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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Democracy, Egyptian style

The New York Times' Lede blog reports on protests outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo on Sunday in which 136 people were arrested. The Times comes up with this description of the Egyptian justice system:
Since it took control of Egypt from Mr. Mubarak in February, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has demonstrated a willingness to use military courts to administer rough justice to civilians arrested for speaking their minds at protests or online.

In March, a military court sentenced Amr Abdullah El-Behairy to five years in jail for scuffling with a soldier during a protest, after a three-minute trial at which no defense lawyers were present. (Witnesses said that the protester was the one attacked, not the officer.)

Last month another protester, Maikel Nabil, was convicted of “insulting the Armed Forces” on his blog and sentenced to three years in jail.

This video report from Al-Masry Al-Youm on the clashes on Sunday shows that some protesters were badly wounded by the Egyptian security forces defending Israel’s embassy (be warned, the report contains some graphic images):
Let's go to the videotape.

The Times then goes on to post a comment from another Egyptian blogger wondering why the military reacted so vehemently to what happened at the Israeli embassy and not to the burning of two Coptic churches a few days earlier.

A few comments about this. First, perhaps the reason why the military reacted so strongly was that they saw what happened when they didn't react strongly enough to the destruction of the churches in Imbaba.

Second, there's an undertone in the Times article that's blaming Israel for what happened. We don't decide for the Egyptian military or police how they are going to react to demonstrations - violent or otherwise - in their territory. One would expect that an Israeli embassy would receive much (or as little) protection as any other embassy. I am sure that the Israeli government has security officials inside, but the first line of defense in this type of case is the local law enforcement agencies. They decide how they will react.

Third, no democracy gives an unfettered right to demonstrate violently nor to demonstrate in every place at any time. You can't. I agree that the locals should be free to express their anger at us, but that doesn't include the right to harm persons or property in the embassy.

Fourth, treaties are contracts between governments and cannot be lightly abrogated because a different government seizes power. If the Egyptians want to abrogate the treaty, most Israelis will be deeply disappointed, but of course, if they do abrogate the treaty we will expect Egypt to abrogate it completely and to return to Israel all that it received in exchange for the treaty, including every last grain of sand in Sinai. You can't have it both ways.

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