Where Are They Now?

Why has there been no outcry by the ’pro-democracy’ US over the Egyptian government’s new powers and anti-democratic measures?

“In the Middle East, President Bush has broken with six decades of excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the hope of purchasing stability at the price of liberty. The stakes could not be higher. As long as the broader Middle East remains a region of tyranny and despair and anger, it will produce extremists and movements that threaten the safety of Americans and our friends … “

So said the US secretary of state, Condoleeza Rice, two years ago. No longer would the United States support dictators and autocrats in the Arab world at the expense of promoting democracy. It was a bold speech – but did it really mark a significant change of policy or was it merely verbal cover for the increasing anarchy in Iraq?

With a population of over 70 million, combined with its status as the largest recipient of US foreign aid – barring Israel and now, of course, Iraq – to the tune of $1.75bn a year, Egypt appeared at the time to be right in the centre of American sights.

On Monday, the Egyptian government announced that it had succeeded in passing a series of anti-democratic measures – or “reforms” as it prefers to term them – including the removal of judicial supervision of elections, the granting of new powers to the government to arrest, search and eavesdrop on citizens without a court order and a ban on political parties based on religion.

The referendum organised by the government had an official voter turnout of 27% with 75.9% of them apparently approving the government’s measures. Independent observers have said that the turnout was actually far closer to 5%, with the voters being mainly government employees.

And the US government’s response to this brazen attempt to entrench the 26-year long rule of Husni Mubarak and his corrupt colleagues? Voicing the mildest of mild criticisms, the state department spokesman, Tom Casey, described the Egyptian amendments as “something of a missed opportunity to advance reform.”

So what happened to the mission to promote democracy in the Middle East in order to try and ward off support for extremist groups? In the wake of the strong gains made by Muslim Brotherhood candidates (who had to stand as independents due to the ban on their party) in the December 2005 elections and also by Hamas in occupied Palestine, it seems the US has gone decidedly cool on the idea of people power, at least in the context of the oil-rich Middle East.

Last month, the case of an Egyptian named Abdel Kareem Nabil, who had been sentenced to four years in prison for making some disparaging remarks about Husni Mubarak and also the prophet Muhammad, and his companions gained international coverage with most observers rightly condemning the trial and conviction.

Yet faced with an entire population being utterly disenfranchised in Egypt and a one-party state extending its control and domination over the lives of over 70 million people, the pro Iraq-war and self-proclaimed pro-democracy left has gone silent about democracy.

Not a squeak is to be heard from Christopher Hitchens, Nick Cohen,Harry’s Place and Co. Somewhat ironically, they have all been busy denouncing the left for having abandoned its principles.

Inayat Bunglawala is media secretary at the Muslim Council of Britain. He is also a co-presenter of the weekly ’Politics and Media Show’ on the Islam Channel (SKY 813).

Inayat has been active in UK Islamic organisations since he joined The Young Muslims UK in 1987.

He has written pieces about Islam and current affairs over the past few years for The Times, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, Daily Express, The Observer and The Sun.

In August 2005, Inayat was appointed by the Home Office as the Convenor of a working group on Tackling Extremism.