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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Police state Egypt

With all of the US emphasis on building democracies, it is appalling that what's going on in Egypt continues to slip beneath the radar. In today's Washington Post, there's an important article by Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian dissident who has been advised not to return to his home country. There are two things that especially bother me about this article: first, the fact that 'democracy' is presented as a choice between the authoritarian Mubarak regime and the Muslim brotherhood shows that it is not true democracy and that the country really needs some 'institution building' that it is most unlikely to get. And second, police states find it easy to attack whenever they want to and whomever they want to, and with all the 'defense' money that Egypt is getting, it is no secret that all of their 'war games' pit Israel as the enemy. Here's an excerpt from Ibrahim's article:
The independent daily Eldestour recently published two important facts: that the annual budget for internal security was $1.5 billion in 2006, more than the entire national budget for health care, and that the security police forces comprise 1.4 million officers, nearly four times the size of the Egyptian army. "Egypt has become a police state par excellence," the paper's editor noted.

Yet Mubarak's regime has gone unchecked for years, since long before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the "war on terror" and despite the billions of dollars in foreign aid the United States continues to give Egypt each year. The question is: Why?

Part of the answer lies in Mubarak's skillful use of Egypt's role in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Despite Egypt's proximity to Gaza and its potential to contribute, the regime has not advanced the status quo far beyond what the late president Anwar Sadat accomplished. Mubarak boasts about his refusal to visit Israel, while his predecessor broke ground as the first Arab leader to visit Israel.

Another reason for U.S. silence is Mubarak's exploitation of Islamophobia, rampant in many Western circles. On Mubarak's own turf, the banned opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood has steadily increased its support among voters, with its candidates, running as independents, garnering 20 percent of the seats in parliamentary elections in 2005, despite the regime's continuous harassment and arrest of Brotherhood leaders and rank-and-file members. Hamas, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, swept Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006. Increasingly, in majority-Muslim countries where autocracies have bred inefficiency and corruption, populist groups such as the Brotherhood can attract a strong protest vote.

Yet in Egypt, the regime remains strong and is quick to silence critics. Recently it focused its attacks on the work of democracy activists and researchers at the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, which I founded nearly two decades ago. Nine members of the ruling party have filed legal requests to close the center. They want to see me and other staff members prosecuted, alleging that we have tarnished the country's image abroad, shown contempt for religion, undermined the national interest and committed high treason.
Read the whole thing. As an American, I am outraged that my government continues to spend billions of dollars annually in aid to this regime, and as an Israeli I am afraid that my government does not take seriously enough the threat that this authoritarian and hateful regime to our southwest poses to us.


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