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If democracy really is 'precious', President Biden, then let the Egyptians taste its fruits

An Egyptian anti-goverment holds his national flag as he shouts slogans against President Hosni Mubarak at Cairo's Tahrir Square on 10 February 2011 [PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images]
An Egyptian holds his national flag as he shouts slogans against President Hosni Mubarak at Cairo's Tahrir Square on 10 February 2011 [PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images]

The hand-wringing, angst and tears which flowed unashamedly as US politician after US politician lined up to speak during the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump was nauseating for many of us watching the charade. Without exception, they spoke passionately about the fragility of democracy.

The Muslim world, especially where the Arab Spring was evident, does not need a reminder from American politicians just how precious democracy is. Thousands of extraordinary people have paid for it with their lives while millions more had it snatched away from them with the backdoor help of America and other leaders of the so-called free world.

The timing of the Trump impeachment was, of course, lost on those speaking on both sides during the trial in Washington. Perhaps they should have been reminded about how, ten years ago, the Egyptian people rose up heroically and resisted a brutal regime which culminated in the historic resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

While I have no desire to minimise the fear experienced by the Congressmen and women during the Capitol riots last month, nor to ignore the fact that several people were killed, what I would like to remind one and all in Washington is how the US and its Allies shattered the dreams of millions across the Middle East by undermining the peoples' revolution for democratic change. America and the rest basically allowed nascent Egyptian democracy to be destroyed. Yes, Washington, we know how fragile democracy is.

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Under Donald Trump's presidency, Egypt, as well as Saudi Arabia, Israel, the UAE and other repressive regimes, were given free rein to trash human rights without getting an American slap on their iron fists. Diplomatic and financial support was provided, no matter what.

Trump is now history, thankfully, but will President Joe Biden and other Western leaders step up to the plate and end the era of "might is right"? Will they allow the people's voices to be heard and, more importantly, be listened to?

We've come a long way since the heady days when the world saw dictatorships starting to crumble. The Tunisian people triumphed, but the Libyans, Yemenis and Egyptians are among those in the Arab world who had their hopes ripped apart and their aspirations crushed.

Tens of millions of us were glued to our TV sets around the world ten years ago as the protests, resistance and revolution unfolded day by day in Cairo's Tahir Square. I was fortunate enough to go to Cairo and join them. The victory belonged to the people as Hosni Mubarak resigned. You can see the emotion and joy on the faces of the Egyptian people in the video shot and edited by my colleague Warren Biggs. I defy anyone to watch it without tears in their eyes.

The revolution led in 2012 to the first democratically-elected leader in Egypt, the late President Mohamed Morsi. After just one year in power, Morsi was ousted in a military coup led by his own Minister of Defence, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. His supporters were distraught and camped out for six weeks in Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square to try in vain to reclaim their hard won democracy.

Such is Egypt's dependence on foreign aid that Western leaders could have intervened. They could have supported Morsi and the new democratic Egyptian government. They could have, but didn't. Instead, they undermined him. They couldn't even bring themselves to call Morsi's overthrow by the army a coup.

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In Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and elsewhere, the champions of freedom and democracy then stood and watched impassively as a massacre unfolded in Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square on 14 August 2013. A conservative estimate is that around 900 pro-democracy demonstrators were slaughtered as the Egyptian security forces under Sisi's command committed what were later described by human rights groups as "crimes against humanity". A year later, Sisi cemented his coup's "legitimacy" by having himself "elected" as President of Egypt.

Following the horrific Rabaa Square massacre, US President Barack Obama did halt the delivery of tanks, missiles, fighter jets and attack helicopters to Egypt, but resumed America's military aid the following year. When Trump arrived in the White House in January 2017, he referred famously to Sisi as his "favourite dictator" and praised him for doing a "fantastic job". Sisi was holding tens of thousands of his political opponents in prison at the time; most are still there, in appalling conditions.

In August 2017, the Trump administration delayed $195 million in military assistance to Egypt citing the country's failure to do something about its human rights abuses. However, the funds were released later without any noticeable change in Egypt's policies.

It is undoubtedly within President Biden's power to strong-arm Sisi into making an effort to restore Egypt's fledgling democracy. I'm not alone in this belief. Pleas have already been submitted to the Oval Office about the political prisoners held in Egypt's prisons. Sisi could start by granting an amnesty to each and every one of them, and then roll out democratic elections rather than the farcical, Mickey Mouse variety which saw him elected him as president.

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"The will of the people has been heard," said Biden during his inauguration last month, "and the will of the people has been heeded. We've learned again that democracy is precious and democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed."

President Biden, ten years ago the people of Egypt rose up and demanded democracy, but it was snatched away from them on your watch as Vice President of the United States. Today, you have the top job, and yet under America's ally Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, protestors are shot and killed or imprisoned by the Egyptian security services, simply for asking for "precious democracy". Speaking out about the many injustices in Egypt is more dangerous than ever.

In April 2019, the Egyptian constitution was amended to allow Sisi to remain in power until 2030. Is that the kind of "democracy" that you want to see your allies employing? I'm told that on this, the tenth, anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution the squares in Cairo are silent. Might has, once again, overcome democratic right, and the weapons used to quash the democratic hopes of the people of Egypt are supplied by America, Britain, Germany and France.

There are lessons to be learned from what happened ten years ago. So the next time that US lawmakers are asked to approve military aid to Egypt I'd like them to consider how precious democracy really is, and if they simply pay lip service to its benefits for everyone.

Ten years ago the people of Egypt united in their quest for political freedoms. Watch the video; you will see such unity in action when Christians and secularists linked arms to enable Muslims to pray in safety. It was the kind of scenario that those in power today work to destroy, because open shows of unity between Egyptians are feared and loathed by the Sisi regime.

I would urge the erstwhile comrades of Tahrir Square and its heroic revolution to reunite, otherwise freedom and social justice will remain nothing more than a dream. And if democracy really is 'precious', President Biden, then let the Egyptians taste its fruits, and help those 2011 revolutionaries to restore the democratic process in Egypt.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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