Egypt, the heart of the Arab world, could and should be a major player today in finding resolution to all of the chaos and violence in the Middle East today. Instead, it is returning to the kind of repressive, police-state ways it experienced under former (and now jailed) President Hosni Mubarak.
The distressing evidence is in the news almost every day.
The country’s highest administrative court late last week dissolved the political party of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood dates back to the 1920s, though its political party was created in 2011. One of its top leaders, Mohammed Morsi, became president for a year. Morsi then was driven from office by the Egyptian military, which chose President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi as president. El-Sissi has turned into another repressive Mubarak type.
This week two senior executives of Human Rights Watch were barred at the Cairo airport from entering Egypt. They had come to discuss their yearlong investigation into mass killings of anti-government protesters. Not even the Mubarak regime had ever stopped Human Rights Watch from entering Egypt.
Despite pleas from President Barack Obama and other world leaders, Egypt has sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists to seven years in prison after they were charged with aiding the Muslim Brotherhood. Even el-Sissi is having regrets about what the courts did, but he has done nothing to right the situation.
Egypt’s public prosecutor recently began an investigation of a jailed democracy activist, Ahmed Maher, for alleged high treason because of a June 4 op-ed piece he wrote from prison for The Washington Post. Freedom of thought and speech seems to have little respect among Egyptian authorities these days.
Egypt, the most populous Arab country and the most prominent site of the Arab Spring protests that began in late 2010, is failing to live up to its long and proud history of being a center of Middle Eastern life and culture.
Yes, in recent weeks Egypt has tried to become constructively involved in trying to end the violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. But because Egypt’s own government is so tied up with internal problems, its peace-making efforts seem weak and ineffectual.
The great hopes of the people in Tahrir Square in Cairo during the Arab Spring uprising have been dashed and the Egyptian people again are being ruled by military authorities who seem to have little stomach for the messiness of democratic institutions and freedoms.
Instead of banning political parties, the machinery of Egyptian government should be creating political space for legitimate competition and dissent.
Instead of throwing up roadblocks to people dedicated to monitoring human rights, Egyptian leaders should welcome them and cooperate.
Instead of jailing journalists, authorities should let them work freely and simply insist that the official government’s position be reported as well.
And instead of imagining that it’s treasonous to write op-ed pieces for western newspapers, Egypt should encourage its people to express public support for foundational human rights.
At the moment Egypt’s leadership is getting all of that backward.