1772The Shame of Egypt - NY Times
- Aug 1, 2002The Shame of Egypt
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt describes himself as
America's leading Arab ally. Yet his anti-democratic
behavior is an embarrassment to Washington and an
affront to his own people. The latest example is
Monday's re-sentencing of Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a
sociologist and human rights activist, to seven years
in prison for his efforts to register voters, monitor
elections and report attacks on Egypt's Coptic
Mr. Ibrahim, who holds joint United States and
Egyptian citizenship, is 63 years old and ailing. The
verdict should be annulled, not just on humanitarian
grounds but because his prosecution is an abrogation
of the most basic standards of justice. Mr. Ibrahim's
harsh punishment sends a chilling message to Egyptians
yearning for a more accountable and tolerant society.
Egyptian courts are neither fair nor independent. Like
every other government institution, they hew closely
to Mr. Mubarak's wishes. That is especially true of
the State Security Court that ruled in this case. Mr.
Ibrahim might never have been tried had he not written
an article taking note of Mr. Mubarak's efforts to
create a presidential dynasty. Nor is it likely his
sentence would have been reaffirmed if Mr. Mubarak
believed that convicting an American citizen for
promoting democracy and human rights might jeopardize
his own standing with the Bush administration and the
$2 billion annual American subsidy that keeps his
That aid bonanza was granted to reward Mr. Mubarak's
predecessor, Anwar el-Sadat, for signing a peace
treaty with Israel. Washington has never demanded good
governance and democracy from Cairo in return. In
recent months President Bush has spoken of the need to
promote democracy in the Arab world. But so far he has
pushed the point only with the Palestinians. It is
time to extend this policy to Egypt.
While hardly the worst example of dictatorship in the
Middle East, Egypt is one of the saddest. It is a
country with a long and glorious history, a
substantial middle class, a peace treaty with Israel
and large quantities of American aid. Under Mr.
Mubarak it has squandered economic and diplomatic
opportunities and relentlessly stifled political
debate. Its official media are awash in anti-American
and anti-Semitic propaganda.
The State Department and American officials in Cairo
have issued diplomatically phrased protests of Mr.
Ibrahim's trial and sentence. This is entirely
insufficient. What is needed is a message delivered
personally by Mr. Bush and other top officials not
only about the inexcusable treatment of Mr. Ibrahim
but of the contemptuous approach to democratic values.
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