OPED: US proudly, unabashedly speaks up against human rights abuses… and then pats Egypt on the back.
On April 19, 2013, US Secretary of State John Kerry took to the podium to herald the release of the State Department’s annual Human Rights Report and boldly embrace America’s values:
… So anywhere that human rights are under threat, the United States will proudly stand up, unabashedly, and continue to promote greater freedom, greater openness, and greater opportunity for all people. And that means speaking up when those rights are imperiled…”
The country report for Egypt was especially damning:
… The country’s transition to democracy continued to be beset by political turmoil, as well as the breakdown of law and order and established social norms. This breakdown had the largest effect on society’s most vulnerable elements, including women and minorities, who often became the target of violent attacks… with an increasingly challenging environment in which women faced assaults and sexual harassment… failure to prosecute perpetrators of violence against religious minorities… threats to freedom of speech, press, and association, as security forces assaulted, abused, and arrested journalists… Courts convicted persons charged in private lawsuits with “insulting” religions, government figures, and the Prophet Muhammad, and “harming national unity.” A restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) law continued to hinder freedom of association.
“Other human rights problems included security force killings of protesters, torture and physical abuse by security forces, poor prison conditions, infringements on citizens’ privacy rights… Migrants in the Sinai also were detained unlawfully and subjected to sexual and physical violence by nonstate actors. Domestic violence and societal discrimination against women were widespread. Abuse of children and discrimination against persons with disabilities remained problems… In the labor sector, security forces sometimes used force to disperse strikes and sit-ins, and child labor remained a serious problem…” – Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012
Pretty clear. Pretty damning.
So why then did US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel say this in Cairo less than one week later?
I wanted to stop in Egypt to reaffirm American commitment to Egypt’s emerging democracy [and] encourage the democratic and economic reforms that are under way…
“It is not easy. This is a difficult part of the world. This is a large country, an important country. They are undertaking the right course of action – human dignity and freedom, democratic norms and governance. We are committed to helping any nation that does that.” – Hagel Reaffirms U.S. Commitment to Egypt’s Emerging Democracy, American Forces Press Service, April 24, 2013
Seriously, what exactly is the right course of action being taken here? Human dignity and freedom? Democratic norms and governance?
A functioning democracy must stand on three universal principles, as defined by the United Nations: Freedom of expression, assembly and association:
… The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) lays the legal basis for the principles of democracy under international law, particularly: freedom of expression (Article 19); the right of peaceful assembly (Article 21); the right to freedom of association with others (Article 22)…” – Democracy and the United Nations
Not one of these principles are in practice today in Egypt.
Freedom of expression is under assault daily, with over 600 cases filed against journalists since President Morsi assumed power.
It is totally unacceptable that the post-revolution Egypt maintains laws that were written in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such as insulting the president, such laws characterize fascist regimes worldwide.” – Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef, April 16, 2013
Freedom of assembly? Not with the new anti-protest law.
And with the ongoing assault on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), freedom of association is about to be “eviscerated”:
… Under the proposed law… the funds of NGOs would be subject to detailed government supervision. Groups would have to obtain official approval for their initiatives and could not receive foreign funding without the government’s permission… In effect, the new rules would destroy most of the country’s independent groups and place those that remained under government control. Together with another proposed law drastically restricting public demonstrations, the effect would be to neuter opposition to Mr. Morsi’s government and eviscerate the democratic regime it has promised to uphold…” – Washington Post: New laws would cripple Egyptian democratic institutions
Without freedom of expression, assembly and association, there is no democracy – emerging or otherwise. It is time the United States recognizes this and stops enabling the Morsi regime by showering him with praise.
We need to be consistent with our language by proudly and unabashedly telling Egypt this is not the right course of action… or just stop talking. Either course is far better than continually patting Egypt on the back, thereby enabling Morsi’s ongoing assault of freedom and dignity.