Thursday, January 11, 2007

Why the US should be concerned about the crackdown about the Muslim Brothers

Once again, the government is in the midst of a crackdown against Muslim Brothers. On Jan. 9, five members were arrested in Dakahliya and Gharbiya, including Mohamed Farag, a candidate for parliament. This comes on the heels of arrests of 29 members Jan. 2 in Sharqiya, Gharbiya and Daqahliya, as reported by Egyptian human rights organizations. And on Dec. 31, 20 MB members were arrested in Fayoum right after Eid prayers.

It's been hard for Amnesty International to work on MB cases, particularly in America. It's not for a lack of effort. We consider all arrests of non-violent political activists as to be cause of concern and to be potential prisoners of conscience, regardless of ideology. We have in the past selected many of the MB members as prisoners of conscience. It's only the fact that so many MB members are arrested prevents us from working on each individual case.

And yet, many people are uncomfortable working on MB cases. People who acknowledge the injustice of their arrest still raise concerns about the consequences of a MB takeover in Egypt and whether we should be helping non-violent Islamists when so many Islamists work violently to violate human rights.

I support Amnesty International in its efforts to assist MB prisoners of conscience. Human rights work can succeed only when it is based on a single standard of human rights. Success depends upon building upon credibility that a single standard gives. It is only through that credibility that you can build public support for human rights, the kind of public support that brings enough pressure on governments to change.

Basing work on a single standard of human rights is particularly important in the Middle East where there are so many sides willing to look the other way when their allies engage in human rights abuses. I have seen many American public officials who have strong human rights records rendered ineffective in the Middle East because this is the one region where they fail to use a single standard. Many American officials, for example, never seemed to understand that their singling out Saad Ibrahim and Ayman Nour for specialized work in Egypt only seemed to underscore their failure to act on Muslim Brother and other cases and also their failure to take any action on Israels human rights abuses. It goes without saying Saad and Ayman themselves wouldn't want special treatment and always have insisted on a single standard for human rights.

And so it is important for anyone interested in human rights to come to the aid of unjustly imprisoned MB members and to work on a single standard for human rights. It is a lesson on effectiveness and credibility that would be very valuable for American foreign policy makers to remember.

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