Bush turns a blind eye to repression in Egypt

By extending emergency laws that were put in place after Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by Islamist extremists, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has brought the curtain down on a political farce that he had been staging at the behest of President George W. Bush.
Egypt is in dire need of the reform that Mubarak promised last autumn during his campaign for a fifth six- year presidential term. His promise to lift draconian laws suppressing civil liberties was to be the cornerstone of a liberalization policy meant to placate Bush, who had been promoting democratization in the Arab world as a formula for curing the rage and frustration thought to be the spawning ponds of Al Qaeda and similar terrorist cults.
Sadly, it now appears that intervening events have cooled President Bush’s ardor for liberalization in Arab countries governed by clients of the United States. The relative success of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in last winter’s tightly controlled parliamentary election and the outright victory of the Brotherhood’s Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, in balloting for the Palestinian Authority legislature seemed to shock Bush and his advisers. Suddenly they noticed that years of autocratic rule in much of the Arab world have emptied the political playing field of all serious competitors save the established elites and their Islamist foes.
Mubarak was able to go back on his pledge to begin opening up Egypt’s political system because Bush ceased hectoring him to end his repressive ways. Bush’s course correction reflects an incoherent policy rooted in a superficial, highly ideological notion of political reality in Egypt and other Arab societies.
Last autumn, Bush and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood both demanded that the emergency laws be canceled as the necessary first step for democratic reform. Although Bush and the Muslim brothers had different reasons for opposing the emergency laws, they were both right to view them as the single greatest obstacle to reform of a system that allows Mubarak and his inner circle to retain their monopoly on power.
Those laws permit detained persons to be held indefinitely without trial. They allow for civilian cases to be heard by military courts. They make it possible for the authorities to prevent or restrict free association and to curtail free speech that might be construed as harming Egypt’s image abroad. They make it possible for the police to break up public gatherings of more than five people.
Egypt desperately needs the freedoms Bush is allowing Mubarak to suppress. It is the suppression of freedom that reduces the chances for Egyptian liberals to challenge both the repressive order of the established system and the reactionary appeal of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

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