A group of Egyptian protesters perform evening prayers during a demonstration against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in front Egypt’s Presidential Palace on December 7, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt. Anti-Morsi protesters continue to demonstrate across Egypt against the country’s draft constitution, rushed through parliament in an overnight session on November 29. The country’s new draft constitution, passed by a constitutional assembly dominated by Islamists, will go to a referendum on December 15. (Photo by Ed Giles/Getty Images)
Two years after the resignation of President Mubarak, here we are once again with protesters back in the Egyptian streets, facing army tanks and tear gas and this time with human rights defenders openly expressing concerns about the possibility of civil war.
There’s only one way out of this: Egypt has to build a new political future based on respect for human rights. The proposed Constitution falls short of this, and if President Morsi wants to back his claim to be president “for all Egyptians,” he must demand accountability for past human rights abuses and add constitutional protections for fundamental freedoms, particularly for women, before the document is submitted to voters for ratification.
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Warnings that democracy will turn Egypt into a dangerous theocracy has been heard for a long time, but with the Egyptian people strongly intent on winning back their rights, those concerns seem this week to be everywhere. Nowhere is this fear of Egyptian democracy is being heard loudest than here in the U.S. media.
This concern isn’t limited to the American right: In today’s Washington Post, liberal columnist Richard Cohen expresses his fears that Islamist influence in a democratic Egypt would endanger Israel.
The problem is, to all these critics, the only options facing Egyptians are Mubarak or Islamists. That is simply wrong. Egyptian aspirations for democracy have simmered for too long for outsiders to block it by playing on the same fears that have helped maintain an autocrat in power for three decades.
Let’s start with the obvious: For Amnesty International, this is not a relevant issue. As a human rights organization, we focus on preventing and documenting human rights abuses. That is one reason why we don’t call for Mubarak’s resignation; our interest is stopping the torture, unfair trials, arbitrary and prolonged detentions and abuses of freedom of speech, association and religion that fall under his or any other regime.
Secondly, the fears expressed about the Muslim Brothers overstate the group’s current position. After decades of attempts to muzzle civil society, the Egyptian government has effectively handcuffed most political parties and secular institutions. One result was to make room for Islamist opposition. The Muslim Brothers have publicly renounced violence and pledged to work within the political system.
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