In giving his State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama will presumably brag about his greatest supposed achievement in the Middle East: support for democracy and human rights.
But consider this amazing fact. Exactly two years ago there were massive demonstrations in Egypt against the Mubarak regime, which was a U.S. ally. Today there are massive demonstrations in Egypt against the Mursi, Muslim Brotherhood regime, which hates the United States and opposes its interests. The number of demonstrators killed by Mursi’s regime is approaching that of those who died during the anti-Mubarak revolt (an estimated 500 compared to 800 plus).
Yet what a difference in U.S. policy! Two years ago the Obama administration found this repression to be unacceptable. It demanded Mubarak’s immediate resignation and spoke of human rights and democratic norms. Today we hear none of that. On the contrary, the Mursi regime is praised by the White House and advanced arms are given as presents to it without delay.
So it isn’t surprising that Bahieddin Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, has written an open letter to President Barack Obama. While many (most?) Americans think their country under the Obama administration has been supporting democracy and human rights in the Muslim-majority Middle East countries, the people who live in those places know better. Hassan begs: I’m not asking you to do anything except stop praising our oppressors!
In Iran, the U.S. government ignored the democratic opposition as it was repressed, and the same was true in Syria until the civil war in which, amazing as it may seem, that same government has backed particularly the anti-democratic Islamist elements in the opposition. In the Gaza Strip, the U.S. policy has helped protect the Hamas regime, while in Egypt and Tunisia the U.S. lifted not one finger to help the moderates but enthusiastically endorses the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamist-ruled Turkey, whose government has campaigned to limit democratic and human rights, is repeatedly cited by Obama as a role model.
Some of these regimes have been elected but that has not stopped them from being repressive and seeking to create a situation in which they can never be voted out of office.
Arab, Iranian, and Turkish democrats are thus angry at the Obama administration, feeling it is helping their enemies. But one would never know this from listening to the mainstream mass media, academia, and the political debate in America.
And so Hassan has written an open letter, published in al-Ahram, beginning with reminding Obama that he once visited the White House as part of a group of human righs’ activists. Hassan now writes that after he criticized Obama’s policy:
Jokingly, you noted that despite being a guest in the White House, I was audacious enough to criticize the president in his presence. I responded that the act required no courage at all in light of what happens when we try to criticize Arab presidents back home, at which the hall erupted in laughter.
Hassan is very anti-Israel and praises Obama’s “commendable human rights advisor Samantha Power” who talked a great deal once about Palestinian and Libyan rights but hasn’t been heard from on this issue regarding countries where the Islamists are on the offensive.
Egyptian young people continue to live in frustration due to the deteriorating economic situation and the repeated failure of political processes to represent their demands, despite the sacrifices that they have made for the sake of the revolution and transition to democracy.
Obama has spoken a great deal of an alleged American past of bullying and imperialist behavior in the Middle East and other places which largely consisted of supporting local dictatorships because they benefited U.S. interests. Yet he is indifferent to the fact that as president he has supported local dictatorships without even the rationale of them being good for U.S. interests. In fact, they are both repressive and opposed to U.S. interests.
Since December, [Cairo has] witnessed the torture of demonstrators by members of the president’s party, the dragging and beating of protesters by security forces in scenes broadcast around the world, and assassinations.
Two prominent cases are those of opposition journalist Mohamed Al-Husseini Abu Deif, who was shot in the head 12 December in front of the [presidential] palace, and that of Amr Saad, 19, who was also shot in the head in front of the palace in the beginning of February.
This violence has also been seen in Tahrir Square. On 20 November, 17-year-old Gaber “Jika” Salah, the administrator of the Together against the Muslim Brothers Facebook page, was shot in the head with a shotgun. On 31 December, 20-year-old Mohammad Samir, a member of the 6 April Movement [the group that was lauded in America when it revolted against President Husni Mubarak but is now largely ignored when it is battling the Muslim Brotherhood regime], was shot in the head with a shotgun and entered a coma for several days before it finally became clear that he would survive.
According to multiple testimonies, Hassan continues, rape is now being used as a strategy to break up demonstrations as female protesters are seized and taken to other locations for this purpose. These are organized attacks and bear every mark of being organized “to break the political will of the victims” rather than to satisfy lusts.