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Selling Democracy – De Lux Model with Double-Standards Built In

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That criticism has included Administration condemnation of the arrest and imprisonment of Mubarak’s main opponent in the presidential elections in 2005, Ayman Nour, who Bush said was “unjustly imprisoned.” Earlier, Bush complained about the conviction of another prominent opposition leader, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who has since fled Egypt. Since 1980, Egypt has been under a so-called Emergency Law, which gives its police and security services virtually carte blanche in arrests and detention of its citizens.

The State Department’s human rights report annually confirms that instances of torture, abuse and death in detention are widespread, and Egypt is known to have been the recipient of “extraordinary renditions” by the CIA. 

Earlier this year, the US Congress weighed in to express its displeasure with the Mubarak regime. It put a ‘hold” on $100 million of American military aid to Egypt, calling on the Mubarak government to protect the independence of the judiciary, stop police abuses and curtail arms smuggling from Egypt to Gaza.” 

But in January, the Bush Administration waived the hold in a bid to encourage Egypt to help in calming the Israeli-Palestinian crises. In a visit to Egypt the same month, President Bush lavished praise on Mubarak: “I appreciate the example that your nation is setting…I appreciate very much the long and proud tradition that you’ve had for a vibrant civil society.”  

But, according to one of the Arab world’s most widely respected non-governmental organizations, a vibrant civil society is the perfect definition of what Egypt is not. Nor is most of the rest of the Arab Middle East and North Africa. 

In a recent report to the United Nations Human Rights Council – of which Egypt is a member -- the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) charged that at least fourteen Middle East and North African governments are systematically violating the civil liberties of their citizens – and most of them are close US allies in the war on terror. 

The report said that there have been “huge harassments of human rights organizations and defenders have been increasingly subject to abusive and suppressive actions by government actors in democratic rights and freedoms in the majority of Arab countries, particularly Egypt, Syria, Bahrain and Tunisia.” 

The group called upon the international community to “exert effective efforts to urge Arab governments to duly reconsider their legislation, policy and practices contravening their international obligations to protect freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom to form associations, including non-governmental organizations.” 

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It added that “Special attention should be awarded to providing protection to human rights defenders in the Arab World.” 

As an example of typical area-wide human rights abuses, the CIHRS report cited the recent forced closure by Egyptian authorities of the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid, an organization active in exposing instances of  torture.

The Egyptian government claimed that the organization “received foreign funding without having the consent of the Minister of Social Solidarity.” The organization warned of “increasingly repressive conditions being imposed on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Egypt, including a proposed amendment to the Law of Associations that it said would limit the right of association and expression.  

Other Arab nations singled out for detailed criticism included Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Tunisia, The United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The report also accused four other Arab countries of human rights abuses -- Libya, Algeria, Sudan and Morocco. 

The CIHRS report to the UN details numerous human rights violations throughout the Arab Middle East and North Africa. It accuses Syria of arresting “dozens tens of qualified professionals personnel belonging to human rights organizations and civil society revival committees.” It says the Bahraini government closed the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, put the president of one civil society on trial, and charged seven other activists with "participating in an illegal gathering and creating disturbance."  

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In Tunisia, the report charges, “The authorities have made it almost impossible for the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) and other civil society institutions to operate. Tunisian human rights defenders have not been allowed to travel abroad and the government undertook measures to freeze LTDH’s grants from the European Union. 

According to the CIHRS report, “Many Gulf countries, as well as Libya, do not allow for the existence of human rights organizations or civil society activists.

The long-running Algerian military influence has severely limited civil society organizations. Since the toppling of Sudan’s democratic government in 1989, Sudanese civil society has been deprived of many legal and political protections and rights.

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William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)

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