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

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory 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.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
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.

AppleAndroid