday that he would block the Apaches because of Egypt’s deteriorating human rights record; he called the current Cairo government’s practices those of a “dictatorship run amok.” But the Obama administration may be able to override such concerns through parliamentary maneuvers.
     
    Fahmy, trying to defend his government, compared the Brotherhood to groups such as Italy’s Red Army and Germany’s Baader-Meinhoff gang which planted bombs and assassinated officials in the 1970s. But these were tiny, cultish organizations with limited popular support while the Brotherhood still has the backing of perhaps 20 percent of Egyptian society. Founded in 1928, it built deep roots by providing public services that corrupt and inefficient regimes could not supply. Trying to stem terrorism by outlawing the Brotherhood is like trying to cure cancer by decapitating the patient.
     
    The Obama administration cannot force Egypt to be more tolerant and politically inclusive. US officials can also argue that as long as Egypt maintains its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, US strategic interests are being served. David Mack, a former US diplomat with extensive experience in the Arab world, told VOA, “It’s very important that we have a relationship with Egypt whether it’s a military dictatorship, run by the Muslim Brotherhood or by graduates of the American University of Cairo.”
     
    But as friends of Egypt, Americans should not be shy about speaking truth to pharaoh – and his emissaries. Fahmy should not have been surprised by the criticism he heard in Washington and he should honestly convey to his leader the growing American dismay at Egypt’s repressive relapse.

    Barbara Slavin

    Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: alfredo ibarra barajas from: mexico
    May 07, 2014 2:57 PM
    It seems that if the MB did so much for Egypt's people when they suffered through government of despots, and the other political group The April 6 Youth Movement that helped to overthrow Mubarack, must have a fair chance at the next elections. Each must field their candidates, like in all democracies, and let's hope they establish a precedent, by holding a clean election. The Military is not all Egyptian people, and they must abide by the rules in any democracy, like it or not. And Sissi should stop saying that MB exists no more, how he can when they have been part of Egyptian society for many years.Maybe Sissi has an underhand plan and he is to rig the election, and pardon me if I am cynic, but the way the things are everything is posible.What is Obama doing? Where is his credibility in a fair world where he would sustain efforts for a better world free of injustices? Doesn't he remember the day he spoke to the Young people in Cairo and he offered them his support? Things are very complicated right now, but this presents an excellent oportunity so the world sees that something will change for the better in that área fo the world.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora