For Immediate Release: January 31, 2011
New York City – Human Rights First is calling on the Obama Administration to take steps to ensure ongoing protests in Egypt do not turn into a bloodbath. Specifically, the group is urging President Obama to demand an Egyptian transition plan that restores order to the streets, sets a timetable for the holding of free elections for both the parliament and the presidency and restores basic rights and freedoms of expression, assembly and association long constrained by the permanent State of Emergency and other restrictive legislation. Human Rights First notes that restoring the Internet and lifting curbs on the media, including the Al-Jazeera Network, should happen immediately. In addition, without delay, the police should resume their duties of safeguarding people and their property.
The group has also asked that the U.S. government make clear to the Egyptian government and the military leadership that any involvement by the military in repression and use of armed force to disperse non-violent protesters will lead to an immediate suspension of U.S. military assistance. The Egyptian military leadership must understand that if it becomes the agent of repression then the long-standing relationship of military cooperation with the United States will be severely compromised.
“These core demands, long spoken about as the reform agenda, now need to be enacted,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks. “If President Mubarak and his new government prove unwilling or unable to enact this reform agenda, then the U.S. government must be prepared to sever its support for President Mubarak and make clear its readiness to work with a transitional government under new leadership, committed to working towards a democratic, peaceful transition.”
According to Human Rights First, the actions of President Mubarak in the last few days have demonstrated that he and his supporters are incapable of ruling Egypt responsibly and in a manner that serves the best interests of the Egyptian people. In desperate attempts to cling to power, the Egyptian authorities have shut down the Internet and severely disrupted mobile phone services; first ordered violence against the protesters , then removed the police from the streets, leaving the country vulnerable to looting and chaos that has already resulted in damage to many businesses and other property, and left people forming vigilante groups to secure their homes and businesses; imposed a dusk to dawn curfew that is being openly flouted; and created a volatile stand off in the streets between military forces armed with heavy weapons, but as yet with no orders to enforce the curfew, and hundreds of thousands of increasingly frustrated, but largely disorganized, protesters – surely a recipe for further violence, and on a scale much greater than anything seen to date, unless a way out of the crisis is found, and found soon.
Hicks notes that even before these protests began there were already signs that the Mubarak regime’s ability to maintain stability was fraying, including the brazenly rigged parliamentary elections held in November, increasing incidents of sectarian violence against the Coptic Christian minority including a bombing in Alexandria in which more than twenty worshipers were killed, and horrific incidents of police brutality, like the beating to death of Khalid Saeed outside an Internet café in Alexandria.
The Obama administration has belatedly and tentatively recognized the need for change, now calling for a “peaceful transition” to a more responsive government, but if it is to avoid further damage to its already tainted reputation in the region, the U.S. government needs to stress to President Mubarak and to General Omer Suleiman, the new Vice-President, that there can be no return to the terminally discredited old dispensation, of repression in the name of stability. Long morally repugnant, this policy has now been shown to be ineffective.
“Faced with crisis, President Mubarak has reverted to his roots, surrounding himself with military leaders and dismissing the government of Ahmed Nazif, credited with injecting some life into the struggling Egyptian economy. However, this stylistic change in the leadership merely underlines Mubarak’s determination to ride out the storm. The only result of Mubarak’s intransigence will be a bloody confrontation for which the United States will be blamed, fuelling anti-Western extremism in the region,” Hicks concluded. “Avoiding a blood bath in Egypt should be the Obama Administration’s first priority in the current phase of the crisis. Doing so will require hard choices and resolve from the administration and a willingness to end our support for President Mubarak definitively. Failure to make these choices will expose the administration’s talk of ‘peaceful transition’ as wishful thinking.”