Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Press Freedom in Egypt: Back to the Bad Old Days

by Elliott Abrams
January 2, 2013

A satirist who has made fun of the country’s leader is investigated by prosecutors because he “undermined the leader’s standing.” An independent newspaper is investigated by prosecutors because it published “false news.”

Cuba? Chavez’s Venezuela? Putin’s Russia? No, Mohammed Morsi’s Egypt. Here is the story from Al Jazeera:

An Egyptian satirist who has made fun of President Mohamed Morsi on television will be investigated by prosecutors following an accusation that he undermined the leader’s standing, a judicial source has said.

Bassem Youssef’s case will likely increase concerns over freedom of speech in the post-Hosni Mubarak era, especially when the country’s new constitution includes provisions criticised by rights activists for, among other things, said the source on Tuesday, forbidding insults.

In a separate case, one of Egypt’s leading independent newspapers said it was being investigated by the prosecutor following a complaint from the presidency, which accused it of publishing false news.

Thus does Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood regime appear to be following in the footsteps of Hosni Mubarak and every other authoritarian ruler.

What’s missing in this picture? Egyptians are protesting, and whatever the level of disappointment or fear moderates, centrists, liberals, or secularists may feel they have been in the streets in the past month. But the United States is largely missing. If Morsi is repeating the Mubarak formula, so are we: ignoring human rights violations by the ruling regime in Egypt if the government follows an acceptable course in foreign policy.

This is doubly foolish since we know where it led us with Mubarak: to a Muslim Brotherhood takeover because the forces of moderation were too weak to prevent it. Moreover, Morsi like Mubarak is not doing us favors with his foreign policy: he is saying and doing what he thinks necessary to advance the interests of his party and his country. He will not become an ally of Iran, or declare war on Israel, if the President or the Secretary of State condemns these violations of freedom of the press. America’s silence is deafening–and statements handed out by the State Department or made only by its spokesman once in a while do not break that silence in any meaningful way. The EU is behaving just as we are.

Here’s a test: take a look at some of the recent language used about plans for new construction in Israeli settlements and in Jerusalem by the United States (“deeply disappointed,” “provocative,” “counter to the cause of peace) or the EU (“strongly oppose,” “deeply dismayed,” “extreme concern”) and let’s see how many such statements are made about the assaults on freedom of the press from the government of Egypt.

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