In February, in the Cairo courtroom where democracy advocates were being held in the same kind of cage as Anwar Sadat’s killers, Nancy Okail, defendant No. 34, stood out.
It was not just her beauty. The Egyptian woman who leads the Cairo office of the US-based Freedom House NGO was the one in the cage reading George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia.
It was her gesture of resistance to the Egyptian military regime that had put on trial democracy advocates who dared partner with Egyptians to promote democracy in a country that had supposedly just had a democratic revolution. Apparently, Okail did not have her copy of Orwell’s 1984 or Animal Farm — classics on authoritarianism — because this fraudulent show trial could easily have been a chapter in either one.
While seven US democracy workers who were slated to be tried with Okail have been allowed to leave the country, she and dozens of her Egyptian colleagues still face prosecution at a trial re-set for June. She is deeply — and rightly — worried that the US, now that it has gotten its citizens out by paying a US$5 million bail, will forget about the Egyptian democracy workers.
After the US workers were released, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton approved US$1.3 billion in military aid to the Egyptian army, in an effort to keep relations on an even keel. It did not.
The Egyptian authorities responded by asking Interpol “to issue worldwide notices for the arrests of 15 non-governmental workers — 12 of them US citizens — accused of illegally operating pro-democracy programs and stirring unrest,” the National Journal reported.
It is sad to see Egypt’s ruling military council — which has done good things to shepherd Egypt’s democratization process — get maneuvered by remnants of the old regime into this xenophobic attack on groups whose only crime was supporting Egyptian efforts to monitor elections and form parties.
“When the US decides to just give away the military aid to Egypt without considering the consequences on us,” Okail said, “it sends a message that the West and the US don’t care about democracy and human rights. They just care about strategic stability. We, the defendants, felt betrayed. The battle we fight standing in that cage, hearing calls for our execution, is not a battle for our freedom, but a battle for liberating Egyptian civil society.”
It is not only liberals who are having a hard time. Last week on Sunday, Egypt’s new Islamist-dominated Parliament demanded that the country’s senior Muslim cleric — state-appointed grand mufti, Ali Gomaa — resign because he had visited East Jerusalem to pray in the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.
Gomaa said it was a personal visit, arranged by Jordan. Nevertheless, Reuters reported that the Egyptian parliamentary committee responsible for religious affairs called on Gomaa to step down, issuing a statement that the “brutal enemy” — Israel — controls Jerusalem’s “entries, exits, mosques and churches. Going in enforces occupation and bestows upon it legitimacy. It also represents a sign of normalization with the Zionist entity that is popularly rejected.”
What does it say when a country that had a democratic revolution is jailing democracy workers and even though it has a peace treaty with Israel wants to sack its mufti for praying in a Jerusalem mosque?
It shows that the Arab awakening in Egypt did not blow the lid off, it blew the lid up. However, the lid — the old regime and intelligence services — is still around. Blowing the lid up, though, created space for the young people who sparked the revolution to take to the streets and for the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists and even a few liberals, to get elected to parliament.
However, now there is a six-way struggle for power in Egypt between the army, the Islamists, the youths, the liberals, the old regime’s loyalists and the business community. This is going to take a long time to sort out. The US’ job is to let whoever wins know that their relations with us will depend on their commitment to free elections, an independent judiciary, free press, open trade, religious pluralism and the rule of law.
It also shows that anyone who thinks the Arab Spring proved that Arabs do not care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict anymore is fooling themselves. Resolving it is now even more important because the Arab streets have a bigger say in politics now than ever. The US has much more credibility with Arabs in promoting democracy when it is also seen as promoting an Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Finally, it shows that — while it is understandable that the Obama team would initially take a low-key approach to defending democracy workers in Egypt — Okail is right: There is such a thing as too low-key.
If the US does not stand up firmly for its own values, then what will happen to those Egyptians who do? The US must respect Egypt’s sovereignty and dignity, but it has no reason to respect a witch hunt against democracy workers trying to hold their own government accountable. The US bit its tongue with Hosni Mubarak and how did that end?
Without vibrant civil society groups, there will never be a sustainable democratic transition in Egypt.
Beijing’s imposition of the Hong Kong National Security Law and a number of other democratic and human rights issues continue to strain relations between the UK and China. The tense situation has significantly decreased the likelihood of British Royal Navy ships being able to continue their practice of docking in Hong Kong’s harbor for resupply — a not altogether unpredictable development. In a Nov. 19 online speech to parliament, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier would next year lead a British and allied task group to the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and East Asia. Johnson
President-elect Biden and his team soon will confront a raging pandemic, a severe economic crisis, demands for progress in addressing racial injustices, intensifying climate-induced crises, and strained relations with allies and partners in many parts of the world. They will be oriented to view China as America’s greatest geostrategic challenge, but not the most immediate threat to the health and prosperity of the American people. Amidst this daunting inheritance, US-Taiwan relations will stand out as a bright spot, an example of progress that should be sustained. There are strong reasons for optimism about the continued development of US-Taiwan relations in the
Americans tend to think of Vietnam as a war that split the US rather than as a country in today’s world. Vietnamese are of course way past that. The country does not have any US Electoral College votes, but if it did, they would be cast enthusiastically for US President Donald Trump. When I told a group of university students at a park in Ho Chi Minh City that I was from the US, they asked: “Do you know why we love Trump?” “Uhhh, is it because he hates China?” I asked back. “Yeah,” the group responded in unison. With a 1,000-year history of
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on Wednesday announced that Shih Cheng-ping (施正屏), a retired National Taiwan Normal University professor, who Beijing says is a spy, had been sentenced to four years in prison for espionage crimes. The news followed last week’s announcement by Beijing that it is compiling a “wanted list” of pro-independence “Taiwan secessionists” that would be used to “punish” those blacklisted under its national security laws. Taken together, the announcements show that Beijing’s Taiwan policy under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is becoming increasingly erratic, uncoordinated and poorly thought out, which raises serious questions about Xi’s leadership ability. Shih went missing