Phar’on, is the Arabic word for pharaoh, carries the connotation of tyranny and dictatorship. It is only fitting then that many in the Arab world refer to Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak as the Great Pharaoh; it is not a term of endearment.
Mubarak came to power in Egypt after the assassination of Anwar Sadaat in 1981, during whose administration, Mubarak headed Egypt’s air force. Since ’81, Mubarak kept Egypt under martial law, and regularly won elections with over 80%. The elections were more like yes-no referenda since he restricted other candidates from running. He cracked down on opposition, driving its most extreme elements to launch militant campaigns against government targets and against tourists, the main driver of Egypt’s fragile economy.
During the years of Mubarak’s rule, Egypt’s economy shrunk. The largest Arab country became dependent on foreign aid, with increased unemployment and deficit. Standards of living worsened, human rights deteriorated, censorship and police brutality became rampant, and Egypt’s standing in the international arena has retreated to the point of impotence.
Mubarak is widely seen as a US puppet, he often goes against the general Arab consensus by acquiescing to US demands. Mubarak is seen by the Arab street, along with King Abdullah of Jordan, as part of the conspiracy to starve and deprive the Palestinian population in order to isolate the Hamas-led government.
Mubarak is also known to miss the Arab League summit when important issues are at hand, like the recent one in Khartoum in March. Additionally, he responds to US pressure to crackdown on Islamic and secular political movements that may reflect the Arab street’s position of opposition to Israel; his brutal opposition to pro-democracy movements are met with tacit approval from the US, which again shows it prefers its dictators to the wild card known as democracy. He is also thought to be grooming his son, Jamal, to inherit his authority.
For a long time, it was very convenient, and somewhat justifiable, to classify Egypt’s opposition as terrorist-led. This contributed to the lack of any credible, peaceful resistance to the tyranny of the regime. But finally, Egyptians are speaking up. It is about time. I was ready to give up.
Over the past several years, a serious, populous grassroots movement has been building opposition to the current dictatorship; it is known as the Egyptian National Movement for Change, “Kifaya” for short, which means Enough. But little news of the movement made it into international media.
On the forefront of the Kifaya movement is El Ghad Party, meaning Tomorrow, was founded in 2004. El Ghad leader and founder, Cairo lawyer and independent MP Ayman Nour, has been in jail for over a year. He is being charged with forging ‘Power of Attorney’ on the petition to register his new party. How convenient.
Through the liberal democratic platform of El Ghad, Nour demanded reform, openness, end of martial law, constitutional reform, end of corruption, and improvement of human rights.
According to public opinion polls he would have presented a credible challenge to President Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections. Though Mubarak does not intend to hold free or open elections any time soon, he still decided not to risk it. He threw Nour in jail before his popularity could grow any further.
Today, the support for the Kifaya movement is growing rapidly, soon after last year’s presidential elections, a large number of judges began a strike to protest election fraud and vote rigging (Judges in Egypt are tasked with observing elections), and the increasing overreach of the executive branch over the judiciary. They continue to protest, especially as more and more of their colleagues are arrested and prosecuted.
Students, professionals, and other members of the public have been holding massive rallies and vigils to protest the government’s ever-increasing brutality, crackdown, censorship, and the worsening over all living situation in Egypt. The government meets their protests with excessive force, attacks on journalists, arrests, kidnappings and torture.
Egypt is a primary US ally; hence it is overlooked when the Bush administration talks of freedom, human rights and democracy in the Middle East, Egypt is the second largest recipient of US foreign aid, after Israel: nearly $2 Billion annually. I’m still looking for the recipient that actually respects human rights. Colombia? As a matter of fact, aid to Egypt is a trade off for befriending Israel, so the moral of the story, if you seek to be a dictator (Saddam) establish a totalitarian regime (Iran’s Ayatollahs) or be a gross abuser of human rights (Sudan’s Basheer) get Israel to vouch for you.
Though the Bush administration occupies hardly any higher moral grounds than those of Mubarak, US aid to Egypt must and should be suspended until there is a complete democratization of Egyptian politics and society; until Ayman Nour and his likes are freed, credible candidates are allowed to run in presidential elections (not only those hand-picked by the president himself), freedoms of press and speech are restored, and human rights are respected.
Kifaya; let’s do away with the tyrant. Egypt has important regional and international roles to reclaim.