Last week, after an evening pasting ‘No to the Constitution’ posters to walls in Cairo’s downtown Garden City, three volunteers from the Strong Egypt party headed to take a minibus home. But en route down the Corniche they were arrested by police and taken to Qasr al-Nil police station. A fourth member was detained three days later at a police checkpoint, found in possession of fliers calling for a no vote.
Cairo was full of placards soliciting a yes in the referendum, in other words a yes for the military-backed regime. But when it comes to slogans that read, “no to military trials for civilians,” and “no to the continuation of the interior ministry’s thuggery,” the army has shown a zero tolerance policy. Eight members of the Strong Egypt party in total have been arrested.
During their detention they were kept in tiny, overcrowded prisons. One of the members, Mahmoud Emam, was beaten and asked about his political views, how he voted in the elections, which parts of the constitution he was against and what would happen to Egypt if there was a no vote. In December activists from al-Azhar University and in January nine members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested on similar charges.
Polls in Egypt have now closed after two days of voting on a charter that will entrench military rule and smooth the path for Al Sisi’s presidential bid. Unofficial figures from Egypt’s governorates indicate that 97 percent of voters said yes, with a 38 percent turnout whilst the NGO Arab Observatory for Rights and Freedoms put the number of voters at 11.3 percent. Either way, the results reflect a ballot that couldn’t be further from being free and fair.
At the same time Al Sisi stifles dissent, the US has asked Congress to relieve it from a law requiring military aid be cut off in the case of a coup. The controversial spending bill will reinstate $1.5 billion in military and economic aid to Egypt… on the condition that the Egyptian government takes steps towards restoring democracy with a democratic transition and democratic elections. Values Egypt couldn’t be further from right now.
Since October, the Obama administration has withdrawn much of the $1.5 billion worth of annual aid it gives to Egypt, withholding an array of military equipment including tanks and fighter aircraft, and $250 million in cash aid. To free the cash up now, the US Secretary of State must confirm the government in Egypt is keeping up its strategic relationship with the United States and living up to the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
This is not the first time the US has endorsed the military regime in Egypt, at wholly inappropriate times. Shortly after the coup, John Kerry said that the generals were “restoring democracy” to Egypt. US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel has asked Egypt to be more democratic; but at the same time has opposed suspending military aid.
It’s not just the military’s response to the referendum that has raised major concern over the US decision to restore aid; Egypt’s human rights record is getting worse and worse. Secular and Brotherhood activists, members of the Freedom and Justice Party, including Morsi, have been imprisoned on trumped-up charges. In fact 10,000 in total have been arrested or detained. Those that haven’t been detained have fled abroad. The Muslim Brotherhood have been labelled a terrorist organisation, opposition demonstrations have been banned under the protest law and many killed by security forces including the massacres at Rabia and Ennahda square.
19 days ago Al Jazeera staff Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste were arrested and accused of joining a terrorist organisation and spreading lies harmful to state security. The government has unleashed a vicious crackdown on the media, shutting down news organisations that support the group.
The United States’ restoration of aid will only encourage the military-backed regime to continue to repress the opposition, and it will set an example for the engineers of coups in other countries; that they will not be held accountable for their actions. Terrifyingly, it endorses strongman Al Sisi as a candidate for the next presidential election whilst at the same time validating Morsi’s ouster and the power of the police and the army.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.