Egyptian dissident Cynthia Farahat: America, be the strong horse

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Today Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood announced it backs the country’s military government in its fight against the work of pro-democracy groups there.

Presumably the Brotherhood also supports the dictatorship’s detention and planned prosecution of pro-democracy workers–16 Americans and 27 others—in Egypt’s criminal court.

Recently I interviewed Cynthia Farahat (pictured above), a leader of the Tahrir Square protests and an Egyptian human rights activist who at present serves as a fellow with the Center for Security Policy in Washington D.C.

Farahat likened the current action against the American and other pro-democracy workers in Egypt to Iranian students’ seizing of 52 American hostages from the US embassy in 1979 and said “history is repeating itself.” She stressed her belief that the US should, while providing full throttle support to pro-democracy groups and dissidents in Egypt, cut off the 1.3 billion in military aid Egypt receives yearly, which she believes will be used by a hostile dictatorship to eventually wage war against Israel and the West.

Farahat fled Egypt this past year because, in her words, “if [she] had stayed [she] would have been imprisoned or killed.” Striking and outspoken, Farahat, a Coptic Christian, would be noticed anywhere and indeed, says she seldom felt safe as a woman in Egypt, with the exception of the time she spent speaking via megaphone in Tahrir Square.

Of that time, she told me, “It was glorious. There were joint prayers between Muslims and Christians in Tahrir Square. In Tahrir Square … I was safe. The protestors supported me and repeated my slogans for freedom and secularism.”

For years prior to the uprising, Farahat, a writer and political activist, had been advocating for classically liberal values like human (including women’s) rights and for the rights of her people, Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, who she says have fewer rights under Egypt’s Constitution than do Muslims due to the country’s incorporation of Sharia law into its Constitution. This dynamic meant that in practice, Egyptian Muslims were rarely held accountable for crimes against Christians, according to Farahat. This institutional prejudice existed in Egypt under Mubarak and even, previously, under Anwar Sadat,and  continues to exist under the present military dictatorship, Farahat said. Now, however, since the military and the Muslim Brotherhood have seized power, conditions for Copts have deteriorated further.

“Conditions for Copts are absolutely horrific,” Farahat told me during our interview. She cited the October 9, 2011 massacre of Coptic Christians at Maspero. “They are going to start forcing them to leave Egypt, kill them or expel them. The army is actively killing them.”

Although I plan to write a longer piece on her perspectives, some of Farahat’s thoughts seem especially relevant in light of today’s developments. For now I want to relate a few key points that she shared in our interview.

Farahat stressed that while the Tahrir Square protestors were true reformers and advocates of democracy, the military dictatorship ruling Egypt at present is not. Rather, after young proponents of democracy got the ball rolling, the military co-opted the movement and seized power.

Similarly, she says the Muslim Brotherhood, which has formed a symbiotic relationship with the military dictatorship, has perverted the efforts of Tahrir Square to bring democracy -including protection of minority rights – to the region.

“We should be supporting the true reformers,” Farahat said. “In Islamist Egypt, drug dealer would have an easier life than a dissident. These are the true allies [of the U.S.] and they have been betrayed.”

The U.S., Farahat says, should make clear its support of true democratic reformers—the young activists of Tahrir Square and those who are working in pro-democracy organizations—including those individuals being held.

In addition to being the moral position, Farahat maintains, taking this kind of strong stand is the only pragmatic approach to dealing with a government she maintains has been seized by hard-core Islamist fanatics and a military dictatorship that are reinforcing each other.

“The U.S. should support its allies, but certainly not military dictatorship that is planning to annihilate Christians, Jews, Israel and others,” she said.

In her view, if the Obama Administration continues to send aid to Egypt’s government despite the seizure of pro-democracy workers, it will signal weakness, repeating the failed policies of the Carter administration in responding to the seizure of U.S. hostages in 1979.

“The current [U.S.] administration is behaving like Carter behaved,” said Farahat. “History is repeating [and] it’s breaking my heart. My allies in America have learned nothing; they are making the same mistakes.

“Now the choice is, ‘Are you going to be a strong horse as superpower and say you are not going to accept this [prosecution of pro-democracy workers]?  Or are you going to just let it go? These regimes only react well to strength. If you are not strong it is going to get worse.”

More to come.

This entry was written by and posted on February 15, 2012 at 9:45 pm and filed under Blog.