Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Amnesty statement on arrests of Muslim Brotherhood members

BBC News is reporting that more than 500 members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been rounded up and arrested in the days prior to the third and last round of voting in the parliamentary elections. The last round of voting begins Thursday.

Amnesty International has issued the following statement on the arrests:

"As Egyptians go to the polls on 1 December in the final stage of parliamentary elections, Amnesty International expressed concern about mass arrests of opposition party supporters and activists and criticized the government for failing to ensure voters are free from violence, arbitrary arrests and intimidation.

Hundreds of people suspected of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), effectively the leading opposition organization, have been arrested since voting began in early November. Although officially banned, many candidates standing as independents are known to support the MB and areas in which the MB is known to have strong popular support have been the scene of mass arrests, including of several MB candidates. Up to 1500 MB activists and delegates of candidates were arrested in the last two weeks in various governorates, including Sharqiya, Duqahliya, Kafr Sheik, and Sohag, where the MB is putting up candidates for the final phase, and hundreds of others arrested earlier this month remain in detention. The current wave of arrests is reminiscent of a pattern which has seen previous mass arrests of Muslim Brothers at the time of presidential and parliamentary elections in an apparent attempt by the authorities to disrupt their election campaign.

Amnesty International is also concerned about the reaction of the authorities to the violence that broke out last week following clashes between supporters of different candidates. Scores of opposition supporters have been injured in attacks by rampaging government party supporters, often in front of police who, however, failed to take action to curb the violence or apprehend the perpetrators. Security officials are also reported to have prevented voters from casting their votes in some places and to have arrested local non-governmental election monitors or prevented them from accessing polling stations although they possessed official accreditation documents issued by the Ministry of Justice.

Amnesty International urges the government to take urgent and effective measures to prevent further human rights abuses and to ensure that Egypt's security and law enforcement officers act impartially in upholding the law."

The Brotherhood as well as human rights defenders in Egypt are saying this is a blatant attempt by the government to silence the group, which is proving to be a serious opponent to the ruling NDP. The arrests also come on the heels of allegations of government-sponsored violence in the last round of elections at voting sites where the MB enjoyed significant support.

These allegations have even attracted the attention of the United States government. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack characterized the reports as "sources of real concern" and stated that U.S. officials had raised the issue with Egyptian authorities.

The U.S. concerns are not likely to change much behavior of the U.S. government. Amnesty has also received a report that the trial of Ghad party leader Ayman Nour has restarted. Nour, who came in second place to President Mubarak in this year's presidential campaign, is charged with forging election petitions to get his party on the ballot. Many human rights activists believe the criminal charges are unwarranted and part of the government effort to silence an important political opponent.

When Nour faced trial earlier in 2005, it brought a strong condemnation from Secretary of State Condi Rice. The combination of the security force-directed election violence, the arrest of political opponents and the re-emergence of charges against Ayman Nour suggests the even the U.S. government, when it does do "the right thing," on human rights, is limited in its powers over the Mubarak government.


At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it really the limited power of the US government or the lack of serious push from the US side?


At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does Amnesty International has a position on free election in Egypt?


At 7:32 PM, Blogger Geoffrey Mock said...

Good questions, both. To start with the first, the easy answer is it's both. For too many years, the U.S. government was silent, and continues to be quiet, on the large range of HR issues, from torture to unfair trials and the muzzling of civil society. The DOS annual HR report on Egypt I think has generally been good, but it's rarely been put into policy. However, in the last five years, I've seen several instances of the U.S. government behaving exactly as I would want -- the Saad Ibrahim and Ayman Nour trials being two examples -- and having little if any effect. This, I think, is for two reasons: one the government can do something about, the other we can't. Part of the failure is because the U.S. government fails to apply HR concerns in a consistent way. Applying a single standard to everyone is not just good logic, politically it is essential if you expect to have any effects. The U.S. simply hasn't risen to that challenge: it's application of human rights in the Middle East in particular just hasn't been consistent.
But even if the U.S. was consistent in its policies, there would still be limits to its influence. There is an entire set of issues on which the security wing of the Mubarak government, I believe, will not budge. On these issues they are willing to defy the US or anyone, and we don't have the influence to make them change. Foreign aid, they'll do without; military aid, well they already have all the weapons they really need, don't they? On these issues, the push needs to come from the people doing the human rights work within Egypt. That's why I believe the most essential role of foreign human rights activists is to support and encourage the work that is already being done by the full range of democracy and HR activists in Egypt. We don't hear enough about them in the America, but when change comes it is going to be their efforts that make the difference.

Sorry for the long answer, but it's a complicated question. As for your second question on AI's position on free elections, the answer is actually No. We are a human rights organization, and we oppose human rights abuses. We do not insist on any particular type of government in any country. Of course, any time free elections are thwarted, there tend to be HR abuses. When political opponents are rounded up and thrown in jail to prevent them from campaigning, we oppose it. When security forces use violence to prevent voters from voting, we speak out. When newspapers are shut down to prevent them from publishing during a campaign, we oppose it. And so forth. Our guiding document are the rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These guarantee the rights for everyone to freedom of speech and association, two important rights that often are tred upon when elections are not free.

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