Egypt in Crisis, U.S. Must Act for Human Rights

Egyptians hold a protest at the Presidential Palace

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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Why The Nobel Prize Isn’t Just About Women’s Rights

Yemen's Arab Spring activist Tawakkul Karman, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Liberian 'peace warrior' Leymah Gbowee, winners of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Today the Nobel Committee announced that it is awarding its Peace Prize to three women: Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkul Karman, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

While the fact that the prize is being awarded to three women is important, it is not the most important symbol of what today’s announcement represents. Sure, the number of women who have been honored in the prize’s history (twelve until today) pales in comparison to the number of men (eighty-five), and that disparity should be addressed.

But focusing exclusively on the numbers game as we congratulate Gbowee, Karman and Sirleaf misses the point entirely: these women are not honored today because they are women. They are honored for what their work represents in promoting a more peaceful, just world. Doing so as women, they are both at unique risk and offer unique solutions—but their work makes the world a better place for all.

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Egypt Returns to Bad Old Days of Repression

An Egyptian youth waves the national flag

An Egyptian youth waves the national flag with slogan in Arabic that reads. "25th of January, Day of the Freedom" © Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

It’s a return to the bad old days of repression for Egypt.

Last week, the military regime took a significant step back – severely threatening free speech, free association and assembly, and the right to strike – by expanding the government’s “emergency powers.”

These “State of Emergency” powers are the same ones the Mubarak regime used in its assault on human rights. The military authorities have essentially taken Egypt’s laws back to the bad old days of repression.

And with the coming parliamentary election, the timing couldn’t be worst.  The Egyptian people have waited so long for free elections, but even the most devoted of Egyptian democracy activists knew that a lot of difficult work had to be done in little time to build the foundations of free press, independent judiciary and other pillars needed for free elections.

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As Ramadan Begins, Arab Militaries Strike Back

“While they were hitting me I told them I’m pregnant, they shouted: who’s the father, then hit my stomach with his stick”

– Egyptian woman in Tahrir Square Aug. 1.

Egyptian demonstrators rally in downtown Cairo's Tahrir square on July 29, 2011. © Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

This was a weekend Arab armies struck back.  In Syria, tanks attacked protesters in Hama, killing at least 100 according to Amnesty International reports.  The military was back in action Monday as well.

In Egypt, reports are coming in from Egypt that the military is clearing out activists from Tahrir Square after more than a week of protests calling for a faster pace of reform. All morning reports from Tahrir Square painted a picture of mobs of people picking out protesters, surrounding them, provoking scuffles and then turning the activists over to soldiers nearby.

Unlike in Syria, the violence doesn’t appear to involve shooting, and no deaths have been reported, but there have been reportedly large number of arrests and social media was reporting eyewitness accounts of several injuries.
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Egypt: Back in Tahrir Square and Winning Victories

The Egyptian people have proven themselves to be a patient nation. They showed an active patience over the three decades of Mubarak rule, speaking out when they could but waiting for the right time to rise up in Tahrir Square and across the country to oust him.

Since the success of the Jan. 25 uprising, many in America have wondered whether the uprising died out prematurely after Mubarak’s resignation.  The pace of reform has slowed, the military regime has dragged hundreds of protesters before unfair military trials, and the New Egypt looks suspiciously like the Old Egypt.

This week, they have their answer.  Today, for the sixth straight day, thousands of Egyptians have returned to sit in Tahrir Square to demand their promised rights.  Despite public warnings from the interim military rulers, the protesters are not budging and are preparing Friday to present one of the largest protests in Egypt since Jan. 25.

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The New Face of Egypt

By the Amnesty International team in Cairo.

A child wrapped in an Egyptian flag in Tahrir Square on 11 February ©Sarah Carr

A child wrapped in an Egyptian flag in Tahrir Square on 11 February ©Sarah Carr

Describing in words the atmosphere in Tahrir Square on the evening of Hosni Mubarak’s resignation after 30 years in power would never do it justice.

It was a bit like Cairo itself – you cannot understand it unless you have lived it, felt it, smelt it and drank chlorine-filled water from its tap.

All we can say is that it was a great privilege to be there for this momentous historical occasion.

We can project, years from now, our children or grandchildren rolling their eyes when we repeat, perhaps with a fleeting look of nostalgia or tears in our eyes: “I was there, in the sea of people from all ages, social classes, political backgrounds: Muslim and Coptic, men and women, rich and poor, veiled and unveiled, feeling part of a whole new Egypt that was being reborn.”

In fact, to navigate across the square one needed to follow the right current of people if one hoped to reach friends with whom to share the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

If not, people would scream “mabrouk [congratulations]” to each other over the phone in disbelief and with hysterical laughter.

We came from a generation, like more than a third of all Egyptians, for whom Hosni Mubarak as President was a natural, permanent state of affairs – as engrained in our psyche as the national anthem we had to sing in school every morning.

His fall as a result of a popular uprising was something many dared to dream of, but never quite believed, even after the ousting of Tunisia’s President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali less than a month ago.

We are used to our leaders either dying of natural causes, being overthrown in palace coups or being assassinated.

People’s sense of achievement and pride in being able to take control of Egypt’s future reverberated across the square. “Put your head up high, you are Egyptian,” was sung over and over again and was complimented by laughter, ululations, songs of praise, drums and the waving of Egyptian flags. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST