Since the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year, the Egyptian military—which occupies a key role in the new government—has not exactly distinguished itself on questions of human rights. According to Human Rights Watch, security forces continue to assault and imprison activists who criticize the military. Protesters are regularly beaten and in some cases killed, and the government’s abhorrent treatment of women is becoming a major cause for concern.
The Egyptian government’s decision to investigate pro-democracy NGOs for criminal activity and the subsequent imposition of travel bans on democracy workers didn’t just ruin the plans of the six Americans now stuck there—it sparked a severe crisis in relations between Cairo and Washington.
A specter is haunting the hopeful promise of a democratic Egypt—the specter of popularly legitimated anti-Semitism that would result from the electoral success of the Muslim Brotherhood. In light of the democratic victories enjoyed by Hamas in the 2006 elections in the West Bank and Gaza, the prospect is not a hypothetical one.
There are two ways to think about the impact upon Israel of the collapse, fast or slow, but inexorable, of the Mubarak regime in Egypt. The first is to be concerned for Israel. The second is to be concerned about Israel. Until the peace treaty with Egypt was concluded in 1979, it was said about Israel, and rightly, that it was surrounded by “confrontation states.” The accord with Egypt, followed by the accord with Jordan, destroyed the monolithic character of the security threat to Israel.
Everyone now understands that President Obama faces a set of difficult choices in Egypt. Cut Mubarak loose, and risk a revolt from the other American clients in the region while potentially empowering the Muslim Brotherhood. Support Mubarak, and earn the enmity of Arabs and Muslims across the Middle East who correctly see the United States working in tandem with the autocrats who repress them. What has largely gone undiscussed, however, is that the United States faced a very similar dilemma in Egypt once before.
Cairo, Egypt—The measures taken by the Egyptian regime over the last three days are not just targeting demonstrators; they are affecting everyone. Ahead of Friday’s post-prayers protest, the Egyptian government cut off every form of instant communication—namely, the Internet and cell phone service. The goal, it seemed, was not just to prevent people from organizing demonstrations or sharing their experiences with the outside world, but also to create an atmosphere of chaos and uncertainty.
Sometimes, it seems like the United States is more interested in giving aid to Egypt than Egypt is to receive it. This year, for example, Egypt objected to a $250 million civilian aid package if USAID funded unregistered NGOs. Many human rights groups in the country have trouble receiving official sanction from the Egyptian government and thus require outside support to be effective. So, instead of standing firm, the Obama administration agreed to cut their USAID support, departing from U.S.
From the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Executive Director Robert Satloff comes this analysis: The Gaza Flotilla Incident: Impact on Three Key Arab Actors By Robert Satloff June 22, 2010 The Gaza flotilla episode pitted Israel versus Turkey, with Arabs as bystanders and observers. Yet reverberations of the incident have had a keen impact across Arab capitals. Egypt: Policy Adrift The country most negatively affected has been Egypt.
As President Obama prepares for his historic speech in Cairo next week, he faces a dual challenge--not only to redefine the troubled relations between the United States and the Muslim world, but also to clarify the place of democracy and human rights in his administration's foreign policy. The former would have been the centerpiece of his first speech in an Islamic nation no matter where he had chosen to deliver it.