A Washington Post editorial reports:
The Coptic Christian Christmas passed peacefully in Egypt on Thursday night and Friday, thanks in part to the efforts of the country’s moderate Muslims. Thousands turned out to help protect churches following the horrific New Year’s Day suicide bombing at a Mass in Alexandria that killed at least 23 people. Prominent Muslims, including President Hosni Mubarak’s son, Gamal, attended Christmas Eve services; the country’s most senior Muslim leader, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, has led the way in condemning the attack and calling for tolerance.
These praiseworthy actions, however, do not change two underlying realities: Religious discrimination and violence have been steadily growing in Egypt, and Mr. Mubarak’s autocratic regime has worsened the situation through its heavy-handed repression and failure to prosecute those who persecute Christians.
Meanwhile, the regime is busy doing the one thing it is good at: brutalizing opposition activists who had nothing to do with the attack. On Monday there were demonstrations in Cairo’s Shubra neighborhood to protest the treatment of Copts that were joined by liberal Muslims who belong to nonviolent dissident movements. According to Egyptian human rights groups, security forces separated Copts from Muslims and then went after the Muslim activists, eight of whom were arrested. They were subsequently beaten in a police station and charged with numerous crimes; a hasty trial has been scheduled for next week. On Wednesday, a fundamentalist preacher was allegedly tortured to death in Alexandria after being arrested by security forces investigating the bombing, according to reports Friday by two Egyptian Web sites.
This kind of repression has intensified in the past several years of Mr. Mubarak’s 29-year rule, which is one reason that sectarian tensions in Egypt are growing worse rather than better. A show of tolerance on Christmas won’t change that record; only genuine political reform will make Egypt a safer place for religious minorities.
So the Egyptian government continues its old routine of 1) persecuting and imprisoning the nonviolent democratic opposition while 2) telling the world that the autocratic Mubarak regime is the only thing standing in the way of a radical Islamist takeover.
For awhile it seemed as if the Bush administration was actually acting in accordance with its human rights rhetoric when in came to Egypt, putting serious pressure on Mubarak to ease up on its repression of dissenters like Ayman Nour. But eventually the pressure eased.
If there’s one thing that disappoints me about the Obama administration more than any other, it’s the failure to pursue a vigorous human rights and democracy agenda worldwide– especially in countries like Egpyt, where the US has genuine leverage (it provides $1.3 billion in military and security aid annually).
The administration has engaged in only the most muted criticism of the Mubarak regime. After the utterly fraudulent elections last November, the administration’s reaction was a bland statement that is was “disappointed.”
Wherever nonviolent democratic-minded people are opposing repressive regimes, the United States needs to be loudly and publicly on their side. No exceptions.