Saad Eddin Ibrahim has a nice piece in the Washington Post today. He asks a series of very pointed questions of Hosni Mubarak, and then concludes with this:
Western countries owe Egypt's budding democratic movement their attention and support. I was dismayed by the faint "we take note'" reaction of State Department spokesman Richard Boucher to Nour's arrest and the trumped-up charges against him. There are hundreds of dissidents like Nour in Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia -- the three countries that are at the hard core of Arab authoritarianism.
President Bush has repeated that the United States will stand by those who work for freedom in their countries. Scores of courageous Arab dissidents have taken a stand for freedom, and many face pending trials or have spent years in prison. But the United States has yet to be heard from in their defense.
What we have so far from George W. Bush is fine language in his inaugural and State of the Union speeches. That message was loud and clear. The credibility of the messenger is what is still in doubt.
A well written, eloquent piece. But it makes interesting reading against the current issue of the Al Ahram Weekly, which has a number of interesting reports on Hizb al Ghad and the Kifaya movement in Egypt. Amira Howeidy reports from a Kifaya demonstration at the Cairo International Book Fair, offering a nicely textured account:
"Leave!" the group of approximately 50 demonstrators belonging to the Popular Campaign for Change screamed -- " Kifaya ! Haram !" (Enough! It's too much!). For two-hours they chanted a variety of political slogans denouncing political repression, financial corruption, police brutality, poverty and normalisation with Israel. Their most popular chant, by far, was "Enough!" Reiterated dozens of times, with the same forcefulness and zeal, it immediately harked back to a popular slogan chanted in Egyptian football stadiums, and seemed a simple summation of a serious political sentiment at the same time. The word also translated eloquently into English, its nuances ensuring easy conveyance of the symbolic message to much more than just a domestic constituency.
Unfortunately, Howeidy observes the all too common dangers of international attention, the "kiss of death" phenomenon which is one of the great costs of the anti-Americanism which has spiked during the Bush administration:
International, and particularly American, media attention has been a double-edged sword, or possibly a kiss of death, as far as the local activists are concerned, however. Spotlighting their demands and various forms of activism, it also lays them open to the charge of providing a pretext for foreign intervention in Egyptian domestic affairs.
One such activist, psychiatry professor Aida Seif El-Dawla, is unhappy with the attention. "Editorials like the one in the New York Times interpret what we do as a message to Bush," she told Al-Ahram Weekly, "which is absolutely not the case. If they were listening to what we've been saying, they would know we are also against imperialism in all its forms." The attention has had its backlash at home, Seif El-Dawla said, with "pro-government newspapers and magazines using these editorials to question the Enough movement's patriotism".
Meanwhile, Mona al Nahhas reports that the future of Hizb al Ghad is in limbo. More "kiss of death," as anti-Americanism renders an American embrace toxic:
The US's reaction to Nour's arrest has also rankled the party. The US State Department issued a statement "deploring [Nour's] arrest and calling on the government to re-examine the issue". A Washington Post editorial described him as being "the sort of future leader capable of winning broad support". According to the newspaper, it was "that, and not forgery, [which] landed him in jail".
Several leading party members reacted to the US stance by publicly voicing their rejection of any external interference in Nour's case. Forty party members from Al-Qalyubiya were provoked into submitting their resignations last Thursday. In a statement bearing their signatures, they criticised "Nour's dealings with the US at a time when he [himself] harshly criticised anyone who deals with the US". One of the party's senior founders, Sherif Esmat Abdel-Meguid, son of the former Arab League secretary-general, also submitted his resignation.
The party's connection to the US became a hot topic of debate last December, when US ambassador to Cairo David Welch visited Nour at his residence. "As a liberal party, calling for an open relationship with the West and the US," Ismail said, "it was very natural to meet the US ambassador." She said it was Welch who asked to meet Nour to congratulate him on the formation of the party and find out more about its programme. "As a precautionary measure, Nour decided to notify Shura Council speaker Safwat El- Sherif about the Welch meeting in accordance with the political parties law," Ismail said.
Finally, the paper interviews Mona Makram Ebeid. Among her remarks:
We are all against the present US administration's heavy-handed admonitions to reform. We want reform to be a homegrown effort. The US would help the reform cause best by vigorously pursuing a just settlement of the Palestinian- Israeli conflict, and bringing an end to the Iraqi occupation.
What they [Americans] are saying now about reform, [Egyptian] reformers have been saying for the past 20 years, but no one was listening. It was more in their interest to support dictators like Saddam Hussein.
Notice a theme here?
To be clear, I don't really have an answer to this dilemma. I do think that the US should support genuine reformists and the rights of political opposition movements. But I also recognize the political backlash which inevitably follows.
At any rate, be sure to follow the Arabist Network's ongoing coverage of these issues - and I'd be curious to know two things from Charles, Josh, or Issandr: do you have any comments on the Al Ahram Weekly reporting? And, how has the Arabic language Egyptian press (not just the state-owned media, but the tabloids) been covering these stories?
UPDATE: asked, and answered: go check out responses by Issandr and Josh - really interesting stuff. No chance to comment myself right now, 'cause it's Sunday and the cub is playful!