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

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease 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.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid