One year ago today, Egyptians captured the attention of the world when they catalyzed a revolution that led to the fall of long-time authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak. Today, U.S. policy makers should seize this historic anniversary to rebuke Egypt's military rulers for its unjust rule by conditioning aid to the country.
During the unprecedented demonstrations in Egypt last January and February, the army stood on the side of the people, protecting protesters and defending their cause. The military was perceived as an important ally in the struggle and easily assumed power after Mubarak's departure, taking up the responsibility to lead the nation during its tumultuous transition from revolution to democracy.
Yet a number of alarming developments indicate that this trust between the military and the people has been betrayed. Instead of guiding the nation on the path to genuine democratic transition, the interim military government — the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) — has largely derailed the democratic transition through its erratic and unjust rule.
There is no shortage of abuses of power and violations of human rights to point to that have occurred under the SCAF's rule. Many Egyptians first became concerned over military rule last October due to the Maspero massacre, when soldiers attacked peaceful protesters calling for the protection of religious minority rights, leading to the death of nearly 30 and the injury of dozens more. Sectarian tension was the SCAF's given explanation for the deaths, a profound irony given the peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims in the peaceful crowd.
Episodes of disturbing violence against demonstrators only increased during November and December, as more and more Egyptians began uniting around their demand for transition of power from military to civilian rule — a demand which they again will be calling for today. The latest clashes (which the SCAF regularly attributes to "foreign meddlers") have led to the deaths of more than 80 and the injury of thousands more.
And then there's the gender-based abuses, when female activists have been specifically targeted and humiliated through subjugation to public stripping and so-called "virginity testing," in addition to torture and beatings. (These violations — particularly disturbing when one considers the gender sensitivity of Egyptian society — fueled an unprecedentedly large women's march in December, considered to be the largest such demonstration in Egypt's modern history).
In a legal context, during less than one year of the SCAF's rule, more than 12,000 civilians have been sent to military trials, compared to a total of only 2,000 civilians subject to such trials during the 30 years of Mubarak's rule.
And most recently, the raiding of offices of Egyptian and American human rights and democracy NGOs only represents the escalation of a harassment campaign against civil society groups since last summer. It is expected that even more severe measures will be taken to stifle the activities of these vital organizations which strengthen Egyptian civil society, an essential component of any successful democracy.
All these examples point to one simple truth: The SCAF has irresponsibly and destructively led Egypt during its transition; therefore, the U.S. should respond by clearly sending the message that these myriad injustices have not gone unnoticed, and that we will not continue to bolster the military establishment with more than one billion dollars of annual aid if such behavior does not change.
Given the deeply entrenched relationship that has existed between the U.S. and the Egyptian military over the last three decades (and been facilitated by the consistent funneling of aid), U.S. policy makers acting in response to the SCAF's abuses should not be seen as an option but rather an obligation. Do we really want our tax dollars to continue fortifying a military establishment that permits the killing of its own people when they dissent?
Most importantly, the U.S. should act not only on the basis of moral principle but also of strategic interest. The simple, overarching lesson of the Arab Spring was that authoritarian regimes are inherently unstable, and it is best for the U.S. to consistently stand on the side of the people. Continuing to support the Egyptian military, despite its abuses and growing unpopularity, will only worsen the already unfavorable image most Egyptians have of the U.S.
Now — on this historic one year anniversary of the Egyptian revolution that toppled a dictator but is now struggling to end a military regime — the U.S. should remember this vital lesson and take a stand to rebuke the Egyptian military for its wrongdoings, on the basis of both principle and interest.
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