Egypt, just two years ago an ancient nation celebrating its newfound freedom, is now a mess, and the situation appears to be deteriorating. The newly elected government appears unwilling or unable to deliver the basic protections the nation’s once-optimistic protesters had anticipated.
A popular television comedian, whose program is modeled on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” on the Comedy Channel here in the United States, was hauled in for questioning (then released on bail) for satirizing the government.
To its credit, the top leadership in Cairo distanced itself somewhat from the criticism of Bassem Youssef, saying the complaints against the television personality actually were brought by ordinary citizens and not by the government.
Even so, the government has been acting in a decidedly undemocratic manner. Recently, it issued warrants for the arrest of five dissidents who had been leading a popular secular protest against the conduct of President Mohammed Morsi and his fundamentalist political party, the Muslim Brotherhood.
The attorney general’s official Facebook page reported the five also had been banned from traveling abroad. A sixth activist, the daughter of Egypt’s best-known satirical poet, also was being sought by the authorities for questioning, according to press reports.
Earlier, summonses were issued for a larger group of politicians and activists after demonstrations by secularists outside the Muslim Brotherhood’s office last month, when nearly 200 people were injured.
Conservative Islamists have taken to aggressively blaming the victims rather than the perpetrators of a large number of sexual assaults — including brutal gang rapes — that have taken place in a popular public square in Cairo.
“Sometimes, a girl contributes 100 percent to her own raping when she puts herself in these conditions,” a police general (who is also a lawmaker and an ultraconservative Islamist) told a reporter.
Incredibly (at least by Western standards), one Muslim Brotherhood official said: “How do they ask the Ministry of Interior to protect a woman when she stands among men?”
To such officials, the victims invited the assaults by having the audacity to participate — as if they had the same rights as men — in public protests. The belief that women are inviting rape by joining such protests is deeply repulsive, especially when defended by elected officials.
Clearly, the Egyptian revolution has a long way to go. The United States always has backed Egypt, even when it disapproved of Hosni Mubarak’s dubious political stewardship, because if nothing else he was a reliable Middle Eastern ally on the critical issue of Israel’s right to exist.
Judging by Morsi’s behavior so far, there’s little reason for Egypt to expect continued sympathy in Washington.