Egypt is now preparing for a presidential election that will determine the status of democracy in
that country for at least another generation. For a similar period, it will affect US interests and
policies in the Middle East, as well the prospects for peace in that most dangerous region. The
survival of Egyptian Copts, an estimated 15 million out of an mostly Muslim population of more
than 80 million, is also at stake. For most of the past 30 years, the regime of Hosni Mubarak has
retained power through election fraud and suppression of the international norms of an open,
democratic society. In the 2005 presidential election, the opposition candidate, Dr. Ayman Nour,
was imprisoned and sentenced to 5 years at hard labor and banned from ever holding public
office. Independent observers agree unanimously that this was a fraud. Now a new potential
opposition candidate with impeccable credentials is being proposed. Mohamed ElBaradei is a
Nobel Peace Prize winner and the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA), a United Nations body. He is expected to form a coalition of disparate opposition
elements that include Copts The Muslim Brotherhood as well as other opposition parties. He is
just starting a carefully managed tour in the US to gather political, financial and media support.
Meanwhile, the Mubarak regime is attempting to pass the office to one of Mubarak’s sons. That
effort is reinforced by election laws, passed by the Mubarak controlled legislators, that many
observers believe will prevent ElBaradei from even getting on the ballot. But, the Muslim
Brotherhood, despite being officially banned and definitely no friend to Mubarak, openly
controls a significant number of the Parliamentary votes that the Egyptian constitution requires
for a place on the presidential ballot. Together with Coptic and other minority support, the
candidacy of ElBaradei begins to appear Possible, but is admittedly a real long shot, especially
absent pressure from the USA.
Copts are Members of one of the world’s oldest Christian churches, founded AD 42, at
least a dozen years before the Roman Catholic Church in Rome. In modern times, they have
become the target of such wide-spread assaults in Egypt that their numbers are declining. Human
rights organizations Reports there have been tens of thousands of forced conversions to Islam.
Some say that that there appears to be a campaign of kidnapping, rape and forced marriage of
young Coptic girls and women to those who kidnapped them.
Others cite widespread destruction of their schools and entire communities. For their
part, the Muslim Brotherhood presents itself as opposed to sectarian violence and in fact has its
own history of being persecuted by the Mubarak regime. The BBC and other media have
regularly reported mass arrests and secret imprisoning. However, there have been few reports of
violence by, or against the Muslim Brotherhood similar to those regarding the Coptic minority.
Meanwhile, the US State Department is playing a dangerous game of trying to appear as
a neutral ally, but not so neutral as to upset the Mubarak regime. So we recently had the recent
said spectacle of the US Department of State quoted in Foreign Policy Magazine as
acknowledging the “anti-Christian” campaign but declining to urge the Mubarak regime to clean
up its dismal and dangerous repression of Copts or to call for genuine, open and fair democratic
This systemic unwillingness to confront the human rights record of our alleged
international “friends” only does us harm. We are exposed as hypocritical to the one moral
position to which we might lay claim. The violators take support from our silence, for that’s what
silence in the face of repression is. That silence only comforts and encourages even more
repression, and persecution.
Yet, like all hypocritical positions, we gain nothing from it but the dubious loyalty of less than
As long as an ElBaradei or any other democratic candidate is kept off the ballot, as long
as Coptic innocents are put to the sword of conversion, as long as the USA declines to speak
truth on these subjects, we lose the respect and forfeit the trust of those who would be our
genuine allies. All the forces and factors in that explosive region are noting our cynical approach
of wanting friends at any cost to our self-respect. They surely recognize that every day of USA’s
tacit approval of the status quo in Egypt is one step closer to the day we will again regret having
supported a repressive regime. That’s how we got where we are in Iraq. It is at the foundation of
our situation in Afghanistan. It was at the core of Vietnam. Proponents of that kind of
“diplomacy” claims it is realistic and practical. But what could ever be more realistic and
practical than supporting genuine, open, democratic elections in Egypt?