Thursday, November 24, 2011

Where is the West's help for Egypt?

Editorial, Globe and Mail,November 21, 2011
Democracy has been dangled in front of Egyptians, but true democracy remains a distant dream. The first manifestation, a rushed constitutional referendum approved by voters in March, did establish a term-limited presidency – but it entrenched a strong executive and the power to declare martial law, and did nothing to remove the military from its traditional place at the centre of Egyptian public affairs.

The military has abused that position: military trials of 11,879 civilians in just 7 months – more than during Mr. Mubarak’s entire rule; sexual assaults against female protesters; and a repressive response to Coptic Christian demonstrations that killed at least 10 people. Parliamentary elections begin this month, but the presidential election won’t be held until 2013 at the earliest.
The West, though, is still in cheerleading mode, as though the overthrow of Mubarak was enough. As leading Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris told the Globe and Mail editorial board on Thursday, “The whole West from Mr. Obama to Mr. Cameron to Mr. Sarkozy are just watching this so-called Arab Spring as bystanders.” Mr. Sawiris said Canada has been no better; Canada has put forward only $11-million in post-revolution assistance for Egypt and Tunisia, and $10-million of that is for youth entrepreneurship. American support for Egypt continues to focus overwhelmingly on military and economic assistance.
But Egyptians still lack many fundamental rights. And those in the political ascendancy, as seen at Tahrir Square on Friday, are Islamists, financially supported by wealthier Arab regimes.
Egypt’s allies should step forward – with more funds and expertise to help train Egyptians to build viable political parties and an independent elections authority, create more sources of independent media, and provide more legal advocates in the face of the military onslaught. Without the liberal freedoms the West can support, there will be no democracy worthy of the name in Egypt.
An observer from outside planet earth might wonder at the west's cherry picking of countries with which to engage, and how, in the middle of a series of street protests of massive proportions. In Lybia, we bombed the dictator's compound, with the inevitable "collateral damage" of citizens, including women and children, until finally he was captured. But in Syria, where the dictator continues to kill innocents, we are silent. And in Egypt, while the streets are filled once again, even though Mubarak has gone, we are silent, once again.
There are really other options besides more missiles, bombs and AK-47's to support the Egyptian people, and, it would seem that the United Nations is impotent to bring about some calm in the streets while assuring the Egyptian people that, indeed, their call for elections will be heard as soon as Monday next week, and that an orderly transition to some form of democratic government, hopefully not dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, will eventually restore some kind of "secular" order and power to the country.
Watching scenes of ambulances darting through masses of people, with the inevitable casualties from such juxtaposition, is both growing tired for the rest of the world, but also could and should be motivating of a global response.
In North America, the Occupy movement, for the most part, has been effectively reduced to an insigificant rump of compliant protesters, in a very few cities...this result having been achieved by some physical and legal force without significant injury, and no loss of life, except one in Vancouver whose life seemed to be at risk, with or without the movement.
Trust for the authorities, no matter whether it is the army or a small group of elected officials is essential for the beginning of democracy, no matter what variety. Clearly such trust is no longer available in Egypt, but the consequences of our inaction could be less "friendly" than we would contemplate, should our "hands-off" approach permit the accession to full power of a Muslim theocracy.
If there is some silent, secret work being conducted through diplomats and through other operatives with the Egyptian military, let's hope it brings fruit from its labours soon. If there is not such activity, we urge that it begin immediately, and that those "interim" supports, like UN soldiers, and peace-keepers, and democratic mentors and even a temporary judiciary...move into the Egyptian scene, with an invitiation from the military that is clearly overwhelmed, so that all parties can bring about an effective next stage in the Egyptian revolution.

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