Commentary Magazine


Topic: Egyptian government

Want a Mubarak Rerun? Be Careful What You Wish For.

For the past year, many in the United States and Israel have mourned the toppling of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Many of the same people who lamented his fall were quick to point out he was a corrupt despot who turned his country’s treaty with Israel into a “cold peace.” But once it became clear the main beneficiaries of the Arab Spring protests would not be the tiny faction of Egyptian liberals but the Muslim Brotherhood, the demise of a man who was once rightly derided for never losing an opportunity to make mischief at Israel’s expense was treated as a calamity. Yet, with today’s decision by Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court that dissolved the parliament that was elected in the aftermath of the change in regime, those who longed for a Mubarak rerun may get their wish. Let’s see if they like the result any better than the Brotherhood’s power grab via elections.

As Michael wrote earlier today, the Egyptian military may be seeking to emulate the example of Algeria, where in 1991 an election victory by Islamists was overturned by the government, leading to a long and bloody civil war. If, as he points out, that means a conflict that will prevent the Brotherhood from attaining total power in Cairo, it may be worth the chaos and suffering that will ensue from the court’s decision. But those hoping presidential candidate Ahmid Shafik, a Mubarak-era retread, in combination with the Egyptian military will put down the Brotherhood, should be careful what they wish for. As awful as the prospect of the election of an Brotherhood president along with the deposed parliament might be, Israelis should be extremely wary about the possibility of a civil war taking place next door in Egypt.

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For the past year, many in the United States and Israel have mourned the toppling of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Many of the same people who lamented his fall were quick to point out he was a corrupt despot who turned his country’s treaty with Israel into a “cold peace.” But once it became clear the main beneficiaries of the Arab Spring protests would not be the tiny faction of Egyptian liberals but the Muslim Brotherhood, the demise of a man who was once rightly derided for never losing an opportunity to make mischief at Israel’s expense was treated as a calamity. Yet, with today’s decision by Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court that dissolved the parliament that was elected in the aftermath of the change in regime, those who longed for a Mubarak rerun may get their wish. Let’s see if they like the result any better than the Brotherhood’s power grab via elections.

As Michael wrote earlier today, the Egyptian military may be seeking to emulate the example of Algeria, where in 1991 an election victory by Islamists was overturned by the government, leading to a long and bloody civil war. If, as he points out, that means a conflict that will prevent the Brotherhood from attaining total power in Cairo, it may be worth the chaos and suffering that will ensue from the court’s decision. But those hoping presidential candidate Ahmid Shafik, a Mubarak-era retread, in combination with the Egyptian military will put down the Brotherhood, should be careful what they wish for. As awful as the prospect of the election of an Brotherhood president along with the deposed parliament might be, Israelis should be extremely wary about the possibility of a civil war taking place next door in Egypt.

The problem for the West is that there are no good alternatives. In an ideal world, Mubarak would have been replaced by a genuine democracy whose leaders were not intent on turning the most populous Arab country into an Islamist fief. But we don’t live in an ideal world. The myth of the Arab Spring being a Facebook or Twitter revolution was always bunk. Egypt’s streets are ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, the only real organized party in Egypt that can stand up to the remnants of the old regime. The army is rightly wary of the Brotherhood and fears that, at best, an Islamist-led government will emulate Turkey’s path in which the military loses power and a gradual path to religious despotism is set in motion.

Unfortunately, the idea that there can be a return to Mubarak’s authoritarian rule without the now comatose former leader is also a myth. Now that the democratic genie that has unleashed the Brotherhood has been let out of the bottle, the only way to put it back in is with the brute force that the Egyptian Army was clearly unwilling to use last year as Mubarak fell. If they do crack down and the Islamist mob resists, the result may make Assad’s massacres in Syria look like family picnics. No one can know what would follow the enactment of such a scenario. But if the best case is a repeat of the Algerian nightmare, the impact on Israel and the rest of the Middle East will be considerable.

Israel’s border with Egypt is enough of a problem now. If the Nile Valley becomes a war zone of some kind, the spillover into Gaza and other countries will make the whole region more dangerous and threaten the stability of other regimes, especially the shaky Hashemite monarchy in Jordan.

Such a scenario is enough to make a democratic transition to a Muslim Brotherhood government that would have had to make an uneasy alliance with the military to some extent look like an attractive alternative.

Despite the unfair criticism President Obama has gotten on the issue, it was never true that the United States could have saved Mubarak. If anything, the United States has even less leverage now. Those who have been carping about the loss of Mubarak need to pipe down and watch with the rest of us as we see which of the unpleasant possibilities for Egypt becomes reality.

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Muslim Brotherhood Wants to End Israel Peace Treaty

A high-ranking member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has come out and said that any new Egyptian government must end the three-decade-old peace treaty with Israel.

As progressives continue to argue that the Muslim Brotherhood is actually an enlightened, liberal political group, it’s important to note statements like these. While the Egyptian Brotherhood has renounced violence for the most part, it’s still a sworn enemy of Israel and would be a poor partner for the U.S. if it gained power in Egypt:

“After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed, there is a need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel,” Rashad al-Bayoumi, a deputy leader of the outlawed movement, said on Japan’s NHTV.

The interview contrasted with earlier signals from the group. On Feb. 1, Mahmoud Ezzat, a spokesman for the brothers, told CBS News that his organization “will respect the peace treaty with Israel as long as Israel shows real progress on improving the lot of the Palestinians.”

Of course, the only reason the Brotherhood can make statements like this about Israel is because it probably won’t gain majority power in any sort of coalition government that replaces Mubarak. The group needs to maintain its Islamist street cred, and one of the ways to do this is by coming out strongly against Israel.

But the Brotherhood is also politically savvy and knows that getting rid of the treaty would result in a fight that the country simply can’t handle at the moment. And if the group wins a decent minority block of seats in a new coalition government, then it has the best of both worlds: it can continue the anti-Israel statements without having to deal the political fallout.

A high-ranking member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has come out and said that any new Egyptian government must end the three-decade-old peace treaty with Israel.

As progressives continue to argue that the Muslim Brotherhood is actually an enlightened, liberal political group, it’s important to note statements like these. While the Egyptian Brotherhood has renounced violence for the most part, it’s still a sworn enemy of Israel and would be a poor partner for the U.S. if it gained power in Egypt:

“After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed, there is a need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel,” Rashad al-Bayoumi, a deputy leader of the outlawed movement, said on Japan’s NHTV.

The interview contrasted with earlier signals from the group. On Feb. 1, Mahmoud Ezzat, a spokesman for the brothers, told CBS News that his organization “will respect the peace treaty with Israel as long as Israel shows real progress on improving the lot of the Palestinians.”

Of course, the only reason the Brotherhood can make statements like this about Israel is because it probably won’t gain majority power in any sort of coalition government that replaces Mubarak. The group needs to maintain its Islamist street cred, and one of the ways to do this is by coming out strongly against Israel.

But the Brotherhood is also politically savvy and knows that getting rid of the treaty would result in a fight that the country simply can’t handle at the moment. And if the group wins a decent minority block of seats in a new coalition government, then it has the best of both worlds: it can continue the anti-Israel statements without having to deal the political fallout.

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Curious Quote of the Day

From a Bloomberg News article on turmoil in the Middle East:

In Egypt, where Mubarak, 82, has been a dependable U.S. ally for 30 years, the White House will need “a delicate touch” to “ensure that a successor government is neither virulently anti-American nor openly hostile to Israel,” said Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Egypt is the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, according to the State Department’s 2011 budget, receiving more than $1.5 billion a year.

“We should be quietly advising other leaders in the region to take steps to alleviate discontent” and “avoid the same fate that Mubarak is now experiencing,” Walt said.

There’s no further description of Professor Walt in the Bloomberg article, but those familiar with his record on matters relating to Jews or Israel may find the spectacle of his cautioning against an Egyptian government “openly hostile to Israel” to be somewhat stunning, akin to Karl Marx being quoted hoping that the new Egyptian government won’t be openly hostile to capitalism. Though I suppose it leaves open the possibility that Professor Walt is hoping for an Egyptian government that’s privately hostile to Israel while publicly professing to wish it no harm.

From a Bloomberg News article on turmoil in the Middle East:

In Egypt, where Mubarak, 82, has been a dependable U.S. ally for 30 years, the White House will need “a delicate touch” to “ensure that a successor government is neither virulently anti-American nor openly hostile to Israel,” said Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Egypt is the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, according to the State Department’s 2011 budget, receiving more than $1.5 billion a year.

“We should be quietly advising other leaders in the region to take steps to alleviate discontent” and “avoid the same fate that Mubarak is now experiencing,” Walt said.

There’s no further description of Professor Walt in the Bloomberg article, but those familiar with his record on matters relating to Jews or Israel may find the spectacle of his cautioning against an Egyptian government “openly hostile to Israel” to be somewhat stunning, akin to Karl Marx being quoted hoping that the new Egyptian government won’t be openly hostile to capitalism. Though I suppose it leaves open the possibility that Professor Walt is hoping for an Egyptian government that’s privately hostile to Israel while publicly professing to wish it no harm.

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Is This the End of Land-for-Peace?

Some have noted that the situation in Egypt may mark the demise of Israel’s land-for-peace strategy. At the New York Post, Abby Wisse Schachter makes this point well, as she looks into Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt (h/t Israel Matzav):

Consider how the agreement with Egypt worked out. Because of its military success in 1967 and 1973, Israel actually had the entire Sinai Peninsula with which to bargain and that piece of land represented a massive physical buffer between the two countries. Then, after having relinquished the territory and removed hundreds of Israelis from their homes in Yamit (no they were not crazy religious “settlers”), the Israelis got a cold, even belligerent, peace with Egypt that never prevented Egypt from remaining the greatest producer of anti-semitic literature in the world. … And finally, 30 years later, the agreement still rests in the hands of one man, the dictator of Egypt. If Mubarak had been assassinated as his predecessor Sadat was, the accord might have been cancelled years ago.

It’s still far from clear how a new Egyptian government would impact the peace treaty, but, according to the Jerusalem Post, protesters in Egypt have been calling for the peace treaty to be revised by the leadership that succeeds Mubarak:

[Egyptian protester Hazan] Ahmed said he didn’t want Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel completely demolished, but for it to undergo a serious change.

“It should be remodeled. With Mubarak leaving, we know that whoever comes next will remodel the agreement.”

And, of course, any land-for-peace deal with the increasingly unstable PA would be an even bigger strategic blunder if the West Bank government ends up collapsing. Israel undoubtedly has taken note of this, and it’s sure to be factored into the negotiations with the Palestinians.

Some have noted that the situation in Egypt may mark the demise of Israel’s land-for-peace strategy. At the New York Post, Abby Wisse Schachter makes this point well, as she looks into Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt (h/t Israel Matzav):

Consider how the agreement with Egypt worked out. Because of its military success in 1967 and 1973, Israel actually had the entire Sinai Peninsula with which to bargain and that piece of land represented a massive physical buffer between the two countries. Then, after having relinquished the territory and removed hundreds of Israelis from their homes in Yamit (no they were not crazy religious “settlers”), the Israelis got a cold, even belligerent, peace with Egypt that never prevented Egypt from remaining the greatest producer of anti-semitic literature in the world. … And finally, 30 years later, the agreement still rests in the hands of one man, the dictator of Egypt. If Mubarak had been assassinated as his predecessor Sadat was, the accord might have been cancelled years ago.

It’s still far from clear how a new Egyptian government would impact the peace treaty, but, according to the Jerusalem Post, protesters in Egypt have been calling for the peace treaty to be revised by the leadership that succeeds Mubarak:

[Egyptian protester Hazan] Ahmed said he didn’t want Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel completely demolished, but for it to undergo a serious change.

“It should be remodeled. With Mubarak leaving, we know that whoever comes next will remodel the agreement.”

And, of course, any land-for-peace deal with the increasingly unstable PA would be an even bigger strategic blunder if the West Bank government ends up collapsing. Israel undoubtedly has taken note of this, and it’s sure to be factored into the negotiations with the Palestinians.

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Pro-Mubarak Demonstrators Attack Reporters

Pro-Mubarak protesters in Egypt may have been following government instructions when they attacked members of the media today, according to the Jerusalem Post. Journalists from Sweden and Israel have allegedly been detained by the Egyptian government, and CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were physically assaulted by the pro-government rioters:

Two Swedish reporters were held for hours on Wednesday by Egyptian soldiers accusing them of being Mossad spies, the reporters’ employer, daily newspaper Aftonbladet, reported.

The soldiers reportedly attacked the reporters, spitting in their faces and threatening to kill them.

Four Israeli journalists were arrested by Egyptian military police in Cairo on Wednesday. Three of those arrested work for Channel 2 and the fourth is from Nazareth.

In addition, renowned CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were roughed up by mobs favoring Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as were Washington Post reporters. Cooper was reportedly punched in the head ten times.

Another CNN correspondent said that pro-government rioters were instructed to target the press.

The State Department has tweeted a statement condemned the attacks, saying that “We are concerned about detentions and attacks on news media in Egypt. The civil society that Egypt wants to build includes a free press.” But the U.S. really needs to issue a much harsher condemnation on this. Not only is the Egyptian government now acting in direct defiance of Obama administration requests for nonviolence; it also appears that it may have instructed pro-Mubarak mobs to attack Americans. Based on this latest crackdown on the news media, and the recent suspension of Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau, it’s growing even clearer that Mubarak has no interest in pursuing the democratic reforms the U.S. has been calling for.

Pro-Mubarak protesters in Egypt may have been following government instructions when they attacked members of the media today, according to the Jerusalem Post. Journalists from Sweden and Israel have allegedly been detained by the Egyptian government, and CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were physically assaulted by the pro-government rioters:

Two Swedish reporters were held for hours on Wednesday by Egyptian soldiers accusing them of being Mossad spies, the reporters’ employer, daily newspaper Aftonbladet, reported.

The soldiers reportedly attacked the reporters, spitting in their faces and threatening to kill them.

Four Israeli journalists were arrested by Egyptian military police in Cairo on Wednesday. Three of those arrested work for Channel 2 and the fourth is from Nazareth.

In addition, renowned CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were roughed up by mobs favoring Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as were Washington Post reporters. Cooper was reportedly punched in the head ten times.

Another CNN correspondent said that pro-government rioters were instructed to target the press.

The State Department has tweeted a statement condemned the attacks, saying that “We are concerned about detentions and attacks on news media in Egypt. The civil society that Egypt wants to build includes a free press.” But the U.S. really needs to issue a much harsher condemnation on this. Not only is the Egyptian government now acting in direct defiance of Obama administration requests for nonviolence; it also appears that it may have instructed pro-Mubarak mobs to attack Americans. Based on this latest crackdown on the news media, and the recent suspension of Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau, it’s growing even clearer that Mubarak has no interest in pursuing the democratic reforms the U.S. has been calling for.

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Mubarak Moves to Shut Down Al Jazeera

Not content with restricting Internet and cell-phone use, this morning the Mubarak regime attempted to shut down the Al Jazeera Cairo bureau, which has been doing some of the most comprehensive reporting on the Egyptian mass protests:

Outgoing information minister Anas al-Fikki has “ordered the closure of all activities by Al Jazeera in the Arab republic of Egypt and the annulment of its licences,” Egypt’s official MENA news agency reported.

The press cards of all Al Jazeera staff in Egypt were also being withdrawn, it added.

Egyptian satellite operator Nilesat meanwhile halted its relays of Al Jazeera programming, although the Qatar-based television channel could still be viewed in Cairo via Arabsat.

But silencing dissent isn’t as simple as it used to be. Shortly after the shutdown, Al Jazeera began giving viewers instructions on Twitter, explaining how to access its broadcasts online or through other TV frequencies.

“If you’ve lost @AJArabic signal on NileSat, watch it on Hotbird 12111/V/27500,” the news organization Tweeted, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Egyptian government has dealt with these types of mass protests before, but its traditional tactics for clamping down on communication are useless today. At some point soon, probably, totalitarian regimes will figure out how to successfully suppress opposition in the age of social media. But for now, the eyes of the world are still glued to Egypt, and there isn’t a thing the government can do to stop it.

Not content with restricting Internet and cell-phone use, this morning the Mubarak regime attempted to shut down the Al Jazeera Cairo bureau, which has been doing some of the most comprehensive reporting on the Egyptian mass protests:

Outgoing information minister Anas al-Fikki has “ordered the closure of all activities by Al Jazeera in the Arab republic of Egypt and the annulment of its licences,” Egypt’s official MENA news agency reported.

The press cards of all Al Jazeera staff in Egypt were also being withdrawn, it added.

Egyptian satellite operator Nilesat meanwhile halted its relays of Al Jazeera programming, although the Qatar-based television channel could still be viewed in Cairo via Arabsat.

But silencing dissent isn’t as simple as it used to be. Shortly after the shutdown, Al Jazeera began giving viewers instructions on Twitter, explaining how to access its broadcasts online or through other TV frequencies.

“If you’ve lost @AJArabic signal on NileSat, watch it on Hotbird 12111/V/27500,” the news organization Tweeted, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Egyptian government has dealt with these types of mass protests before, but its traditional tactics for clamping down on communication are useless today. At some point soon, probably, totalitarian regimes will figure out how to successfully suppress opposition in the age of social media. But for now, the eyes of the world are still glued to Egypt, and there isn’t a thing the government can do to stop it.

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Clinton, Jordanian FM: No. 1 Priority Is Israeli/Palestinian Peace Process

Tunisia’s transition government is creating black lists of long-serving officials to be expelled from the government, which covers most of the people who have experience governing. Egypt is literally on fire, Yemen is about to follow, and Jordan is on deck. The nightmare land-for-peace scenario — where Israel cedes strategic depth to a stable government only to see it fall to radicals who abandon previous agreements — is roughly at 50/50 right now, with only an unstable Egyptian government standing in the way.

Under normal thinking, the uncertainty over land-for-peace would cause a rethinking of land-for-peace, and violent riots would engender a focus on things that aren’t violent riots. But dogma is dogma:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that peace in the Middle East remained the top US priority, despite unrest in the region and a leak of alleged Palestinian negotiation documents. Clinton confirmed she would head next week to Munich for talks of the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators and said she spoke at length about the conflict with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan, a close US partner. “For both our nations, permanent peace in the Middle East remains our number one priority,” Clinton told a joint news conference with Judeh. … “Such an agreement, Jordan and the United States believe, will not only bring peace and prosperity to those who are directly affected, but it will be a major step toward a world free of extremism,” she said. [emphasis added]

Good to see that the Jordanians are keeping their eyes on the ball, too, despite already facing tribal pressure and now being subject to the same economic-Islamist alliance sweeping the rest of the Middle East. Given the Palestinian Authority’s precarious weakness, it’s not unlikely that a West Bank state would quickly become radicalized, with the instability spilling across the Jordan River and all the way into Amman. Though, in fairness, under this scenario, their declared “number one priority” would have been solved, and Israel would be out of the West Bank, such that they’d finally be able to focus on less-critical issues like the Jordanian kingdom not getting overthrown.

Usually the diplomatic obsession with Israel — irrational and incoherent as it is — at least has the quality of being interesting. Foreign-policy experts have to invent elaborate geopolitical and geo-cultural theories like linkage. Then, because those theories are wrong, they have to come up with creative epistemic and rhetorical ways of justifying them — insider access to Muslim diplomats, movement detectable only to experts, critical distinctions between public and private spheres in the Arab world, etc. It’s like reading about all the brilliant people who tried to save the medieval church’s Earth-centered solar system by sticking epicycles everywhere. Sure, it’s a last-ditch effort to save a fundamentally incorrect theory, one being propped up in the interests of ideology — but at least it’s interesting.

This, in sharp contrast, is just silly. And while I hope and think that the secretary of state was just mouthing the usual ritualistic incantations, the fact that she felt the need to do so shows how far removed from reality Middle East diplomacy has gotten.

Tunisia’s transition government is creating black lists of long-serving officials to be expelled from the government, which covers most of the people who have experience governing. Egypt is literally on fire, Yemen is about to follow, and Jordan is on deck. The nightmare land-for-peace scenario — where Israel cedes strategic depth to a stable government only to see it fall to radicals who abandon previous agreements — is roughly at 50/50 right now, with only an unstable Egyptian government standing in the way.

Under normal thinking, the uncertainty over land-for-peace would cause a rethinking of land-for-peace, and violent riots would engender a focus on things that aren’t violent riots. But dogma is dogma:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that peace in the Middle East remained the top US priority, despite unrest in the region and a leak of alleged Palestinian negotiation documents. Clinton confirmed she would head next week to Munich for talks of the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators and said she spoke at length about the conflict with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan, a close US partner. “For both our nations, permanent peace in the Middle East remains our number one priority,” Clinton told a joint news conference with Judeh. … “Such an agreement, Jordan and the United States believe, will not only bring peace and prosperity to those who are directly affected, but it will be a major step toward a world free of extremism,” she said. [emphasis added]

Good to see that the Jordanians are keeping their eyes on the ball, too, despite already facing tribal pressure and now being subject to the same economic-Islamist alliance sweeping the rest of the Middle East. Given the Palestinian Authority’s precarious weakness, it’s not unlikely that a West Bank state would quickly become radicalized, with the instability spilling across the Jordan River and all the way into Amman. Though, in fairness, under this scenario, their declared “number one priority” would have been solved, and Israel would be out of the West Bank, such that they’d finally be able to focus on less-critical issues like the Jordanian kingdom not getting overthrown.

Usually the diplomatic obsession with Israel — irrational and incoherent as it is — at least has the quality of being interesting. Foreign-policy experts have to invent elaborate geopolitical and geo-cultural theories like linkage. Then, because those theories are wrong, they have to come up with creative epistemic and rhetorical ways of justifying them — insider access to Muslim diplomats, movement detectable only to experts, critical distinctions between public and private spheres in the Arab world, etc. It’s like reading about all the brilliant people who tried to save the medieval church’s Earth-centered solar system by sticking epicycles everywhere. Sure, it’s a last-ditch effort to save a fundamentally incorrect theory, one being propped up in the interests of ideology — but at least it’s interesting.

This, in sharp contrast, is just silly. And while I hope and think that the secretary of state was just mouthing the usual ritualistic incantations, the fact that she felt the need to do so shows how far removed from reality Middle East diplomacy has gotten.

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What Not to Say About Egypt

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s latest statement in response to the protests in Egypt should be immortalized as a classic articulation of the absurd, approaching the level of “Let them eat cake.” As hundreds of thousands of Egyptians defy a state-imposed curfew, set fire to Hosni Mubarak’s party headquarters, overturn cars, and set off explosions nationwide while demanding that Mubarak leave the country, Clinton took a moment out of her day to note the following:

We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protestors. We call on the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain security forces. At the same time, protesters should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully. We urge Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and reverse unprecedented steps it has taken to cut down means of communications.

That is, to be sure, the best, most admirable line for the administration to take – if today were January 20. On January 28, it is not merely late; it is surreal. The protests are not peaceful and the regime is not so much cracking down as it is fighting for its survival. The time to urge a dictator to grant his people freedoms is before he’s flitting between burning buildings. But back when that was the case, the Obama administration was too busy being pragmatic and humble to raise the issue of human rights in Egypt.

Hang on, there’s more. Clinton outdid herself with this: “We strongly believe that the Egyptian government needs to engage with its people on immediate reforms. We want to partner with the Egyptian people and its government.” You can’t even call that fence-sitting, because the fence in question does not exist outside Hillary Clinton’s imagination. If we take this statement to mean anything in the real world, it would be that the U.S. intends to lead some sort of post-uprising group-therapy workshop between a dictator and his enraged subjects. Whatever else comes from the riots in Egypt, it has killed “smart power” in its tracks.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s latest statement in response to the protests in Egypt should be immortalized as a classic articulation of the absurd, approaching the level of “Let them eat cake.” As hundreds of thousands of Egyptians defy a state-imposed curfew, set fire to Hosni Mubarak’s party headquarters, overturn cars, and set off explosions nationwide while demanding that Mubarak leave the country, Clinton took a moment out of her day to note the following:

We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protestors. We call on the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain security forces. At the same time, protesters should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully. We urge Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and reverse unprecedented steps it has taken to cut down means of communications.

That is, to be sure, the best, most admirable line for the administration to take – if today were January 20. On January 28, it is not merely late; it is surreal. The protests are not peaceful and the regime is not so much cracking down as it is fighting for its survival. The time to urge a dictator to grant his people freedoms is before he’s flitting between burning buildings. But back when that was the case, the Obama administration was too busy being pragmatic and humble to raise the issue of human rights in Egypt.

Hang on, there’s more. Clinton outdid herself with this: “We strongly believe that the Egyptian government needs to engage with its people on immediate reforms. We want to partner with the Egyptian people and its government.” You can’t even call that fence-sitting, because the fence in question does not exist outside Hillary Clinton’s imagination. If we take this statement to mean anything in the real world, it would be that the U.S. intends to lead some sort of post-uprising group-therapy workshop between a dictator and his enraged subjects. Whatever else comes from the riots in Egypt, it has killed “smart power” in its tracks.

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Smart-Power Whiplash

During her Senate confirmation hearing in January of 2009, Hillary Clinton described smart power — her preferred approach to American foreign policy — as “picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation.” Two years later, we’re finally getting a sense of what this means. Recent events and statements have been clarifying.

When the situation is a conference on democracy, the right tool is a pro-democracy statement. Thus Clinton said to the attendees at this year’s Forum for the Future in Doha, Qatar, “While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others, people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order. . . . The region’s foundations are sinking into the sand.”

But when the situation is an actual and potentially democratic Arab revolt, the right tool is fence-sitting. When Clinton was asked for her thoughts on the popular uprising against the corrupt regime in Tunisia, she said, “We are not taking sides in it, we just hope there can be a peaceful resolution of it.”

When the situation is the announcement of planned elections after said uprising, the right tool is, once again, a pro-democracy statement. Today, after Clinton spoke with Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane and interim Tunisian leader Mohammed Ghannouchi, she told the press, “I’m encouraged by the direction that they are setting towards inclusive elections that will be held as soon as practicable.”

But when the situation is once again a potentially democratic Arab uprising, the right tool is urging restraint and giving cover to the repressive Arab regime being opposed. Today thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to protest the Mubarak government, and Reuters reports the following: “U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday urged all sides in Egypt to exercise restraint following street protests and said she believed the Egyptian government was stable and looking for ways to respond to its people’s aspirations.”

For those playing along at home, that’s defending democracy and Hosni Mubarak in the same day. Imagine how difficult it would be to practice smart power if you actually believed in something.

During her Senate confirmation hearing in January of 2009, Hillary Clinton described smart power — her preferred approach to American foreign policy — as “picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation.” Two years later, we’re finally getting a sense of what this means. Recent events and statements have been clarifying.

When the situation is a conference on democracy, the right tool is a pro-democracy statement. Thus Clinton said to the attendees at this year’s Forum for the Future in Doha, Qatar, “While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others, people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order. . . . The region’s foundations are sinking into the sand.”

But when the situation is an actual and potentially democratic Arab revolt, the right tool is fence-sitting. When Clinton was asked for her thoughts on the popular uprising against the corrupt regime in Tunisia, she said, “We are not taking sides in it, we just hope there can be a peaceful resolution of it.”

When the situation is the announcement of planned elections after said uprising, the right tool is, once again, a pro-democracy statement. Today, after Clinton spoke with Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane and interim Tunisian leader Mohammed Ghannouchi, she told the press, “I’m encouraged by the direction that they are setting towards inclusive elections that will be held as soon as practicable.”

But when the situation is once again a potentially democratic Arab uprising, the right tool is urging restraint and giving cover to the repressive Arab regime being opposed. Today thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to protest the Mubarak government, and Reuters reports the following: “U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday urged all sides in Egypt to exercise restraint following street protests and said she believed the Egyptian government was stable and looking for ways to respond to its people’s aspirations.”

For those playing along at home, that’s defending democracy and Hosni Mubarak in the same day. Imagine how difficult it would be to practice smart power if you actually believed in something.

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Religious Freedom Beyond Ground Zero

Obama’s indifference toward international religious freedom is well known – especially when it concerns despotic regimes of the Middle East. It is not as if the pervasive abuses are a secret.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom earlier this year put both Egypt and Turkey on its watch list. Egypt has received billions in new aid and a pass on re-implementation of its so-called Emergency Laws from the Obama administration, despite the Commission’s findings:

Serious problems of discrimination, intolerance, and other human rights violations against members of religious minorities, as well as disfavored Muslims, remain widespread in Egypt. The reporting period marked a significant upsurge in violence targeting Coptic Orthodox Christians. The Egyptian government has not taken sufficient steps to halt the repression of and discrimination against Christians and other religious believers, or, in many cases, to punish those responsible for violence or other severe violations of religious freedom. This increase in violence, and the failure to prosecute those responsible, fosters a growing climate of impunity. … Disfavored Muslims continue to face discrimination and repression. The government has not responded adequately to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media.

In the wake of the Flotilla incident, the administration treated Turkey (from which the weapon-wielding terrorists embarked, and home to the terrorist-connected IHH “charity” ) with kid gloves, refraining from public criticism. Nor does it have much to say about the Commission’s findings:

Serious limitations on the freedom of religion or belief continue to occur in Turkey. … An additional factor influencing the climate during the past year includes the alleged involvement of state and military officials in the Ergenekon plot, which included alleged plans to assassinate the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox patriarchs and to bomb mosques.

And just yesterday, writing in the Washington Post, Roxana Saberi (herself a captive in Iran’s notorious Evin prison) described the persecution of Bahais in Iran and the hellish experience of two Bahai mothers, sentenced to 20 years on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel as well as “insulting religious sanctities and, later, ‘spreading corruption on earth.’” They were shipped off to Rajai Shahr, a facility “known for torture, unsanitary conditions and inadequate medical care for inmates, who include murderers, drug addicts and thieves.” Obama, however, came into office determined to bet on his “engagement” prowess, ignored the Green Movement, and still declines to spotlight the mullahs’ abominable record on religious (and every other) freedom.

It is regrettable that Obama’s Iftar speech not only mangled the Ground Zero mosque issue (which is a matter of discretion and comity, not legality) but ignored the massive deprivation of religious rights in the Middle East. But that would be like going to Cairo and talking about religious freedom for Copts or state-encouraged anti-Semitism. It is, in a word, inconceivable.

Obama’s indifference toward international religious freedom is well known – especially when it concerns despotic regimes of the Middle East. It is not as if the pervasive abuses are a secret.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom earlier this year put both Egypt and Turkey on its watch list. Egypt has received billions in new aid and a pass on re-implementation of its so-called Emergency Laws from the Obama administration, despite the Commission’s findings:

Serious problems of discrimination, intolerance, and other human rights violations against members of religious minorities, as well as disfavored Muslims, remain widespread in Egypt. The reporting period marked a significant upsurge in violence targeting Coptic Orthodox Christians. The Egyptian government has not taken sufficient steps to halt the repression of and discrimination against Christians and other religious believers, or, in many cases, to punish those responsible for violence or other severe violations of religious freedom. This increase in violence, and the failure to prosecute those responsible, fosters a growing climate of impunity. … Disfavored Muslims continue to face discrimination and repression. The government has not responded adequately to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media.

In the wake of the Flotilla incident, the administration treated Turkey (from which the weapon-wielding terrorists embarked, and home to the terrorist-connected IHH “charity” ) with kid gloves, refraining from public criticism. Nor does it have much to say about the Commission’s findings:

Serious limitations on the freedom of religion or belief continue to occur in Turkey. … An additional factor influencing the climate during the past year includes the alleged involvement of state and military officials in the Ergenekon plot, which included alleged plans to assassinate the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox patriarchs and to bomb mosques.

And just yesterday, writing in the Washington Post, Roxana Saberi (herself a captive in Iran’s notorious Evin prison) described the persecution of Bahais in Iran and the hellish experience of two Bahai mothers, sentenced to 20 years on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel as well as “insulting religious sanctities and, later, ‘spreading corruption on earth.’” They were shipped off to Rajai Shahr, a facility “known for torture, unsanitary conditions and inadequate medical care for inmates, who include murderers, drug addicts and thieves.” Obama, however, came into office determined to bet on his “engagement” prowess, ignored the Green Movement, and still declines to spotlight the mullahs’ abominable record on religious (and every other) freedom.

It is regrettable that Obama’s Iftar speech not only mangled the Ground Zero mosque issue (which is a matter of discretion and comity, not legality) but ignored the massive deprivation of religious rights in the Middle East. But that would be like going to Cairo and talking about religious freedom for Copts or state-encouraged anti-Semitism. It is, in a word, inconceivable.

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A New Abbas?

Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority and presumptive world representative of the Palestinian cause, has been making life difficult for those who make attacking Israel an axiom for their activism. The Jerusalem Post reported that, at a luncheon at Washington’s Brookings Institution last week, Abbas crossed a number of rhetorical red lines that have become the foundations of the anti-Israel narrative.

One: “Nobody denies the Jewish history in the Middle East. A third of our holy Koran talks about the Jews in the Middle East, in this area. Nobody from our side at least denies that the Jews were in Palestine.” Nobody, of course, except for Helen Thomas, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, and countless activists who speak of the entire state of Israel, not just the post-1967 territories, as an “occupation.”

Two: he recognizes “West Jerusalem” as the “capital of Israel.” This is rather bold, considering that even the U.S. State Department doesn’t recognize Western Jerusalem as a part of Israel at all, much less its capital.

Three: Abbas stated that the goal of negotiations would be an absolute end to the conflict, so that there would be “no more demands” — something that sounds obvious but has forever eluded the public Palestinian discourse, keeping Israeli suspicions high that the Palestinians are not remotely interested in ending the conflict.

Four: he conceded that there is anti-Israel incitement on the Palestinian side and that such could be resolved through an agreed-upon monitoring committee.

Five: he allowed for the possibility of an agreed solution that included an international force, even NATO, occupying the Palestinian territories, at least for a few years — opening the door, perhaps, for meeting Israel’s demand that the Palestinian state be demilitarized.

Yet the biggest zinger from Abbas appears in today’s Haaretz. According to the report, he told President Barack Obama that he opposes lifting Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip — a position shared with the Egyptian government, as well. This, of course, not only justifies Israel’s enforcement of the blockade during the flotilla mess (regardless of whether the tactics were prudent) but it also implies that the blockade itself is precisely right. This is truly remarkable, for it drastically undermines the justification for the entire flotilla and puts Turkey and other supporters in the awkward position of having to explain why, exactly, they have been so excited about it in the first place. (It would have been nice if Abbas had said so before the boats launched, but I suppose you can’t have everything.)

Certainly many people will dismiss his comments as the sudden spin of a politician worried about losing his place in the international arena. And obviously his concessions here, assuming he holds on to them, do not mean an immediate breakthrough to peace: you still have the massive problem of dismantling the Hamas government in Gaza (without which there cannot be peace) and coming to agreements on the refugees and Jerusalem. Yet one wonders why these statements have largely been ignored by the major Western media. Is it because, perhaps, that it doesn’t fit well with the current climate of radically de-legitimizing the Jewish state and its right to defend itself?

Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority and presumptive world representative of the Palestinian cause, has been making life difficult for those who make attacking Israel an axiom for their activism. The Jerusalem Post reported that, at a luncheon at Washington’s Brookings Institution last week, Abbas crossed a number of rhetorical red lines that have become the foundations of the anti-Israel narrative.

One: “Nobody denies the Jewish history in the Middle East. A third of our holy Koran talks about the Jews in the Middle East, in this area. Nobody from our side at least denies that the Jews were in Palestine.” Nobody, of course, except for Helen Thomas, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, and countless activists who speak of the entire state of Israel, not just the post-1967 territories, as an “occupation.”

Two: he recognizes “West Jerusalem” as the “capital of Israel.” This is rather bold, considering that even the U.S. State Department doesn’t recognize Western Jerusalem as a part of Israel at all, much less its capital.

Three: Abbas stated that the goal of negotiations would be an absolute end to the conflict, so that there would be “no more demands” — something that sounds obvious but has forever eluded the public Palestinian discourse, keeping Israeli suspicions high that the Palestinians are not remotely interested in ending the conflict.

Four: he conceded that there is anti-Israel incitement on the Palestinian side and that such could be resolved through an agreed-upon monitoring committee.

Five: he allowed for the possibility of an agreed solution that included an international force, even NATO, occupying the Palestinian territories, at least for a few years — opening the door, perhaps, for meeting Israel’s demand that the Palestinian state be demilitarized.

Yet the biggest zinger from Abbas appears in today’s Haaretz. According to the report, he told President Barack Obama that he opposes lifting Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip — a position shared with the Egyptian government, as well. This, of course, not only justifies Israel’s enforcement of the blockade during the flotilla mess (regardless of whether the tactics were prudent) but it also implies that the blockade itself is precisely right. This is truly remarkable, for it drastically undermines the justification for the entire flotilla and puts Turkey and other supporters in the awkward position of having to explain why, exactly, they have been so excited about it in the first place. (It would have been nice if Abbas had said so before the boats launched, but I suppose you can’t have everything.)

Certainly many people will dismiss his comments as the sudden spin of a politician worried about losing his place in the international arena. And obviously his concessions here, assuming he holds on to them, do not mean an immediate breakthrough to peace: you still have the massive problem of dismantling the Hamas government in Gaza (without which there cannot be peace) and coming to agreements on the refugees and Jerusalem. Yet one wonders why these statements have largely been ignored by the major Western media. Is it because, perhaps, that it doesn’t fit well with the current climate of radically de-legitimizing the Jewish state and its right to defend itself?

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Obama Won’t Say Who Killed Daniel Pearl

At a signing ceremony for the Freedom of Press Act, it is ironic and shameful that Obama could not bring himself to identify the killers who beheaded the man who fearlessly reported on the jihadist terrorists. Obama had this to say:

All around the world there are enormously courageous journalists and bloggers who, at great risk to themselves, are trying to shine a light on the critical issues that the people of their country face; who are the frontlines against tyranny and oppression. And obviously the loss of Daniel Pearl was one of those moments that captured the world’s imagination because it reminded us of how valuable a free press is, and it reminded us that there are those who would go to any length in order to silence journalists around the world.

If you didn’t know already, you’d never figure out that he was talking about the Islamic fundamentalists who butchered Pearl. Obama then pronounced:

What this act does is it sends a strong message from the United States government and from the State Department that we are paying attention to how other governments are operating when it comes to the press. It has the State Department each year chronicling how press freedom is operating as one component of our human rights assessment, but it also looks at countries that are — governments that are specifically condoning or facilitating this kind of press repression, singles them out and subjects them to the gaze of world opinion in ways that I think are extraordinarily important.

Oftentimes without this kind of attention, countries and governments feel that they can operate against the press with impunity. And we want to send a message that they can’t.

But of course they can and do, safe in the knowledge that they will pay no price so long as this administration is in power. Has Obama done anything about the suppression of media critics in Egypt (other than prepare a lucrative financial package for the Egyptian government)? Has Obama made this a priority with any thugocracy? No. And when signing a bill in the name of someone who elevated and personified the freedom of expression, Obama at least could have departed from his campaign to delete the name of our enemies from the public lexicon.

At a signing ceremony for the Freedom of Press Act, it is ironic and shameful that Obama could not bring himself to identify the killers who beheaded the man who fearlessly reported on the jihadist terrorists. Obama had this to say:

All around the world there are enormously courageous journalists and bloggers who, at great risk to themselves, are trying to shine a light on the critical issues that the people of their country face; who are the frontlines against tyranny and oppression. And obviously the loss of Daniel Pearl was one of those moments that captured the world’s imagination because it reminded us of how valuable a free press is, and it reminded us that there are those who would go to any length in order to silence journalists around the world.

If you didn’t know already, you’d never figure out that he was talking about the Islamic fundamentalists who butchered Pearl. Obama then pronounced:

What this act does is it sends a strong message from the United States government and from the State Department that we are paying attention to how other governments are operating when it comes to the press. It has the State Department each year chronicling how press freedom is operating as one component of our human rights assessment, but it also looks at countries that are — governments that are specifically condoning or facilitating this kind of press repression, singles them out and subjects them to the gaze of world opinion in ways that I think are extraordinarily important.

Oftentimes without this kind of attention, countries and governments feel that they can operate against the press with impunity. And we want to send a message that they can’t.

But of course they can and do, safe in the knowledge that they will pay no price so long as this administration is in power. Has Obama done anything about the suppression of media critics in Egypt (other than prepare a lucrative financial package for the Egyptian government)? Has Obama made this a priority with any thugocracy? No. And when signing a bill in the name of someone who elevated and personified the freedom of expression, Obama at least could have departed from his campaign to delete the name of our enemies from the public lexicon.

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Egypt Gets Rewarded for Repression

As I noted earlier in the week, Hosni Mubarak has extended the country’s emergency laws for yet another two years, confident that he’ll pay no price for continuing his reign of thuggery. Boy, did he get that right. Josh Rogin reports:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a mildly worded statement Tuesday criticizing the Egyptian government’s decision to extend its “state of emergency” another two years and urged Egypt to adhere to “legal principles that protect the rights of all citizens.”

Meanwhile, her department was preparing to enter into negotiations with Egypt over Cairo’s proposal for a new $4 billion aid endowment that critics say would unfairly reward an authoritarian regime that has jailed or marginalized its opponents, rigged elections, and censored or manipulated the press for the nearly three decades that President Hosni Mubarak has been in power.

The administration is getting push-back from an array of disparate critics “includ[ing] former Bush administration officials, human-rights groups, and regional experts, [who] say Egypt is attempting to secure aid outside of congressional oversight and without being compelled to make progress on democracy and human rights. They question why Egypt, which by all accounts has actually been backsliding on reform in recent years, should be singled out for such a unique and lucrative prize.” Even worse, the administration slashed democracy funding while increasing economic support, thus providing a handsome slush fund for Mubarak. Even Human Rights Watch has figured out the problem:

Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, argued that shifting the bulk of U.S. economic assistance to an endowment will inevitably be seen in Egypt as empowering Mubarak. “I don’t think there’s a way to do it that avoids that perception in the mind of Egyptians,” he said, “Everything the U.S. does in its relationship with Egypt should be to promote political and economic reform … and to convince the Egyptian people we are in line with their aspirations.”

This is the crux of the bizarrely misguided Muslim-outreach policy of the Obama team. It really has precious little to do with reaching out to Muslims; it is rather a policy of ingratiation with oppressive regimes (e.g., Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia) to the detriment of their people. We are not promoting warm feelings toward the U.S. by enabling Mubarak or by signaling that we’ll do business with Bashar al-Assad. And we haven’t gotten anything for our ingratiation. One can’t but help wondering why the Obama team has such affinity for the despots of the Middle East. Is this residual anti-Bush-ism? (He was in favor of democracy promotion, so they can’t be.) Is it disdain for the people of the Middle East, whom the Obama administration believes incapable of supporting democratic reform? Whatever the motivation, it lacks moral legitimacy and has failed to deliver any tangible benefits to the U.S. But it has made it clear that a foreign policy that lacks grounding in American values is, in the long run, unsustainable and ineffective.

As I noted earlier in the week, Hosni Mubarak has extended the country’s emergency laws for yet another two years, confident that he’ll pay no price for continuing his reign of thuggery. Boy, did he get that right. Josh Rogin reports:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a mildly worded statement Tuesday criticizing the Egyptian government’s decision to extend its “state of emergency” another two years and urged Egypt to adhere to “legal principles that protect the rights of all citizens.”

Meanwhile, her department was preparing to enter into negotiations with Egypt over Cairo’s proposal for a new $4 billion aid endowment that critics say would unfairly reward an authoritarian regime that has jailed or marginalized its opponents, rigged elections, and censored or manipulated the press for the nearly three decades that President Hosni Mubarak has been in power.

The administration is getting push-back from an array of disparate critics “includ[ing] former Bush administration officials, human-rights groups, and regional experts, [who] say Egypt is attempting to secure aid outside of congressional oversight and without being compelled to make progress on democracy and human rights. They question why Egypt, which by all accounts has actually been backsliding on reform in recent years, should be singled out for such a unique and lucrative prize.” Even worse, the administration slashed democracy funding while increasing economic support, thus providing a handsome slush fund for Mubarak. Even Human Rights Watch has figured out the problem:

Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, argued that shifting the bulk of U.S. economic assistance to an endowment will inevitably be seen in Egypt as empowering Mubarak. “I don’t think there’s a way to do it that avoids that perception in the mind of Egyptians,” he said, “Everything the U.S. does in its relationship with Egypt should be to promote political and economic reform … and to convince the Egyptian people we are in line with their aspirations.”

This is the crux of the bizarrely misguided Muslim-outreach policy of the Obama team. It really has precious little to do with reaching out to Muslims; it is rather a policy of ingratiation with oppressive regimes (e.g., Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia) to the detriment of their people. We are not promoting warm feelings toward the U.S. by enabling Mubarak or by signaling that we’ll do business with Bashar al-Assad. And we haven’t gotten anything for our ingratiation. One can’t but help wondering why the Obama team has such affinity for the despots of the Middle East. Is this residual anti-Bush-ism? (He was in favor of democracy promotion, so they can’t be.) Is it disdain for the people of the Middle East, whom the Obama administration believes incapable of supporting democratic reform? Whatever the motivation, it lacks moral legitimacy and has failed to deliver any tangible benefits to the U.S. But it has made it clear that a foreign policy that lacks grounding in American values is, in the long run, unsustainable and ineffective.

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RE: Obama’s Lousy Record on Religious Freedom

As I noted yesterday, the U.S. Commission on International Freedom released its annual report. Its chairman, Leonard Leo, writes a column highlighting some of its findings. Two in particular stand out, in large part because U.S. policy is so badly out of sync and at odds with those striving to promote religious freedom.

First is Sudan. Critics on the right and left have deplored the administration’s feckless envoy, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, and the administration’s “spectacularly naïve perspective—and accompanying policy of appeasement.” Meanwhile, the religious atrocities continue, as Leo details:

USCIRF has focused since its inception on Sudan because Khartoum’s policies of Islamization and Arabization were a major factor in the Sudanese North-South civil war (1983-2005). During that period, Northern leaders, including Sudan’s current President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, exploited religion to mobilize northern Muslims against non-Muslim Southerners by appealing to Islam and calling for jihad. USCIRF remains concerned about continuing severe human rights violations committed by the Sudanese government against both non-Muslims and Muslims who depart from the government’s interpretation of Islam; the two million Southerners who reside in the North as internally displaced persons (IDPS); and the dramatic need for international support to develop Southern Sudan. … As the USCIRF delegation carried out its work, visiting displaced South Sudanese Christians living in camps outside Khartoum, the ominous sights of barricaded streets, armed military and security personnel around the National Assembly were a sobering reminder of the challenges to peace that lay ahead for Sudan.

Gration and the administration remain mute.

Then there is Egypt. The administration again is apathetic, it seems, to the religious persecution taking place there. Rep. Frank Wolf observed this about the virtual enslavement of Coptic women: “I expect the State Department to do nothing because that’s the way the State Department has been responding.” Leo explains what fails to interest the Obami:

In Egypt, serious problems of discrimination and intolerance against non-Muslim religious minorities and disfavored members of the Muslim majority remain widespread. The Egyptian government’s inadequate prosecution of those responsible and the politically expedient and occasional use of an ineffective reconciliation process, an improper substitute for conviction and punishment, have created a climate of impunity. Although the government has arrested three Muslim men and put them on trial for the Coptic Christmas Eve attack on six Coptic Orthodox Christians and one Muslim, the Coptic community fears reprisals and is skeptical that the government will either follow through with the trial of the three men in question or use its authority to create an environment in which individuals safely exercise their internationally guaranteed rights of religious freedom. However, President Mubarak publicly condemned the violence and acknowledged its sectarian character, and the Egyptian press for the first time called for a national conversation and an investigation on the root causes of this violence. Juxtaposed against these signs are the USCIRF delegation’s visits to the Muslim Koranist, Jehovah Witnesses, and Baha’i communities, each victimized by state-sponsored discrimination and repression. The government also has responded inadequately to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media.

The administration’s verbiage provides a clue to its disinterest in elevating this issue to a top priority. This report explains:

[C]ommission chairman Leonard Leo says the shrinking importance of religious freedom can be seen in the Obama administration’s evolving rhetoric on the issue. Whereas Mr. Obama came into office speaking of “freedom of religion,” Mr. Leo says, the president more recently has opted for speaking about “freedom of worship,” which the USCIRF chairman says has a more limited connotation. “Freedom of religion” is more broadly understood as a universal right and more specific in its referral to religions than is the more ephemeral phrase “freedom of worship,” some religious experts say. Critics say Obama’s recent preference for “worship” raises doubts about the administration’s determination to aggressively press for the rights of religious minorities in “friendly” countries such as Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan – all of which receive billions of dollars in US aid. The president referred to “freedom of worship,” for example, during his Asia trip last fall, when he was castigated by rights groups for downplaying the issue of religious freedom in China and the status of the Dalai Lama.

The administration’s slothful indifference to the uptick in religious persecution in the “Muslim World” stands in stark contrast to its obsession with the Palestinian-Israel conflict. Months and months of diplomacy, countless speeches and appearances by the president and high-level officials, condemnations for the Jewish state, and a special envoy are all focused on what is largely a fruitless endeavor — getting to the bargaining table (not even the same table at which the Israelis sit) with recalcitrant Palestinians who lack the will and the ability to make a peace deal. Meanwhile, virtually no time or focus and no ambassador is named to deal with a problem that could, if sufficient resources were devoted, be ameliorated by a forceful American policy. It is a vivid display of the misplaced priorities and wasted opportunities that characterize much of the Obama foreign policy.

As I noted yesterday, the U.S. Commission on International Freedom released its annual report. Its chairman, Leonard Leo, writes a column highlighting some of its findings. Two in particular stand out, in large part because U.S. policy is so badly out of sync and at odds with those striving to promote religious freedom.

First is Sudan. Critics on the right and left have deplored the administration’s feckless envoy, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, and the administration’s “spectacularly naïve perspective—and accompanying policy of appeasement.” Meanwhile, the religious atrocities continue, as Leo details:

USCIRF has focused since its inception on Sudan because Khartoum’s policies of Islamization and Arabization were a major factor in the Sudanese North-South civil war (1983-2005). During that period, Northern leaders, including Sudan’s current President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, exploited religion to mobilize northern Muslims against non-Muslim Southerners by appealing to Islam and calling for jihad. USCIRF remains concerned about continuing severe human rights violations committed by the Sudanese government against both non-Muslims and Muslims who depart from the government’s interpretation of Islam; the two million Southerners who reside in the North as internally displaced persons (IDPS); and the dramatic need for international support to develop Southern Sudan. … As the USCIRF delegation carried out its work, visiting displaced South Sudanese Christians living in camps outside Khartoum, the ominous sights of barricaded streets, armed military and security personnel around the National Assembly were a sobering reminder of the challenges to peace that lay ahead for Sudan.

Gration and the administration remain mute.

Then there is Egypt. The administration again is apathetic, it seems, to the religious persecution taking place there. Rep. Frank Wolf observed this about the virtual enslavement of Coptic women: “I expect the State Department to do nothing because that’s the way the State Department has been responding.” Leo explains what fails to interest the Obami:

In Egypt, serious problems of discrimination and intolerance against non-Muslim religious minorities and disfavored members of the Muslim majority remain widespread. The Egyptian government’s inadequate prosecution of those responsible and the politically expedient and occasional use of an ineffective reconciliation process, an improper substitute for conviction and punishment, have created a climate of impunity. Although the government has arrested three Muslim men and put them on trial for the Coptic Christmas Eve attack on six Coptic Orthodox Christians and one Muslim, the Coptic community fears reprisals and is skeptical that the government will either follow through with the trial of the three men in question or use its authority to create an environment in which individuals safely exercise their internationally guaranteed rights of religious freedom. However, President Mubarak publicly condemned the violence and acknowledged its sectarian character, and the Egyptian press for the first time called for a national conversation and an investigation on the root causes of this violence. Juxtaposed against these signs are the USCIRF delegation’s visits to the Muslim Koranist, Jehovah Witnesses, and Baha’i communities, each victimized by state-sponsored discrimination and repression. The government also has responded inadequately to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media.

The administration’s verbiage provides a clue to its disinterest in elevating this issue to a top priority. This report explains:

[C]ommission chairman Leonard Leo says the shrinking importance of religious freedom can be seen in the Obama administration’s evolving rhetoric on the issue. Whereas Mr. Obama came into office speaking of “freedom of religion,” Mr. Leo says, the president more recently has opted for speaking about “freedom of worship,” which the USCIRF chairman says has a more limited connotation. “Freedom of religion” is more broadly understood as a universal right and more specific in its referral to religions than is the more ephemeral phrase “freedom of worship,” some religious experts say. Critics say Obama’s recent preference for “worship” raises doubts about the administration’s determination to aggressively press for the rights of religious minorities in “friendly” countries such as Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan – all of which receive billions of dollars in US aid. The president referred to “freedom of worship,” for example, during his Asia trip last fall, when he was castigated by rights groups for downplaying the issue of religious freedom in China and the status of the Dalai Lama.

The administration’s slothful indifference to the uptick in religious persecution in the “Muslim World” stands in stark contrast to its obsession with the Palestinian-Israel conflict. Months and months of diplomacy, countless speeches and appearances by the president and high-level officials, condemnations for the Jewish state, and a special envoy are all focused on what is largely a fruitless endeavor — getting to the bargaining table (not even the same table at which the Israelis sit) with recalcitrant Palestinians who lack the will and the ability to make a peace deal. Meanwhile, virtually no time or focus and no ambassador is named to deal with a problem that could, if sufficient resources were devoted, be ameliorated by a forceful American policy. It is a vivid display of the misplaced priorities and wasted opportunities that characterize much of the Obama foreign policy.

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Obama’s Lousy Record on Religious Freedom

In his indifference to human rights and democracy promotion, Obama has made it quite clear that his administration has little interest in protecting and promoting religious freedom. Others have noted his indifference. And he’s about to hear (well, if he bothered to listen) a blast from the U.S. Council on International Religious Freedom. In the introduction to its voluminous report, the USCIRF explains that there are “disturbing trends that threaten freedom of religion across the globe”:

There is the exportation of extremist ideology, which USCIRF has observed in Saudi Arabia’s dissemination of educational materials that instill hate and incite violence throughout the world. In Iran, the government persecutes many of its political opponents in the name of religion under blasphemy and apostasy laws, and denies all rights to one disfavored religious group, the Baha’is. There are also countless instances of state-sponsored repression of religion: Vietnam imprisons individuals for reasons related to their exercise or advocacy of freedom of religion or belief; the Egyptian government fails to provide Baha’is, Coptic Christians and other religious minorities the very basic benefits and privileges that others enjoy; North Korea bans virtually all worship and imprisons in its infamous labor camps even the grandchildren of those caught praying; and China seriously restricts religious activities, church governance, and places of worship.

Yet Obama hasn’t bothered to appoint an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. And he has chosen not to highlight the violations of religious freedom by the top abusers — including China, Egypt, Turkey, and Cuba — but rather to shove the issue to the side. So the question remains: why is the Obama administration, as the USCIRF chair put it, “insufficiently engaged”? Well, it has another agenda, not the promotion of freedom and democracy (too Bush!), but rather cozying up to authoritarian and totalitarian regimes in an attempt to “defuse tension” and improve our “standing in the world.” So if you are going to bow to the Saudi King and to the Chinese communist leaders, avoid confrontation with Iran, and generally suck up to the “Muslim World,” you really can’t be bashing them for their egregious track record on human rights, including religious freedom.

But to what end is all of this? It seems as though we have not endeared ourselves to despots, but that we have demonstrated to both the oppressors and  the oppressed that America has better things to do. The world is less free and the despots, more emboldened as a result.

In his indifference to human rights and democracy promotion, Obama has made it quite clear that his administration has little interest in protecting and promoting religious freedom. Others have noted his indifference. And he’s about to hear (well, if he bothered to listen) a blast from the U.S. Council on International Religious Freedom. In the introduction to its voluminous report, the USCIRF explains that there are “disturbing trends that threaten freedom of religion across the globe”:

There is the exportation of extremist ideology, which USCIRF has observed in Saudi Arabia’s dissemination of educational materials that instill hate and incite violence throughout the world. In Iran, the government persecutes many of its political opponents in the name of religion under blasphemy and apostasy laws, and denies all rights to one disfavored religious group, the Baha’is. There are also countless instances of state-sponsored repression of religion: Vietnam imprisons individuals for reasons related to their exercise or advocacy of freedom of religion or belief; the Egyptian government fails to provide Baha’is, Coptic Christians and other religious minorities the very basic benefits and privileges that others enjoy; North Korea bans virtually all worship and imprisons in its infamous labor camps even the grandchildren of those caught praying; and China seriously restricts religious activities, church governance, and places of worship.

Yet Obama hasn’t bothered to appoint an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. And he has chosen not to highlight the violations of religious freedom by the top abusers — including China, Egypt, Turkey, and Cuba — but rather to shove the issue to the side. So the question remains: why is the Obama administration, as the USCIRF chair put it, “insufficiently engaged”? Well, it has another agenda, not the promotion of freedom and democracy (too Bush!), but rather cozying up to authoritarian and totalitarian regimes in an attempt to “defuse tension” and improve our “standing in the world.” So if you are going to bow to the Saudi King and to the Chinese communist leaders, avoid confrontation with Iran, and generally suck up to the “Muslim World,” you really can’t be bashing them for their egregious track record on human rights, including religious freedom.

But to what end is all of this? It seems as though we have not endeared ourselves to despots, but that we have demonstrated to both the oppressors and  the oppressed that America has better things to do. The world is less free and the despots, more emboldened as a result.

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Human Rights Under the Bus — Again

It’s no secret that Obama is not enamored of democracy promotion or human rights advocacy. He has done as little as possible to aid the Green Movement in Iran, and in fact has cut funding to groups promoting democracy and documenting human rights abuses. His Sudan envoy is reviled by human rights advocates. He has engaged despotic governments in Burma and Syria, been largely mute on the atrocities against women in the “Muslim World,” and shoved human rights aside in hopes China would agree to sanctions against Iran. He has shown no interest in promoting religious freedom. Now he’s giving the back of the hand to Egyptian and Jordanian democracy advocates:

President Barack Obama has dramatically cut funds to promote democracy in Egypt, a shift that could affect everything from anti-corruption programs to the monitoring of elections.

Washington’s cuts over the past year — amounting to around 50 percent — have drawn accusations that the Obama administration is easing off reform pressure on the autocratic government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to ensure its support on Mideast policy, including the peace process with Israel.

“Obama wants change that won’t make the Egyptian government angry,” said Ahmed Samih, head of a Cairo-based organization that in 2005 used U.S. funds to monitor parliament elections. And in the Egyptian context, that means there will be no change. …

The administration has made similar cuts in democracy aid to Jordan, another U.S. ally.

It is not merely that “Obama has moved away from his predecessor George W. Bush’s aggressive push to democratize the regimes of the Middle East”; it is that Obama sees democracy and human rights as afterthoughts or, worse, impediments to his smooth dealings with the world’s despots. The erosion of America’s moral standing won’t easily be reversed, nor will despotic regimes be restrained in abusing their own people (at least not until there is a less-indifferent Oval Office occupant). Obama has not used his vaunted eloquence or his supposed international popularity to advocate for the repressed around the world. To the contrary, he has enabled and encouraged oppressors, who for now need not fear that they will suffer any adverse consequences from the American president.

It’s no secret that Obama is not enamored of democracy promotion or human rights advocacy. He has done as little as possible to aid the Green Movement in Iran, and in fact has cut funding to groups promoting democracy and documenting human rights abuses. His Sudan envoy is reviled by human rights advocates. He has engaged despotic governments in Burma and Syria, been largely mute on the atrocities against women in the “Muslim World,” and shoved human rights aside in hopes China would agree to sanctions against Iran. He has shown no interest in promoting religious freedom. Now he’s giving the back of the hand to Egyptian and Jordanian democracy advocates:

President Barack Obama has dramatically cut funds to promote democracy in Egypt, a shift that could affect everything from anti-corruption programs to the monitoring of elections.

Washington’s cuts over the past year — amounting to around 50 percent — have drawn accusations that the Obama administration is easing off reform pressure on the autocratic government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to ensure its support on Mideast policy, including the peace process with Israel.

“Obama wants change that won’t make the Egyptian government angry,” said Ahmed Samih, head of a Cairo-based organization that in 2005 used U.S. funds to monitor parliament elections. And in the Egyptian context, that means there will be no change. …

The administration has made similar cuts in democracy aid to Jordan, another U.S. ally.

It is not merely that “Obama has moved away from his predecessor George W. Bush’s aggressive push to democratize the regimes of the Middle East”; it is that Obama sees democracy and human rights as afterthoughts or, worse, impediments to his smooth dealings with the world’s despots. The erosion of America’s moral standing won’t easily be reversed, nor will despotic regimes be restrained in abusing their own people (at least not until there is a less-indifferent Oval Office occupant). Obama has not used his vaunted eloquence or his supposed international popularity to advocate for the repressed around the world. To the contrary, he has enabled and encouraged oppressors, who for now need not fear that they will suffer any adverse consequences from the American president.

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RE: No Condemnation Forthcoming

Well, we called that one. The State Department did not “condemn” the brutality of the Egyptian police or the detention of demonstrators (who were subsequently released). As this report explains, all that came was a gentle prod, an ever-so-diplomatic nudge, from Foggy Bottom:

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States was “deeply concerned” about the arrests and called on the Egyptian government to uphold the rights of its people “to express their political views peacefully.”

“The people of Egypt should be able to participate in the political process and ultimately determine who will run and win Egypt’s upcoming elections,” Crowley told reporters Wednesday.

Even Human Rights Watch, which usually reserves its fire for Israel, did considerably better than that:

At the demonstration, which called for an end to Egypt’s restrictive “emergency laws,” Human Rights Watch staff witnessed security officials beating and arresting the protesters, including two women. The state of emergency, which allows the authorities to restrict basic rights, has been continuously in effect for 29 years.

“The Egyptian authorities respond with lawless brutality to protesters peacefully demanding restoration of their human rights,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Let today’s beating and arrests of demonstrators remind countries that finance and arm the Egyptian government what their ally is really all about.” …

During the review of Egypt’s record by the UN Human Rights Council in February, Egypt once again promised to end the state of emergency, a commitment first made by President Mubarak in 2005. … “Egypt keeps promising to end the emergency law, but year after year, it’s one broken promise after another,” Whitson said.

The contrast between the namby-pamby response to Egyptian human rights abuses and the conniption displayed when a midlevel Israeli bureaucrat stamped a housing permit vividly encapsulates the Obama Middle East approach. Kid gloves and averted eyes for the Muslims; bullying for the Jewish state. It’s “change” certainly.

Well, we called that one. The State Department did not “condemn” the brutality of the Egyptian police or the detention of demonstrators (who were subsequently released). As this report explains, all that came was a gentle prod, an ever-so-diplomatic nudge, from Foggy Bottom:

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States was “deeply concerned” about the arrests and called on the Egyptian government to uphold the rights of its people “to express their political views peacefully.”

“The people of Egypt should be able to participate in the political process and ultimately determine who will run and win Egypt’s upcoming elections,” Crowley told reporters Wednesday.

Even Human Rights Watch, which usually reserves its fire for Israel, did considerably better than that:

At the demonstration, which called for an end to Egypt’s restrictive “emergency laws,” Human Rights Watch staff witnessed security officials beating and arresting the protesters, including two women. The state of emergency, which allows the authorities to restrict basic rights, has been continuously in effect for 29 years.

“The Egyptian authorities respond with lawless brutality to protesters peacefully demanding restoration of their human rights,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Let today’s beating and arrests of demonstrators remind countries that finance and arm the Egyptian government what their ally is really all about.” …

During the review of Egypt’s record by the UN Human Rights Council in February, Egypt once again promised to end the state of emergency, a commitment first made by President Mubarak in 2005. … “Egypt keeps promising to end the emergency law, but year after year, it’s one broken promise after another,” Whitson said.

The contrast between the namby-pamby response to Egyptian human rights abuses and the conniption displayed when a midlevel Israeli bureaucrat stamped a housing permit vividly encapsulates the Obama Middle East approach. Kid gloves and averted eyes for the Muslims; bullying for the Jewish state. It’s “change” certainly.

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Love Lost for the Palestinians

It took me a while, but I’ve finally come around on David Hazony’s argument that Gaza has become Egypt’s problem. Beyond the strategic implications of this development, Egypt’s newfound responsibility for containing Gaza—and all the security risks it entails—has serious implications for the way Egyptians will view the Palestinian issue.

Consider the sudden shift in public debate at the American University in Cairo. Although AUC has long been a hotbed of anti-Israel activism, students are exhibiting a staggering decline in their enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause, with a rift developing between a small cadre of pro-Palestinian activists—most of whom are Palestinian—and the rest of the student body. Last week, the pro-Palestinian Al-Quds Club organized the “End the Siege on Gaza” sit-in—an effort that was heavily promoted on campus and via Facebook. During the demonstration, protesters held posters accusing Israel of terrorism and ominously vowing, “Palestine, we die so we can live!” Meanwhile, student speakers compared Gaza to a cage—all in all, typical rhetoric that the AUC student body had long embraced as doctrine.

Yet the student body—which is roughly 80% Egyptian—was hardly impressed. According to The Caravan, turnout was far less than expected, with students noticeably uninterested in the sit-in. But the true insult to pro-Palestinian activism came in The Caravan’s weekly “Q & A,” which asked students what the Egyptian government should do about the Gaza border. Without exception, students’ responses sounded shockingly Lou Dobbsian:

“The government has an obligation to protect its border and its people.”

“This is not one nation’s problem, Egypt should join forces with other countries to find satisfactory solutions.”

“They should close it. Only medical conditions should be admitted.”

In short, AUC students are indicating that, with Hamas now firing at Egyptian workers, the Palestinian cause is just a bit less compelling.

It took me a while, but I’ve finally come around on David Hazony’s argument that Gaza has become Egypt’s problem. Beyond the strategic implications of this development, Egypt’s newfound responsibility for containing Gaza—and all the security risks it entails—has serious implications for the way Egyptians will view the Palestinian issue.

Consider the sudden shift in public debate at the American University in Cairo. Although AUC has long been a hotbed of anti-Israel activism, students are exhibiting a staggering decline in their enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause, with a rift developing between a small cadre of pro-Palestinian activists—most of whom are Palestinian—and the rest of the student body. Last week, the pro-Palestinian Al-Quds Club organized the “End the Siege on Gaza” sit-in—an effort that was heavily promoted on campus and via Facebook. During the demonstration, protesters held posters accusing Israel of terrorism and ominously vowing, “Palestine, we die so we can live!” Meanwhile, student speakers compared Gaza to a cage—all in all, typical rhetoric that the AUC student body had long embraced as doctrine.

Yet the student body—which is roughly 80% Egyptian—was hardly impressed. According to The Caravan, turnout was far less than expected, with students noticeably uninterested in the sit-in. But the true insult to pro-Palestinian activism came in The Caravan’s weekly “Q & A,” which asked students what the Egyptian government should do about the Gaza border. Without exception, students’ responses sounded shockingly Lou Dobbsian:

“The government has an obligation to protect its border and its people.”

“This is not one nation’s problem, Egypt should join forces with other countries to find satisfactory solutions.”

“They should close it. Only medical conditions should be admitted.”

In short, AUC students are indicating that, with Hamas now firing at Egyptian workers, the Palestinian cause is just a bit less compelling.

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A Loss for the Blogosphere

Sandmonkey, the well-known Arab blogger who recently announced an end to his blogging, may have been the most deliciously irreverent voice in the entire blogosphere. A 26-year old Egyptian, he went to college in Massachusetts, where he cultivated fluency not only in the American tongue but also in the folkways of global youth culture. (His moniker is a pejorative term for Arab, he explained to me when I first met him, amazed that I didn’t know it. Brandishing it was typical of his in-your-face style.)

Sandmonkey reveled in freedom; back in Egypt, he behaved as if he were free, almost. With the help of the Internet he spoke his mind pseudonymously, but with breathtaking audacity. His website, for instance, appealed for financial contributions by asking readers to “Support the Neo-con American Right-wing Zionist Christian Imperialist Conspiracy in the Middle-east!”

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Sandmonkey, the well-known Arab blogger who recently announced an end to his blogging, may have been the most deliciously irreverent voice in the entire blogosphere. A 26-year old Egyptian, he went to college in Massachusetts, where he cultivated fluency not only in the American tongue but also in the folkways of global youth culture. (His moniker is a pejorative term for Arab, he explained to me when I first met him, amazed that I didn’t know it. Brandishing it was typical of his in-your-face style.)

Sandmonkey reveled in freedom; back in Egypt, he behaved as if he were free, almost. With the help of the Internet he spoke his mind pseudonymously, but with breathtaking audacity. His website, for instance, appealed for financial contributions by asking readers to “Support the Neo-con American Right-wing Zionist Christian Imperialist Conspiracy in the Middle-east!”

Here is Sandmonkey on constitutional reform in Egypt:

Mubarak is mulling a constitutional change in the amendment concerning presidential elections. The aim, they say, is to make it easier for candidates to run for President. The Sandmonkey sources have informed him that the proposed changes consist of 2 amendments:

1) The Presidential candidate has to be called Gamal Mohamed Hosny Mubarak.

2) His father has to be the current President of Egypt.

Anyone who those two conditions apply to is free to run in our next totally democratic elections.

When a package of 35 amendments was rammed through the Egyptian People’s Assembly and then put to a snap referendum, most of the opposition (and more than 90 percent of the population) refused to take part. But Sandmonkey took a different tack:

Let’s say that your country is having a fake referendum, one where you know that the dead will show up miraculously and vote Yes for whatever shit Mubarak suggests, thus making your vote for no entirely useless. So, what do you do? Well, you could either boycott the vote, go and vote no, or go and vote no a couple of times in order to level the playing field a little. You figure if they cheat, you should cheat too. Fight fire with fire and all. But how would you do that exactly?

You vote No, put in your vote, and then dip your finger in the “unwashable” and “unremoveable” voting Ink. You go to a Pharmacy, get nail-polish remover, and remove the voting ink.

Then Sandmonkey went to a different polling station and voted “no” again, and then repeated the procedure, altogether casting three votes against the amendments and in the process demonstrating the porousness of Egypt’s barriers against election fraud.

Sandmonkey also blogged tirelessly through last summer’s war in Lebanon, hurling verbal brickbats at Hezbollah and Israel alike, but always reserving some barbs for Egypt. In one post, he wrote:

A couple of days ago I was speaking with Lisa [an Israeli blogger], and she was telling me how depressed she was after seeing an Israeli refugee camp for people escaping the North. I decided to check her flickr account to see the pictures of how an Israeli refugee camp looks like, and she was right, it depressed the hell out of me. Although, the cause of both of our depressions wasn’t the same. The arab readers will know exactly what I mean.

A series of six photos of the camp’s living quarters, common area, and dining facility followed, then below it, Sandmonkey’s punchline:

That’s their refugee camps. I swear to god I could sell this as a tourist destination and egyptian tourists would go. The first 2 weeks would get fully booked . . . in 5 minutes. Crap!

The usual excuse of the Egyptian government for its repressions is the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood. But the regime itself is far friendlier to the Brotherhood than is Sandmonkey, who often referred to Islamists as “jihady fucks” and whose blog roll gave pride of place to like-minded members of what he called the “anti-jihady club.”

Now the Egyptian government has begun imprisoning bloggers, a measure that even the Saudi government has not taken. As a result of participating in demonstrations, Sandmonkey believes his identity has been compromised. The mukhabarat has been asking neighbors about him. So Sandmonkey announced that he is going to stop blogging and organize a committee to defend bloggers. I wish him success in this endeavor. But most of all I wish to hear his iconoclastic voice again, soon, from Egypt, in his own name and without fear of arrest.

* Correction: My broadside on contentions against Frances Ricciardone, the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, referred to “recent” comments of his about Copts and press freedom. I quoted a transcript from an interview he gave on March 16. What I missed, however, was that the interview was in 2006, not 2007. Downplaying the mistreatment of Copts was no less wrong in 2006 than it is in 2007. But the trend in press freedom is worse now than it was then, as Sandmonkey’s case exemplifies, so my criticism of Ricciardone’s words on that subject as being particularly untimely was misplaced. I apologize to him and to readers.

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Ricciardone’s Copt-Out

Since the unexpectedly strong showing by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliamentary elections in late 2005—and other rough seas that President Bush’s policies encountered in Iraq and Palestine—the administration has pulled in its horns on the promotion of democracy in the Middle East. Tactical retreats are not tantamount to an abandonment of policy, but apparently no one has told this to the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Frances Ricciardone. In recent public comments Ricciardone has gone out of his way to excuse and cover up some of the most serious violations of democracy and human rights in Egypt.

In a television interview (the transcript of which is posted on the embassy’s website), the ambassador was asked about the circumstances of the Coptic Christians who constitute an estimated 10 percent of Egypt’s population. Here is the relevant exchange:

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Since the unexpectedly strong showing by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliamentary elections in late 2005—and other rough seas that President Bush’s policies encountered in Iraq and Palestine—the administration has pulled in its horns on the promotion of democracy in the Middle East. Tactical retreats are not tantamount to an abandonment of policy, but apparently no one has told this to the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Frances Ricciardone. In recent public comments Ricciardone has gone out of his way to excuse and cover up some of the most serious violations of democracy and human rights in Egypt.

In a television interview (the transcript of which is posted on the embassy’s website), the ambassador was asked about the circumstances of the Coptic Christians who constitute an estimated 10 percent of Egypt’s population. Here is the relevant exchange:

Interviewer: Do [Copts] have a problem? Are they a minority who suffers discrimination?

Ambassador: Even in the U.S., minorities may feel that they are discriminated against. This happens in every country of the world. What is important is that there should be legal protection for all minorities. This is found in Egypt. You even have what is more powerful than law, and by that I mean strong traditions, and the Egyptian spirit of tolerance and brotherhood.

Interviewer: Then you see no problem or discrimination against Copts in Egypt? And when you write reports as an American ambassador to the American administration, upon which the Congress or others make decisions, you don’t write that there is discrimination or bias against the Copts in Egypt?

Ambassador: Naturally, here in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech, so it is possible for anyone to complain about any personal or social problem. If there is a problem, there are legal ways to deal with it, whether here or in the U.S.

Interviewer: But you don’t see that there is a Coptic problem or discrimination in Egypt?

Ambassador: Of course, I have not seen that personally, as I am not a Coptic Egyptian citizen.

Interviewer: If the American administration asked you one day, “We are writing a religious-freedom report in Egypt, and we need to know the position of the Copts in Egypt. Are they discriminated against or not?” How would you answer them? What would your report be here from the embassy in Egypt?

Ambassador: I will say that it is normal to have social issues, as with any place in the world. But I do not think that there is organized discrimination by the Egyptian state. There might be individual discrimination, or people who lack good manners, and as a result, complaints are voiced. This happens everywhere, even in the U.S. Egypt is no exception. This is something we must all stand against.

Here are a few items about the status of Copts that have no analogue in the U.S., items that Ricciardone seems to have overlooked:

• The Egyptian constitution specifies that Islamic law is “the main source” of Egyptian law.

• Copts do not have the right to build churches. They must get approval from the president of the country or from a regional governor. Such approval is not routinely granted. In one town, Asyut, the Christians have been waiting since 1935. There are also constraints on the height and location of churches vis à vis nearby mosques. The requirement for high government approval applies not only to building new churches but also to renovating or even repairing existing ones. Needless to say, there are no comparable constraints on mosque building or repair.

• Compulsory military service in Egypt is for three years—unless you can recite the Qur’an by heart, in which case it is reduced to one year.

• Al Azhar University is funded by the state, including the taxes of Christians. Although it is best known as a center of Sunni scholarship, you can also study medicine or history or other subjects there—but only if you are a Muslim. Non-Muslims are not admitted.

• Muslim clergy—like other employees in Egypt—receive social insurance from the state; Christian clergy do not.

Bad “manners,” indeed. Ricciardone’s whitewash of all this is bad enough, but his comment that “here in Egypt, as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech” adds insult to injury, coming just when the Egyptian government has begun imprisoning bloggers. One of them, Abdel Kareem Suleiman, was given three years* for insulting Islam. What is the penalty for insulting Christianity?

*Suleiman’s sentence length was originally misstated.

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