The Obama administration is reportedly poised to ask Congress to exempt Egypt from the law that requires ending financial aid (in the case of Egypt’s military, that is $1 billion annually) in the event of a military coup, and that would be a misreading of the situation.
Any support for such an exemption would have to be based on the belief that Egypt’s recent referendum, which passed with overwhelming approval by voters, means the military leadership is actually practicing and embracing democracy.
The evidence, unfortunately, points in the opposite direction.
The most recent example is the arrest Sunday of a prominent intellectual who is accused of daring to criticize his nation’s judiciary on Twitter. In Egypt, criticizing judges and the court system has long been forbidden, and apparently it remains so. How could such an impediment to free speech possibly advance democracy?
Amr Hamzawy, a political scientist and former lawmaker, was one of more than two dozen (including the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood) charged one day after the adoption of the new constitution that appears to provide the basis for any resumption of American military aid to Egypt.
And what did Hamzawy say that brought his arrest? He wrote that it was “shocking” that a judge had convicted 43 employees of foreign-backed nonprofit organizations of receiving illegal financing while allegedly plotting to destabilize Egypt.
Three of these organizations were financed by the United States government and were promoting democracy. But the court held that their true objective was to “undermine Egypt’s national security and lay out a sectarian, political map that serves United States and Israeli interests.”
And the court added this: “The U.S. — fearing democracy ushered in by Egypt’s popular revolt — has used funding to take the revolution off its path. ... Funding is a new form of control and dominance and is considered soft colonialism that is less costly than military arms.”
Samer S. Shehata, an expert on Egyptian politics at the University of Oklahoma, told The New York Times that Hamzawy “is the best of a particular type of intellectual in Egypt and who poses no threat to anyone.” The arrest of Hamzawy, he added, is “absurd” and represents “another example of the government trying to silence all criticism and dissent.”
It’s true some of the Egyptian government’s opponents are Islamic radicals. But the country’s aggressive repression extends far beyond suspect organizations.
Egypt’s opposition media have been shut down, and three journalists for Al Jazeera have been imprisoned without any charges. Meanwhile, the constitution adopted last weekend exempts the army, police and intelligence services from civilian control while allowing these very same arms of the government to prosecute anyone they deem threatening in military courts.
Sadly, Egypt’s leadership has chosen not to be inspired by the example in neighboring Tunisia, where recently the nation’s lawmakers not only adopted a progressive, democratic constitution but also stood up and sang the national anthem when a measure providing equal rights for women was approved.
The great promise of 2011’s Arab Spring, which began in Tunisia and spread very quickly to Egypt, took its time before reaching its goals in the former but has not even come close to bringing about the kind of pluralistic, democratic government so many Egyptians had in mind when they demonstrated against the stifling regime of former dictator Hosni Mubarak.
But as bad as Mubarak may have been, he was at least a staunch ally of the United States, particularly on the issue of Israel’s right to exist. The government now calling the shots in Cairo is no such ally, and pouring American dollars into its treasury won’t change that unhappy truth.