Saturday, May 13, 2006

Egypt -- Authorities being ugly

Something important is happening in Egypt. There was a historic election there last year which was the Egyptian version of a populist surge that we like to think of as democracy. Long-established power centers find such movements threatening, especially when corruption and brute force are on the side of the government and those qualities are being attacked by outside elements appealing to righteous indignation and getting a lot of popular support as a result. (Have we witnessed anything like that in our country? I think so. More polished perhaps, but not too different.)

In January the government showed its tarnished underside with a harsh display of mean treatment of Sudanese immigrants.

I haven't followed Egyptian politics closely, but apparently a core of decency seems to have crystalized among the Egyptian judiciary that has given the "executive" branch some cause for alarm. In the last few weeks government authorities have not bothered to pretend anything other than heavy-handed, totalitarian control measures. A highly-regarded blogger and others have been tossed in jail, triggering international outrage from those who know them. Apparently Egyptian authorities haven't followed the sotries of what can happen when a bunch of bloggers get upset. This is not the first time they have had to cope with a "detained" blogger. Unintended consequences, to say the least, can result. This time the stakes seem to be higher. Elijah Zarwan is an Egyptian journalist living and writing from North America about the situation back home. His post yesterday provides a good overview and a rash of links. Anyone interested can learn a lot from this one source.

At this risk of burying the lede, let me start with the event at the center of today’s violence. Today in Cairo, two outspoken, senior judges refused to appear before an extraordinary disciplinary board convened to punish them for speaking out against vote-rigging and voter intimidation in last year’s elections because they could not bring their defense lawyers with them.

Outside, police violently dispersed demonstrations in their support, again. This time, police and “middle-aged men with walkie-talkies” (
Issandr’s description) also beat journalists from Al-Jazeera, Reuters, and the Associated
. They also briefly detained an employee of the U.S. Embassy. Sandmonkey was blogging the day’s events in real-time. Issandr has a good account at Arabist and photographs on Flickr. A friend sent me an account with some analysis by email. (I wasn’t there. I’ve moved from idyllic Brooklyn to even-more-idyllic Prince Edward Island. Given the government’s increasingly bizarre behavior, am starting to wonder if I’ll be let back into Egypt. All bets are off.)

Don't miss the link to a report he received and posted earlier. Toward the end is a line that appeared in theGuardian that I have come across before...
In Egypt we don’t have any confidence in US policy because it is a contradictory policy that pays lip service to democracy while supporting dictatorships. We have confidence in the Egyptian people. We welcome support from any quarter, but we won’t rely on it. We will depend on ourselves in our campaign for reform and change.

After watching the way this farce of a state behaved today (and for the past five months) as well as the Americans utter silence, it is safe to say that the judges are reading the situation correctly. The American and the Egyptian governments should both be ashamed of themselves. If, for no other reason, than it has become abundantly and irrefutably clear that they view Egyptian democracy in exactly the same manner whether authorizing security forces to repress peaceful dissent or remaining silent in the wake of repression.
Pretty damning indictment, but I'm afraid it hits the nail on the head. Nothing new, by the way. Been doing it ever since I can recall.

Mark Lynch looks at the situation and comes away with pretty much the same conclusions. (Don't get distracted by a string of carping in the comments thread. The Lounsbury even got in a hit, but the discussion isn't germaine to the topic except for the sake of invective and name-calling.)

I'm just an old guy blogging, and I have been aware this grassroots movement for over half a year. I am wondering why so little attention is being paid to these events here. No feature stories in papers or magazines. Nothing out of Washington. Zip. Nada.

We beat the drums for democracy and freedom when it's to our advantage (or somebody in some position of prominence says it's to our advantage). But in general, most people care little and want to learn even less.

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