Thursday, May 31, 2007

Human Rights and the Muslim Brothers

Karim Amer has attracted some attention in the American media and from some American politicians, as well as he should. The heavy-handed and politically motivated arrest and conviction of the Egyptian blogger for his peaceful exercise of freedom of speech is just another example of how this government seeks to muzzle civil society and is determined to shut down the Internet as a force for civil society and democratic change.
But fewer Americans know about Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, and they should. Like Karim, Abdel is an Egyptian blogger who has brought attention to human rights abuses in Egypt. Like Karim, Abdel now is in detention and faces criminal charges for his activity. Like Karim, Abdel has been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International
Abdel in particular has done much to publicize abuses about torture in Egypt, which as I've mentioned I believe to be one of the core human rights concerns in the country. He's met with Amnesty International officials previously on the topic, and the organization is concerned that meetings with AI and other international groups may be one of the reason for his arrest.
But Abdel is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that may be one obstacle to Americans speaking out on his case. It shouldn't.
I don't agree with basic MB positions on a lot of issues, and the organization has a past history that is connected to violence. But since the mid-1990s, the organization has renounced violence, and pledged to seek political change through non-violent means, specifically the ballot box. And they've been somewhat successful, and for that success it has faced significant oppression from the government, Abdel's arrest just being the latest in a long line of detentions.
And frankly its success has some American policymakers scared. It's hard for Americans to take on support for political Islamists.
But Egyptian human rights activists have no such reluctance, as seen by this statement from a consortium of Egyptian HR groups, and they're watching us to see if we're following.
This is a clear example of why it's important to have a single standard in applying human rights. Doing human rights work requires setting priorities to be effective, but if those priorities are skewed by non-human rights concerns, such as fear of political Islamists, it's not going to be credible. Credibility is essential to the effectiveness of this work. That doesn't mean we have to work on every possible case -- we can't. But over the long term, that work must reflect the general pattern of HR concerns in a region.
For more about the Abdel's case, click here.
Please write a letter to the Egyptian ambassador declaring Abdel Moneim Mahmoud to be a prisoner of conscience and call for his immediate and unconditional release. Also ask that Egyptian officials stop the continued harassment of Egyptian bloggers, reminding them of their responsibilities under international agreements and the Egyptian constitution to protect citizens' peaceful expression of their freedom of speech.
Ambassador Nabil Fahmy
3521 International Ct. NW
Washington DC 20008

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