Saturday, February 12, 2011

Egpyt Human Rights Past and Future.

As we all have been fervently watching the news in the past weeks and just yesterday Hosni Mubarak, the President of 30 years stepped down, bringing hope that the Human rights situation that has haunted the country and the world for much of the last century. Egypt in the past holds a record of abuses in elections, some of the worst prisoner where punished and tortured, very limited free speech (again shown by the shut down of the internet), religious persecution of minority religions, and a limited system of social and economic mobility.

Now only of of these actually is in a league of their own for Egypt: It is the Torture, Cruel imprisonment and the numerous cases of extraction and rendition. In the pre Mubarak years, in the wake of the assassinations of Sadat and attempts on Nassir both lead to huge crack down on radical islmasist groups and most notably the Muslim Brotherhood. Members of these organizations were whipped with electrical cords, attacked by dogs, shaved off their beards and hair, water boarded, starved and kept in extreme cases of isolation. These men many times were scholars like Syed Qubt whose imprisonment lead them to radicalized against the government and the west, the very roots of the terrorist groups that America argues we should torture to gain information. In the 1970s, men like ayman al-zawhiri, the mastermind of 9-11, was arrested and dehumanized to the point that he made it his life mission to destroy the society that had created this unjust world.

It has been speculated that it was the very poor, cruel and inhuman conditions that pushed many of groups and individuals to radicalize, not entirely, but if they had been respected as humans maybe they would not have reacted through the violence of needless terrorism. Egypt has now been given a new opportunity to act as the new paradigm for a region that is know for its abysmal human rights record, but how can their new government and America's sway in the region help?

Well I think there are four things that could be done, first and most obvious would be the establishment of transparent and fair courts and prisons in Egypt. Even in this crisis, the police were arrested journalists and human rights activists, this will only limit the free speech allowed for the nation, and the security people feel.
Secondly, Egypt needs to stop doing the dirty world for the Arab world and the US, they need to stop torturing suspected terrorist and focus on creating a functioning multicultural society. If they don't stop these techniques they will still be seen as the servants of American imperialism, and we need to promote less cruel ways of extracting information because not all suspected terrorists are actually terrorists, innocent men and women are affected by our policies.
They need to keep a secular state to protect the religious minority inside and around Egypt. With a Coptic christian population of about 8 million, their security could be a major issue if the government does not help promote a religiously open culture.
And finally, countries like Egypt and Tunisia need to help their neighboring people to actualize their dreams of revolution and to bring the government back to the people, not held in the hands of an intransigent elite.
How can the Arab world and the UN or US help promote human rights in this region in this new time of political upheaval? Or would it be better to leave them alone to arrive at their own moral conclusions?


  1. I have to wonder if the illusion of human rights will see the Egyptians through what is surely to be a hell to come. Progress on paper and progress in reality are two very different achievements. Mubarak saw Egypt through great economic expansion and carved a niche for Egypt in the international community as Western ally with face in the Arab world.
    Any government that follows in the wake of this idealist tragedy will have the arduous task of reassuring the international business that Egypt is stable. In the past two years Egypt has made headlines for slaughtering every swine in the country over fears of flu and a pandemic of anti-text mania when a man coincidentally suffered cardiac arrest reading a text requiring intervention from the government and several public service announcements.
    I'm sorry I cannot share in your optimisim that conditions will at all improve. Never, nowhere, ever has wealth been evenly distributed successfully, far better to have a wealthy elite and job than no elite and no job. The naivete of this cause is astounding and the willingness of the international community to bow to journalism and allow this is discouraging.
    Which government is next?

  2. I share Cat's general sense of skepticism at the more exultant reactions to Mubarak's overthrow; Egypt is certainly not yet out of the woods. However, I think she somewhat romanticizes the acheivements of the former regime; Egypt is measurably less prominent in Middle Eastern politics than it was decades ago and its economic growth has not been sufficient to raise the standard of living appreciably for much of its swelling population. Aside from these sorts of particulars, the uprising proved that the decisive majority of the population was fed up with being stifled by Muburak's ramshackle tyranny. It is not yet clear what the future holds in store for the country, but its past was clearly unsustainable.

  3. Egypt is the case of modern day uprising and class struggle. Yet I am doubtful that petitioning for better working conditions and more money is sufficient means for these demands to be realized. We in America are privileged in that our nation has enough wealth that revenue may be turned over on things like entertainment, and that a $7.25 minimum wage and decent working conditions do not completely erode the resulting labor product (at least not yet). In Egypt this is not the case. While I'm not sure where to place blame (America most likely), it seems to me that these harsh working and living conditions may lie outside of the government's scope; they may simply be the result of supply and demand principles coupled with a steady population influx. I may say every human being has a right to his or her own flat screen tv and 900+ channels, but that does not mean that it is materially possible to arrange for this.

  4. Although it will prove to be an incredibly difficult and lengthy process, I believe that Egypt has the potential to establish a political entity capable of preserving the rights of its citizens. However, before the nation reforms its political system in such a way to prevent human rights violations occurring within its borders, Egypt must first gain social stability (I am not well educated in the realm of politics, but I imagine that “giving the power back to the people” involves instituting some sort of democracy?). The media covering this disorderly transition has shown that citizens have resorted to acts of aggression; journalists explain that the situation has involved civil disobedience, riots, and “violent clashes.” Ishay explains that countries normally place the importance of national security above preserving the individual rights of their citizens. If this notion successfully predicts Egypt’s disposition during the upcoming months, the violation of human rights may be overlooked as the government attempts to “take the reins” on the country. The preservation of human rights would become an issue only after the newly instated government can guarantee the safety of its citizens.

  5. Cat, you say that, "Never, nowhere, ever has wealth been evenly distributed successfully, far better to have a wealthy elite and job than no elite and no job." I agree that no one has ever been completely successful evenly distributing wealth, however I don't think that this is the point goal. The goal is to make sure that everyone has a minimal standard of living. What this standard should be definitely needs to be better defined, but that does not mean that it isn't an acceptable goal. To say that having a wealthy elite and a job is better than having neither is drawing a false dichotomy as well as very defeatist. Those are not our only two options. To think in such black and white terms reinforces the idea that there is nothing we can do to change our lives


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