Last week, Egyptian authorities released Philip Rizk, an Egyptian-German who had organized a march in support of the Palestinians in Gaza, after four days of detention. In today’s New York Times, Cairo-based correspondent Michael Slackman contextualizes Rizk’s arrest as the latest example of the Mubarak regime’s crackdown on dissidents:
… what made Mr. Rizk’s case extraordinary was how routine it actually was, according to political activists, political scientists, bloggers, Islamists, former prisoners and human rights groups here and abroad. It is all too common for the security services to grab citizens, detain them without charge, refuse to release any information concerning their whereabouts and deny them even the minimal protections, under an emergency law passed decades ago to help fight terrorism.
Yet — as usual — Slackman gets the significance of this event dead wrong. After all, activists and bloggers are typically arrested in Egypt for protesting the Egyptian government and its authoritarian ways — not for protesting Israel. Actually, the regime traditionally gives dissidents who protest Israel — such as Rizk — relatively free reign, believing that anti-Israel activism will divert the attention of domestic critics and discredit Egyptian dissidents to American policymakers.
In turn, Philip Rizk’s arrest is significant insofar as it reinforces a point that I made over a month ago: since the beginning of the Gaza war, Egypt has been heavily invested in Israel’s success vis-à-vis Hamas. In stark contrast to its conduct during the 2006 Lebanon war – when the Mubarak regime permitted mass protests in Cairo and used these as an excuse for backtracking from its initial support for Israel just as it appeared that Hezbollah would emerge successful — Egypt suddenly feels no need to hedge. It is therefore taking no chances, going as far as arresting Rizk — a dual citizen whose march included a mere fifteen fellow protesters.
Remember: the Mubarak regime owes its long-term survival to the careful choice of horse to bet on. The ultimate significance of Philip Rizk’s arrest, therefore, is that Israel is expected to emerge strengthened from its ongoing ceasefire negotiations with a weakened Hamas. But don’t expect Michael Slackman to tell you so.