To the Editor:
The old joke that the Muslim Brotherhood stood for "one man, one vote, one time" comes back with special bitterness this season. Because the Egyptian people did vote and did elect a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Egypt's democracy has been strangled in the cradle. But it hasn't been strangled by the Brotherhood. The dirty deed was done by a reactionary junta, seemingly with the connivance of the U.S. department of State.
As we in America give thanks for all we have, we should pause to remember the Egyptians who keep getting arrested, tortured, gunned down in the streets because they dare dream that they might also enjoy democracy.
Barry Haskell Levine
Silencing Dissent in Egypt
Published: November 27, 2013
RelatedThe military-backed government that has ruled Egypt for the past five months is looking increasingly like the old dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak without Mr. Mubarak. In the name of crushing all resistance by the Muslim Brotherhood supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the democratically elected president ousted by the military in July, Egyptian authorities have now moved to ban most public protests and threaten those who take part in them with jail or heavy fines.
Egypt’s military strongman, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, owes his present power to such protests. Military leaders mostly stood aside in January 2011 when weeks of protest and sit-in vigils at Tahrir Square in Cairo forced Mr. Mubarak to resign. More recently, General Sisi approvingly cited even larger street protests against Mr. Morsi as his main justification for the July 3 military coup. And after that coup, he himself summoned millions of Egyptians into the streets to give advance approval to his violent crackdown on Morsi supporters.
But from now on, it seems, only public demonstrations that support General Sisi and his allies will be tolerated. A new law promulgated Sunday by the figurehead interim president, Adly Mansour, requires all gatherings of more than 10 people to seek advance government approval. It bans overnight sit-ins (like Tahrir Square) and protests at places of worship. Political groups across the spectrum have staged their protests following the end of Friday prayers. The new restrictions also give security forces the right to ban political campaign meetings, a provision that could be used to silence criticism of the Constitution scheduled to be voted on in January.
The Egyptian regime claims that the only opposition to its increasingly repressive rule comes from Muslim Brotherhood die-hards. That has never been the case. As The Timesreported on Monday, opposition from the secular left, much of which welcomed Mr. Morsi’s downfall, is growing. On Tuesday, riot police beat and harassed a gathering of some of Egypt’s best-known human rights activists challenging the new ban on unauthorized demonstrations. With all forms of public dissent now subject to repression, the real level of opposition to the present government will be increasingly hard to judge.
Amid these alarming developments, Washington has struggled to find an effective policy response. The Obama administration was right to suspend the delivery of some American weapons systems to Egypt and to hold up some of this year’s planned military aid. Unfortunately, Secretary of State John Kerry then undercut that message against the growing repression by declaring in Cairo that the suspensions were “not a punishment” and that Egypt’s transition to democracy seems on track.
The administration has apparently made the calculation that it needs the support of General Sisi and the Egyptian military for its regional security strategy, just as it long believed that it needed Mr. Mubarak. Washington should not let itself get taken in by the Egyptian regime’s assurances that its repressive practices are necessary to bring democracy and or maintain stability. Egypt may well be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the Mubarak era, but American policy need not be.