Egypt Crackdown on Opposition is a Mistake: US

After long days of deafening silence, the US on Sunday, May 21, finally faulted its key Mideast alley Egypt for its crackdown on opposition and pro-reform protests.

“These (actions) strike me as not only wrong actions but mistakes, like beating people up and the heavy-handed security reaction to these things,” US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF), hosted by the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).

But the American diplomat tried to tune down the criticism.

“I think that they conflict with the government’s own desires and interests and where they (government) want Egypt to go,” he added.

Over the last two weeks, Egyptian police detained hundreds of pro-reform protesters who had come out to support two judges facing a disciplinary hearing for speaking out against rigging last year’s legislative polls.

Over 300 protesters, mainly from the country’s largest opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood, were detained in the latest protests on Thursday.

According to witnesses and AFP reporters, police with truncheons encircled clusters of protestors and clubbed them.

Opening the WEF Saturday, May 20, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak claimed that rushing reforms in the region could lead to “chaos.”

He linked the reform process to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the situation in Iraq and the Darfur conflict.


Zoellick also criticized as a “mistake” the manner in which the authorities had dealt with jailed opposition leader Ayman Nour.

An Egyptian court turned down on Thursday an appeal by Nour against a five-year sentence handed out last December for forging affidavits for the creation of his party in 2004.

The 42-year-old lawyer came a distant second in the 2005 presidential election in which Mubarak won an overwhelming majority.

The White House condemned the curt ruling on Thursday but failed to comment on the crackdown on opposition protests, taking place at the same time.

Zoellick applauded opposition supporters for voicing their discontent and demonstrating their wish to be part of the political process.

“(beating demonstrators) is certainly not a pretty sight, but it is also in a way encouraging that you now have the people of Egypt trying to step forward and say: Look now that there is a more open process we want to take part in it and we are going to insist on our political rights,” he said.

“It is the direction we would obviously encourage things to go.”


Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood blasted Premier Ahmed Nazif’s assertion that the government wants to prevent the group, which has 80 seats in parliament, from forming a parliamentary bloc in future elections.

“It is obvious that the government does not have any real desire or serious intention towards reform. This is obvious by the way it wants to silence opposition voices,” deputy leader Mohammed Habib told Reuters.

Nazif told Reuters Saturday the government wants to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from forming an opposition parliamentary group by winning seats as independents in future elections.

The group is not allowed to form a political party and thus cannot officially field candidates in elections because Egypt’s constitution forbids the establishment of religiously-based parties.

Habib said the government would probably use arrests and military trials to prevent the formation of another Brotherhood-based opposition bloc inside parliament.

He said the group, which won a fifth of parliament’s seats in elections last year, would attract more support from Egyptians if the government resorted to repressive measures to keep its members out of parliament.

“If they use repressive methods, and that is what is expected … then it will only result in more sympathy and support for them (the Brotherhood) from the Egyptian people,” he said.

The Brotherhood bloc in parliament has called for – and been denied — official enquiries into police beating of demonstrators during recent protests, and over a conflict between judges and the government over judicial independence.

“They (government officials) want to suppress the political movement to set the stage for an idea that is already rejected by the Egyptian people, that of inheritance,” Habib said.

He was referring to a conviction shared by Egypt’s analysts and opposition groups that Mubarak is grooming his son Gamal to take over after him.

Gamal’s fiancée, Khadiga el-Gammal, because the talk of the media after she made her first appearance at WEF opening.

She sat between Gamal and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit in the front row.

Key government ministers, including Investments Minister Mahmoud Mohei El-Dine, sat in the second and third rows.
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