Open letter to President Obama,” by Bahieddin Hassan in Al-Ahram Weekly, February 6, 2013.
Bahieddin Hassan is the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
Mr President, when I spoke with you in 2010, I asked why the US administration condemns repressive practices in Iran while remaining silent when Arab regimes engage in the same violations. Over recent months, statements by your administration have similarly failed to address violations and have even blamed protesters and victims for violence committed in the context of demonstrations. Indeed, the stances of your administration have given political cover to the current authoritarian regime in Egypt and allowed it to fearlessly implement undemocratic policies and commit numerous acts of repression.
Statements that “Egypt is witnessing a genuine and broad-based process of democratisation” have covered over and indeed legitimised the undemocratic processes by which the Constituent Assembly passed the new constitution, an issue which has in turn led to greatly heightened instability in the country. Calls for “the opposition [to] remain non-violent” and for “the government and security forces [to] exercise self-restraint in the face of protester violence” have allowed the police and the current Egyptian administration to shirk their responsibilities to secure demonstrations and to respond to the demands of the Egyptian people, and have allowed them to place the blame for violence and instability on protesters themselves. Urging “the opposition [to] engage in a national dialogue without preconditions” undermines the ability of the opposition to play a real role in the decision-making processes of the country, as these “dialogues” seldom result in anything more concrete than a photo-op with the president.
Is it a coincidence that the statements issued by your administration reflect the same political rhetoric used by the new authoritarian regime in Egypt? But when these statements come from the world’s superpower — the one most able to have a positive or negative impact on policies in Egypt and the region, not to mention the biggest donor and material supporter of the Egyptian regime for the past 35 years — they become lethal ammunition, offering political protection to perpetrators of murder, torture, brutality and rape.
I do not write you today to ask you to condemn the repressive policies of the current regime, or to ask you to urge President Mohamed Morsi to “cease” using excessive force and violence against Egyptians, even as your administration was so eager to achieve a ceasefire with Hamas to stop hostilities in Gaza. I write you not to ask for troops to protect political protesters in Egypt, or to suspend, freeze, or reduce military or economic aid to my country, or even to impose conditions on that aid. My request is quite modest: that spokespeople and officials in your administration stop commenting on developments in Egypt. This will no doubt spare your administration much time and effort, but more importantly, it may spare more bloodshed in Egypt, as the current regime will no longer enjoy the political cover that the US administration now offers them. Certainly, Egypt has seen enough bloodshed over the last two years, and Egyptians are tired of being punished for their uprising.
When in December I met Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for human rights and that rare person in your administration who is motivated by human rights concerns, I asked that he pass on this modest request to administration spokespeople: that as long as they cannot speak the truth about what is happening in Egypt, they keep silent.
Mr President, only a few days ago Egyptians celebrated the second anniversary of their revolution. Meanwhile, the regime commemorated the occasion differently: by re-enacting the scenes of violence and brutality seen during the 18 days of the 2011 uprising, adding the new phenomenon of gang rapes. In one week, more than 60 people died in several governorates, and there were dozens of reported gang rapes and assaults. Hundreds of people were arrested and an unknown number abducted. One of them — 23-year-old Mohamed Al-Guindi — reappeared a few days later in a hospital, brutally tortured, and soon died.
Mr President, I fear that the gulf I spoke to you about three years ago is fast filling up with blood. In this context, further American statements supporting the current Egyptian regime will only lead to more Egyptians being beaten, raped, tortured, and killed. Please, ask officials with your administration to stop talking about Egypt for a while, at least until we can bury our dead, comfort their grieving families, treat the victims of rape and torture, find the disappeared, and read the wills of a new generation of young people who plan not for their weddings but for their funerals.