Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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Egypt’s War on Honest Language

by Steven A. Cook
April 30, 2014

A soldier stands guard atop an armoured personnel carrier (APC) in front of murals of people killed during Egypt's uprising, at Mohammed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). A soldier stands guard atop an armoured personnel carrier (APC) in front of murals of people killed during Egypt's uprising, at Mohammed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. 

Egyptian officials will respond to the storm of criticism over the mass death sentences handed down to 683 Egyptians and the banning of the April 6 Movement — a youth movement that was influential in the 2011 uprising — by doing what they always do. They will insist that the country’s judiciary is independent from political forces, and that judges are merely following the letter of the law in handing down harsh sentences. Egypt, in this version of reality, is actually a country where rule of law is paramount.

Top Egyptian officials are already touting their progress, despite the ominous news coming from the country. “I’m actually quite proud of the constitution — I think by any account it’s a very significant transformation, especially on issues of civil liberties,” Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy declared in Washington on the same day that the mass death sentences were handed down. “Whether they relate to gender equality, freedom of expression and religion, it is an extremely progressive framework that essentially invites Egyptians to come together.”

Of course, Egypt’s senior diplomat and his spokespeople are paid to put Egypt in the best light, not to wrestle with the idea that Egypt’s legal system is rigged in a way to benefit a dominant elite. This is an old story, but the recent court rulings show just how far the rule of law has deteriorated — and how Egyptian elites have appropriated terms like terrorism, dissent, freedom, and progress for their own ends.

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