Dallas Morning News: There is No Justification for Egypt to Prosecute Pro-democracy Workers

Egypt’s police state and democracy cannot coexist
The Dallas Morning News

The military-led government in Egypt appears to have learned few lessons from the disastrous mistakes leading up to President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster from power almost exactly a year ago. Denying democracy and continuing to impose the iron fist of dictatorship is the surest way to stoke a revolution, as Mubarak and other Arab dictators learned to their detriment.

Blaming internal unrest on outside agitators makes for easy scapegoats but does little to answer the real economic and human rights concerns behind Egypt’s ongoing street protests. Aside from the scapegoat argument, there is no justification for the leadership’s effort to prosecute 19 Americans among 43 pro-democracy workers on charges that their nongovernmental groups illegally used foreign funds.

The Americans include Sam LaHood, director of the International Republican Institute and son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Sam LaHood is among six Americans who are being blocked from leaving Egypt.

Both the IRI and its Democratic Party counterpart, the National Democratic Institute, were created in 1983 under the aegis of the National Endowment for Democracy. Their taxpayer-funded work around the world provides staffing for election-observer missions, helps fledgling political parties organize and creates building blocks for democratic governance.

They were on the ground providing training as countries such as Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan and Serbia emerged from years of brutal dictatorship and embarked on the uncertain path toward democracy. Aside from promoting the formation of secular parties, these groups are pledged not to intervene politically. They urge civic involvement and a free press, and prod women, the poor and minority groups to participate.

The irony is that some of the beneficiaries of this training, including workers from Serbia, Romania and Lebanon, are among those facing trial in Egypt.

According to the NDI, security forces raided the organization’s offices in three Egyptian cities even though they provided no warrant or explanation. It’s unclear what law the police were enforcing as they seized equipment, documents and money, then left. The National Democratic Institute has been accredited in Egypt since 2005 and has never been asked to stop its work or close its offices.

These actions can only deepen the growing divide between the United States and Egypt, endangering a friendship that once earned Egypt the mantle of America’s closest Arab ally. If Egypt’s leadership cannot be swayed by the logic of democracy, perhaps it is time for Washington to follow through with threats to curtail the U.S. aid that was scheduled to pump $1.5 billion into Egypt’s fragile economy this year. As Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Friday, “The days of blank checks are over.”

There is no such thing as a democratic police state. Egypt’s leadership must stop concocting excuses to delay the transfer of power.

Obstacles on the path to democracy

Jan. 25, 2011:  Widespread protests erupt against President Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship after protests in Tunisia led to its leader’s ouster.

Feb. 11, 2011: Mubarak resigns after nearly 30 years in power, ceding power to a military council; Parliament is dissolved. Police continue arrests, reportedly torturing protesters.

Nov. 28: Egypt begins a national vote for a new Parliament.

Jan. 7: Vote count gives largest number of seats in Parliament to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Police crackdown continues.

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