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

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

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.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid