NYT: Denial and Democracy in Egypt

The liberal pinkos at the NYT, of all things, pick up on the closing of the CTUWS and admonish the US ambassador to Egypt for being too, er, diplomatic.

Denial and Democracy in Egypt - New York Times:

In recent weeks, Egypt’s government has further trampled the rights of its citizens, closing several branches of the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, which provides much needed legal assistance to workers. This comes at a time when a growing number of government critics have been thrown in jail and on the heels of constitutional amendments that restrict rights and weaken standards for arrest and detention.

All of this somehow has escaped the Bush administration’s ambassador to Egypt who, in a recent television interview in Cairo, painted a chillingly sunny picture of President Hosni Mubarak’s government. While he acknowledged there were “some infringements and violations” of human rights, he declared himself “optimistic” about democratic progress in Egypt, adding that the judiciary and the government’s “commitment to the opinion of the common Egyptian citizen” would carry the day.

That not only contradicts reality — freedom of expression and assembly is actually diminishing — it contradicts the State Department’s latest human rights report, which says that Egypt’s rights record remains poor. Egypt’s jailed bloggers and beaten protesters can certainly attest to that.

After crackdowns weakened or destroyed so many of Egypt’s independent political organizations, democratic activists are hoping the burgeoning trade union movement will pick up the fight for democratic change. Which is why Mr. Mubarak has ordered the shuttering of the trade union centers.

With so many other things to worry about in the Middle East, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush also seem to have lost their earlier fervor for Egyptian democracy. Washington must warn Mr. Mubarak clearly about the costs — for Egypt’s long-term stability and its relationship with the United States — of such anti-democratic moves. Happy talk and denial just damage America’s credibility and enable more repression.
Ambassadors should have to get training to restrain from heaping free praise to regimes that don't deserve it. One can complain about Ambassador Ricciardone's upbeat appearances on Egyptian TV, but much more distasteful was his counterpart in Tunis' statements a few weeks ago that Tunisia "is a model for the region." But overall, I can't help feeling this op-ed is soooo last year -- has the NYT only now realized that the Bush administration has backpedaled on Egypt?
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.