Coptic Solidarity is disappointed with a letter sent to President Obama on February 1 by the Working Group on Egypt, which misrepresents the current situation in Egypt and offers some counterproductive recommendations for U.S. policies to this strategic ally. The letter perpetuates the Group’s false juxtaposition of supposedly progressive Islamist victims facing supposedly unpopular and undemocratic forces in Egypt.
Coptic Solidarity wholeheartedly affirms the desire to see human rights and democracy protected and expanded in Egypt. Such desire, however, cannot be realized by simply disregarding the exceptional circumstances in which Egyptian society today finds itself. Egypt faces unprecedented levels of domestic violence that is being perpetrated by the thousands of jihadists whom Morsi released from prison and paroled. This danger is most pronounced in the Sinai Peninsula, directly adjacent to Gaza andIsrael, which has turned into a hotbed of terrorism, and is spreading to the rest of Egypt and potentially the wider region. Far from criticizing the efforts to contain and defeat such terrorism, the United States should be actively supporting them.
The Group also laments a “democratic reversal,” which presumes Egypt was democratic under Morsi’s rule. In fact, while Morsi was in power, women’s rights rapidly deteriorated, religious minorities were openly targeted, political opponents actively suppressed, and legal powers usurped illegally by the presidency. All signs pointed to an irreversible worsening of these regressive trends were Morsi’s reign to have continued, making Egypt less compatible with modern societies, less stable and ultimately less reliable to the United States. Granted, the current state of affairs in Egypt is imperfect and fighting violence and terrorism does not justify imprisonment and targeting peaceful journalists, human rights activists and political dissent by the transitional government, but Egypt is fighting back from the precipice.
Importantly, and also diminished by the Working Group, is the fact that the overthrowing of the Islamist regime has wide-ranging support within Egypt. Almost twenty-one million Egyptians participated in the recent constitutional referendum, notwithstanding violent campaigns perpetrated by the Muslim Brotherhood and supporting terrorist elements leading up to and even during the voting process. As compared to the 2012 referendum, the net supporting votes on the new constitution was more than nine million votes higher than it was (19.9 vs. 10.7) for the deeply-flawed and quasi-theocratic constitution of the Islamist regime. Less than half a million voted ‘No,’ compared with over six million in 2012.
While the new constitution and the implementation of the political roadmap may have been imperfect, the United States can and should support a strategic ally in these delicate times. Instead of the repeated and pointed appeals of the Working Group to the Obama Administration to take a hostile stand toward Egypt – which feed into the very anti-Americanism the Group decries and which further stand in marked contrast with its broad-brushed approach toward Egypt under Morsi – the United Statesshould be actively engaging with Egypt’s interim leaders to see the country emerge as a stable and progressive leader in theMiddle East.
In the end, we are disappointed by the stand of the Working Group, particularly that some of its members were strong supporters of the freedom forward policy under the Bush Administration and have in the past and under their respective think tanks, exposed the Islamists’ determined push against democratic forces in the region. Especially disappointing is that experts known for their support to civil society continue to support an elusive, fully discredited, “Islamist democracy” political agenda. It is high time that the Working Group gets back into step with the realities in Egypt, as well as align itself with the hopes and aspirations of the vast majority of Egyptians and Egyptian-Americans, and America’s real regional interests.