Friday, November 11, 2011

Democracy and Human Rights
Egypt’s Moment of Transformation

[Author’s Note: My sources for this article are provided at the bottom of this editorial.]

On October 9th, a group of mostly Coptic Christians protested outside state media headquarters in Egypt. What happened next is unclear, but it ended with the police using deadly force against the protestors. Alaa Abdel Fattah, one of Egypt’s most prominent pro-democracy bloggers and activists, was among the protestors there that day. Alaa wrote about the protest in an Egyptian newspaper. Shortly thereafter, he was accused by the military of inciting violence at the protest.

This isn’t Alaa’s first time in jail. He was detained in 2006 by the Mubarack regime for his activism.

Heba Morayef, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, told PRI’s The World that he believes the current charges against Alaa are bogus and designed to silence a vocal critic of the military.

 Alaa Abdel Fattah is very significant. It’s not only that he is one of the most vocal and high-profile critics of the military. It’s also that he is one of the most active. He’s at every protest. I think the military makes very targeted choices. They believe in sending signals. You can see from their public statements and their decision in terms of who they prosecute and the laws they pass that they see information as a threat.

Alaa will be tried by a military court. The army has already tried 12,000 people in military courts since the ouster of Mubarak in February 2011. 8,000 of them are still in prison. These trials often try multiple people at once and are concluded within a day. Alaa is a member of a movement in Egypt to end military the trials of civilians.

Another blogger, Maikel Nabil was sentenced by a military court to 3 years in jail for insulting the military. Authorities have shut down television channels and programs and summoned journalists to be questioned as well.

Egypt is at a critical point in its history. Is it laying the foundation today for the values and legal framework that will guide it in the post-Mubarak era. America experienced a similar time during the Revolutionary War and the writing of our Constitution. We still debate what the founders would have wanted and how we should interpret our Constitution. That is the all important time that Egypt is in today.

That is why it is so alarming that Egypt’s military is attempting to create the precedent of the military being independent of and superior to the civil power. The interim military government has asked Egypt’s political parties to sign onto a series of constitutional principles that stipulate, among other things, that the army’s budget will be secret and that its approval would be necessary to declare war.

In Egypt’s foundational moment, its military is doing everything it can to hold on to power and silence those who disagree. These flagrant violations of civil liberties and just governance threaten to permanently derail Egypt’s transition to democracy.

That is where we come in.

The Egyptian military receives 1,900,000 dollars a year in International Military Education and Training from the United States. It also receives 1,040,000,000 dollars a year in Foreign Military Financing from the United States. In layman’s terms, Foreign Military Financing is equipment and weapons for Egypt’s military that is paid for by the United States. These two categories make up 80 percent of the foreign aid Egypt receives from the United States. Egypt is the 4th largest recipient of US foreign aid.

It is time for us to end this military aid. There are plenty of other places in the foreign aid budget that could use it, like Somali famine relief. Some will argue that we should give Egypt’s military an ultimatum and then take away the aid if it doesn’t stop interfering with the democratic process. That is a good intermediate step, but the Egyptian military won’t comply, they have too much on the line.

The US State Department’s responded to critics like myself in September.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: We are against conditionality. And I conveyed our position to the minister. We will be working very hard with the Congress to convince the Congress that that is not the best approach to take. We believe that the longstanding relationship between the United States and Egypt is of paramount importance to both of us. We support the democratic transition. And we don’t want to do anything that in any way draws into question our relationship or our support.

We also believe that the army has played a very stabilizing, important role during this period. You can see what happens when you either don’t have an institution like the institutions that Egypt has, including an army, and you’ve seen what happens when the army is not on the side of the people. Well, Egypt’s strong institutions, longstanding respect for the army and the role the army played was absolutely critical for the revolution.

To pretend that the military is supporting the democratic transition rather than actively trying to suppress it is a lie that has already been debunked at length.

The real reason we are continuing our subsidization of the Egyptian military is to keep a strategic ally in the Middle East and to protect Israel’s security. We shouldn’t keep an ally that is actively suppressing its people in a time of change. Our current relationship with the Egyptian military came into being when Sadat (The dictator before Mubarak) negotiated a peace deal with Israel. That deal has stood to this day and is the origin of our close relationship, strategically and monetarily, with Egypt. I care for Israel’s security, but it is unfair to sacrifice Egyptians’ freedoms for Israelis' security.

I don’t believe a withdrawal of US military aid to Egypt will bring it into renewed conflict with Israel. Egypt has benefited as much as Israel from an end to their animosity.   

It saddens me to say that my country has not always been on the side of democracy and human rights at home or abroad. But that should not stop us from making the right choice today. If Egypt’s military suppression of the rights of its citizens doesn’t end immediately, we must withdraw our monetary support of its military. Only then will Egypt’s people receive the democracy they deserve.


Public Radio International’s The World

Center for American Progress: Interactive Foreign Aid Map

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