Egypt Protests Test U.S. Democracy Campaign
The Bush administration's campaign for democracy in the Arab world is facing its toughest test yet in Egypt, according to international online commentators.
Three hundred Egyptian judges staged a silent protest last week against the government over interference in the judiciary. The country's best known blogger, Alaa Abd El-Fatah, was arrested earlier this month together with other activists engaged in a peaceful demonstration (the blog he co-authors with his wife, Manal Hassan, continues with message posts smuggled out of prison). Meanwhile, Ayman Nour, a liberal who finished second in last year's presidential election, was sentenced to a five-year jail term on disputed charges of forgery.
Longtime President Hosni Mubarak, a U.S. ally who is grooming his son to succeed him, faces a "revolt of the Egyptian elite," says Ahmed Amr in the Middle East Times.
"Since winning a fifth term in office, Mubarak has systematically and methodically gone about the business of reigning in the opposition. The reviled Emergency Laws have been extended. Previously scheduled municipal elections have been postponed and the casually attired state sponsored goons have violently confronted peaceful demonstrators."
Earlier this month, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack condemned Egypt's actions, saying "both Mr. Nour's ongoing detention and the Egyptian government's handling of dissent raise serious concerns about the path of political reform and democracy."
As unease mounts over anti-democratic signals from Mubarak's government, Egyptian commentators are looking to see what Washington will do.
Despite the Bush administration's rhetoric, the United States is not going to help the Egyptian opposition, predicts Emad Mekay, Washington correspondent for the Al-Ahram Weekly.
"Washington has signaled that it now views its interests in the region as best served by the status quo. This is especially true in light of tensions with Iran and the rise of Islamic- oriented groups," he writes.
"The Bush administration has called on Congress to keep annual aid to Egypt of nearly $2 billion dollars intact for the next fiscal year, arguing that America's strategic interests will be harmed if aid to the Egyptian government is cut."
Mekay quoted U.S. officials stressing Egypt's pivotal role in its military strategy in the region, with $2.5 billion worth of military assistance designed to "create a defence force capable of supporting US security."
"Given such favours, officials expressed only the usual 'concern' over the Egyptian government's repression of dissent at home," Mackey wrote.
The Financial Times notes that Bush's conservative supporters "are questioning the wisdom of a democratisation strategy that has brought unpleasant consequences in the Middle East."
Mubarak's crackdown "represents a major challenge to Mr. Bush's campaign to promote democracy in the Middle East," says the Toronto Globe and Mail. "How Mr. Bush responds will say a lot about how serious he is. From the beginning it has been clear that, if his fine words about democracy were to have any weight, he would have to put pressure not just on rogue regimes and hostile nations but on Washington's Mideast allies."
"All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors," declared President Bush in his 2005 inaugural address. "When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you."
Egyptians seem to be standing up -- will Washington weigh in?
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