Kareem Amer, noted Egyptian blogger and democratic activist has not been heard from since 11 PM on February 6. Recently released after four years of imprisonment, Kareem was last seen leaving Tahir Square, the center of the anti-government protests. His friends fear he may have been ambushed and arrested or kidnapped by supporters of Mubarak.
In a recent interview with CyberDissidents.org, Kareem remarked:
America must stop protecting the Egyptian regime. Don’t be fooled by Egyptian propaganda which suggests that the regime opposes Islamist extremism. In fact, fundamentalism is secretly supported by totalitarian regimes in the region, foremost among them Egypt. This is in order to say to the West, “Look, there are these fundamentalists, and our stable secular dictatorship is the only alternative.”
Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is the number one enemy of the United States. The primary driver of this radicalism, and what most increases their numbers, is the absence of freedom — social freedom, political freedom, freedom of speech, etc. People will take various routes to escape oppression, and one of the most dangerous routes is that of religious radicalism, especially since religion in our society is so deeply entrenched in popular culture…
…I totally disagree with the idea that the only alternative to the Egyptian regime is a warmongering theocracy that would threaten other countries such as Israel. The world shouldn’t be fooled by Egyptian propaganda produced for Western consumption that suggests that the current regime is, for example, the only one capable of protecting Israel.
As protests in Egypt grow, there will be temptation to say that Mubarak needs to remain in power until an orderly transition can take place, so as to avoid chaos ans a potential theocratic takeover. Nothing could be further from the truth. Kareem’s disappearance is evidence that rights abuses will continue until Mubarak is out of power. Moreover, negotiations with the Mubarak regime would be a tactical mistake for democratic forces at this point. In his book From Dictatorship to Democracy, Gene Sharp has a chapter about the dangers of negotiating with dictators. Here is an excerpt:
The offer by a dictatorship of “peace” through negotiations with the democratic opposition is, of course, rather disingenuous. The violence could be ended immediately by the dictators themselves, if only they would stop waging war on their own people. They could at their own initiative without any bargaining restore respect for human dignity and rights, free political prisoners, end torture, halt military operations, withdraw from the government, and apologize to the people.
When the dictatorship is strong but an irritating resistance exists, the dictators may wish to negotiate the opposition into surrender under the guise of making “peace.” The call to negotiate can sound appealing, but grave dangers can be lurking within the negotiating room.
On the other hand, when the opposition is exceptionally strong and the dictatorship is genuinely threatened, the dictators may seek negotiations in order to salvage as much of their control or wealth as possible. In neither case should the democrats help the dictators achieve their goals…
…The call for negotiations when basic issues of political liberties are involved may be an effort by the dictators to induce the democrats to surrender peacefully while the violence of the dictatorship continues.
As the continuing oppression in Egypt makes clear, “basic issues of political liberties” are exactly what is at stake here. Open and honest elections will only be possible after the Mubarak regime has been put out of power.
Socialist and theocratic elements will indeed pose a threat to the possibility of a free Egypt, and I don’t have any easy answers about how the U.S. might minimize their influence. But what stands to be gained, what Kareem hopes for, is too great of a possibility to let these dangers lead us to coddle Mubarak: we’re talking about a secular democracy in the Middle East, achieved through internal change, without the need for military intervention.
For years, the U.S. has supported monarchs and dictators in the Middle East as a “second best” option. With Mubarak’s repressive regime teetering on the brink of collapse, there can no longer be a humanitarian or a pragmatic argument for endorsing it.
To learn more about Kareem’s disappearance, and what you can do to help, read Urgent: Egyptian Blogger Kareem Amer Missing at CyberDissident.