The Washington Post has a poignant editorial today protesting the unjust sentence handed down by an Egyptian court against well-known dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim:
This month, Mr. Ibrahim was convicted of seditious libel or “tarnishing” the image of Egypt. For this transgression, the ailing, 69-year-old scholar was sentenced to two years in jail, with hard labor, and ordered to pay a fine equivalent to about $1,500. The prime piece of evidence against Mr. Ibrahim: The opinions he expressed in this newspaper.
This is of a piece with Hosni Mubarak’s crackdown against all conceivable liberal challengers. Ayman Nour, who had the temerity to run against Mubarak in the last presidential election in 2005, remains in prison on trumped up charges of fabricating signatures for his qualification petitions. (Luckily for Ibrahim, he is living outside Egypt these days so he won’t be in an adjoining cell—as long as he doesn’t return to his homeland.) And, for all of President Bush’s championing of dissidents such as these, the Mubarak regime still continues to get approximately $2 billion a year in U.S. aid, no strings attached. As the Post notes:
There was a time, only a few years ago, when [Bush] withheld millions of dollars in aid to Egypt until the country released Mr. Ibrahim from an unjust incarceration. Now, the administration can only muster an official, feeble “expression of disappointment” through an organ of the State Department as it continues to funnel billions to Egypt, enabling Mr. Mubarak to run an increasingly repressive police state.
Sooner or later Bush will have to address the obvious question: Was he wrong in his first term to make support for democrats and dissidents a central focus of his presidency? Or is he wrong today to quietly walk away from his earlier advocacy? Or, perhaps more accurately, to let his underlings quietly walk away from his earlier advocacy?
In his heart of hearts, I suspect that Bush feels as passionately as ever about “the freedom agenda,” which makes it all the more puzzling that he has allowed his secretary of state and others to shrink it to the vanishing point. Bush can still point to a few statements of support for dissidents. But his actions haven’t matched his rhetoric, leaving those who stuck out their necks—brave men like Ibrahim and Nour—to pay the price.