On March 31, as President El Sisi was about to head to Washington, Human Rights published an article titled, “Sisi’s Egypt is a Poor Partner for the United States in the Fight Against Terrorism.” It warns President Trump against amending ties with Egypt, concluding that “Hosting Egypt’s repressive president sends the wrong message to the world on how to overcome the scourge of violent extremism and terrorism.”
Human Rights reckons El Sisi and violent extremism and terrorism are somehow connected if not synonymous. So, enough is enough; it is time to take Human Rights to task. The sweeping statements; the arrogant, know-it-all approach; and, more importantly, the incorrigible inaccuracies, call for a rebuttal.
To start with, the adjective “Poor” is elusive. Yes, Egypt is financially poor, but I don’t believe the writer is talking about poverty per se; I wish he were. Or maybe the writer considers Sisi, himself, poor. And he may be right there since the “repressive” leader donated half his possessions and half his salary to Egypt.
The writer starts off by saying that the Egyptian government has “portrayed Sisi as a religious moderate playing a leading role in the fight against violent extremism,” which is, in my perspective, perfectly true even if “portrayed” implies the opposite. Indeed, Sisi is a moderate Muslim. He doesn’t exemplify the Wahabi/Salafi notions but adheres to the Muslim altruistic traits: benevolence, humbleness, and compassion, while fighting violent extremism by, first, promoting religious reform and, second, by confronting terrorism.
“Since taking power by military coup from the elected, Muslim Brotherhood-backed, government of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, Sisi has pursued policies that have fueled the grievances exploited by violent extremists.” All rhetoric— “military coup” and “elected … Morsi’—aside, the writer believes that Sisi’s policies creates extremists, as though extremism did not exist in 2011 when a bomb in an Alexandria church killed 21 churchgoers or in ’97 when 70 were massacred in a Luxor Temple. The examples, prior to Sisi, are endless. Indeed, they’ve escalated, but terrorism escalated all around the world, too.
Countries consider every terrorism act an act of war, and they react immediately with upped surveillance and enhanced security measures. This while the writer prefers President Sisi to sit idle, do little, and watch officers and conscripts die at the hands of extremists. Egyptians would not have accepted that president.
As mere examples of retaliatory measures, after the many explosions in Paris, France declared a three-month state of emergency, struck ISIS targets way inside Syria, and closed borders. It conducted warrantless searches and indiscriminate and intrusive surveillance tactics. This while Belgium deployed more than 1,800 soldiers, carried several hundred raids, detentions, stops, and searches as Human Rights mentioned. And yet such measures were never considered repressive, suppressive, destructive, dictatorial, counterproductive, or non pluralistic, as this article suggests Sisi is.
In a convoluted and verbose thought, the writer says, “His repressive policies have denied space to independent mainstream religious voices, who could credibly challenge and rebut extremist ideologues, while co-opting religious leaders to validate his dictatorial rule, thereby undermining their independence and credibility in the fight against extremist ideologies.”
Unless the writer implies the Muslim Brotherhood organization is a “mainstream religious voice” which would be misleading, “Independent mainstream religious voices” have not been denied space. Quite the contrary, many a time El Sisi has been critical of Al Azhar, the real mainstream voice, but he has never instituted change. He left it to Al Azhar to change from within; it has yet to comply.
When Sisi visited Al Azhar a couple of years back, he said:
Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world's inhabitants – that is 7 billion – so that they themselves may live? Impossible! All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it it from a more enlightened perspective. I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move... because this nation is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost – and it is being lost by our own hands.
In addition, “Sisi’s Egypt has received tens of billions of dollars of support from absolute monarchies in the Gulf, anxious to ensure that the popular demands for more representative government and human dignity, heard during the short-lived Arab Spring of 2011, should not take root in the Arab World…” sounds as though support from monarchies is unsound.
Yes, Gulf States supported June 30th and the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood president, fearing what has been inflicted on other Muslim countries: the Arab Spring turned Syria into a wasteland, Libya into a fractioned country, and Yemen into a starved one. The Gulf States also realize that Egypt is pivotal in the fight against terrorism and must remain strong.
The writer goes further; Sisi’s government “perpetuated anti-Christian sectarianism and intolerance of religious diversity,” failing to "protect Christians." This thought is utterly flawed. Of all Egyptians leaders, El Sisi is the most respectful of other religions and other peoples in general.
During his several visits to the Coptic Cathedral, Sisi identifies all Egyptians as one entity. To him, Egyptians are Egyptians without any hyphenation, as in Egyptian-Copt or Egyptian-Muslim.
As for being unable to “protect Christians,” I don’t believe that any country is able to fully protect its citizens against terrorism. Egypt tries though; churches are the most protected of all buildings and institutions in Egypt, intensely guarded and barricaded with roadblocks and barbed wired. As Christian festivities approach, security measures are heightened even further.
The writer goes on to say, “There can be no credible reform while religious institutions operate within the framework of rigid state restrictions.” From the perspective of an Egyptian, I’d rather see the Azhar reform its books and doctrines, improve its sermons, and train its sheikhs than have it continue to dwell on issues that can be exploited negatively.
But the most convoluted message of all lies here: “The government suppresses peaceful dissent and stifles pluralism.” The writer is unaware that in Egypt, currently, peaceful dissent does not exist. What happened after June 30th and continues till today is brazen terrorism. Hundreds maybe thousands of army officers and conscripts have died; judges, police officers, helpless laypersons, and, of course, Copts have been victimized. If he considers such behaviour “peaceful dissent,” then he is steering Egyptians towards erring.
The writer suggests President Trump challenge Sisi; otherwise it will fuel resentment of the United States in Egypt and beyond. This is contrary to the truth; if President Trump offers strong support to Sisi, and Egypt, it will smooth out the wrinkles and resentment left by President Obama, and remedy the snub that continued for four years.
President Trump extended the invitation to President Sisi because he wants an ally in Sisi. He realizes that Egypt and its president are pivotal in the war against terrorism, fighting a huge slice of that war alone, and that it is high time the US pitches in.
Human Rights, your message is flawed and biased. Hosting Egypt’s president at the White House sends the right message to the world.