Backed by the United States, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has led a crackdown on civil liberties in Egypt, particularly when it comes to critics and journalists. In Egypt, a teenager was jailed for cartoons of Muhammad and a leading businessman was attacked for a cartoon of Micky Mouse with a beard. Then there was the three-year sentence given Amr Nohan, a 22-year-old law graduate for posting a Facebook image of al-Sisi with Mickey Mouse-style cartoon ears shown above. A leading cartoonist Islam Gawish, 26, was arrested in Egypt by the hyper sensitive al-Sisi government. This year, al-Sisi went after journalists who dared to even criticize his policies as a criminal act against the state. Now al-Sisi has finally had enough with the pretense of civil liberties. On Wednesday, he reportedly rejected even the notion that civil liberties should apply to Egypt as a “Western perspective.” In other words, such freedoms have no place in Egypt. What is really remarkable is that he told his to a congressional delegation from the United States without fear of any question over the massive aid that he receives from this country.
While al-Sisi insisted that his country was committed to the rule of law, he dismissed that such laws should protect freedoms for the press, speech, or association. He references the fight against terrorism and suggested that civil liberties would destabilize U.S. allies in the region.
It is a convenient argument: embrace a country that rejects your core values or face the threat of an even worse extremist movement. Of course, governments like pre-revolution Iran took the same approach in suppressing dissent and found themselves on the wrong end of popular revolutions.
As al-Sisi was explaining the dangers of freedom to a U.S. delegation, his police were surrounding the headquarters of the journalists’ union after a raid and the arrest of two reporters. Journalists Mahmoud al-Sakka and Amr Badr work for the opposition website Bawabet Yanayer, and were accused of “spreading false news and endangering national security.” It was a classic authoritarian moment for al-Sisi. Criticism of his government is not a threat to national security akin to terrorism. We have seen the same convenient view in Turkey where Erdogan is wiping out the last remnants of free speech.
So the United States continued to give unqualified support to regimes that reject basic civil liberties in the name of fighting for the rule of law. Of course what is perfectly consistent is the rule of law does not include the protections of core human rights and civil liberties. It is easy to have a rule of law when the law is that you are above criticism or insult.