EGYPT: Freedom, the Military Government, and the Western World

Doubling down on thuggishness with help from U.S. money.

Last November, three months into my 130-day hunger strike in Egyptian prison, I was called into the office of a senior general in the military court. I was led there in handcuffs and my coarse blue prison uniform.

As I sat, the general leaned back in his big chair, stared directly into my eyes and smiled. “Last week, I met with some American generals in the Pentagon,” he said. His message was clear: America was on his side, while a liberal democratic activist like me was in prison.

For the past six years, I have been fighting for democracy, individual freedom and human rights. I oppose racism, war, militarism and discrimination. For these views, I have been arrested five times and beaten. Last March, Egypt’s postrevolutionary interim military government sentenced me to three years in prison for “insulting the military”, “meaning blogging about its violations of Egyptians’ human rights.

My family and friends have paid an enormous price. My father was forcibly transferred from his job four times. My house has been invaded twice, and authorities brought a case against a friend when they thought she was my girlfriend.

Activists around the world fought for my freedom. It was because of this global pressure that I was released two months ago. But the military has made sure I know that I can be returned to prison at any time on a whim.

Few Egyptian revolutionaries believed that the toppling of Hosni Mubarak would lead to such a militarized nightmare. We rose against Mubarak to build a free and democratic country. We wanted the dignity of all citizens respected. Instead, we were killed, injured and arbitrarily detained by the military regime.

Perhaps our second-biggest surprise was that the Egyptian military continued to be supported by the Free World, particularly America.

During my imprisonment, I was thrilled to read the letters from Sen. Mark Kirk and Rep. Frank Wolf to Egypt’s interim leader, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, and me. But as I languished in prison, I wondered how effective these statements were. The military continued to suppress and persecute my friends “all with American weapons.

Over the past year, I followed the case of Ilan Grapel, an American-Israeli citizen who was arrested in Egypt last June for no crime. He was traded in an October prisoner swap.

In December, the military repeated this outrage and accused 19 American civil-society workers of crimes, prohibiting them from leaving Egypt. The military chiefs eventually allowed the Americans to leave Egypt, though they still haven’t dropped the case.

Early this month, a pro-military activist led a demonstration in front of the American Embassy in Cairo. Many liberals feared that thugs would invade the embassy and repeat last year’s attack on the Israeli Embassy, so we staged a counter-rally trying to evict him from the area. Yet we were the ones attacked by the military.

The fall of the Mubarak regime should have taught the world that there is nothing stable about a military dictatorship constantly violating human rights. The only hope for lasting peace and security, for Egypt and America, are the democratic activists still fighting for their rights.

Last week, I testified in front of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva and asked it to ensure that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is respected. I have little confidence that the council will act. But this week I’m in the U.S. to ask American leaders to stop using taxpayer money to support dictatorships. I hope it’s a more promising pitch.

Why are the Egyptian people not allowed to enjoy the same rights and freedoms that Americans have? How does a democratic country give weapons to militarists knowing that they will be used against democratic activists? And if military aid given to Egypt is supposed to support the cold peace between Egypt and Israel, then why have Egyptian authorities never stopped targeting peace activists or spreading anti-Israel propaganda?

 

Mr. Sanad, a blogger and former law student, was released in January after serving 10 months in an Egyptian prison.

 

 

Maikel Nabil Sanad: The Message From Egypt’s Generals

 

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