Egypt’s situation is in many ways immensely complicated. But in others, it is simple: Egypt’s new government is restricting human rights in ways that no American should ever support. During the Mubarak years we often did support, or show indifference, to violations of the basic rights of citizens, and we should not repeat that error yet again.
Today there is a simple case. The comic Bassem Yousef, who is known as Egypt’s Jon Stewart, is being prosecuted for various non-crimes: insulting the president, spreading rumors, propagating lies–all charges that mean only that the powers that be don’t like what he is saying. Those powers know that his prosecution is under assault internationally, yet they have continued to pile on new charges.
We cannot prevent this, but we can make our attitude clear. In fact the Obama administration has, somewhat late and somewhat weakly, expressed disagreement, but we should be condemning these efforts to bring Egypt’s brief moment of freedom of speech and press to an end. To put it starkly, the United States has no interest in the success of the Muslim Brotherhood, in Egypt or anywhere else. The Brotherhood does not share our values, nor does it share our aspirations for the region. Its success is nothing we should seek or facilitate. There is of course a counter-argument, that if the Brotherhood fails worse will follow–Salafis, for example. In truth we do not know nor will we have any say in what is next for Egypt if and when citizens conclude that the Brotherhood cannot deliver the freedom or the economic progress that Egyptians appeared to seek when they drove Hosni Mubarak from power. Disorder is possible; a new dictatorship may arise; the Army may take power; or Egypt may become an Arab Pakistan, where the Army rules behind the facade of civilian politicians.
Egyptians and not we will determine all of this, so the best we can do–and it is important that we do this–is to stand for our own principles of freedom of speech, press, assembly, trade unions, religion, and free elections. The Bassem Yousef prosecutions (one must now use the plural) are indefensible and should be met with loud and repeated U.S. protests. We do not know where Egypt is heading, but we know what we believe and we ought to know that we must support those Egyptians who seek a truly democratic Egypt.