Every so often a picture really is better than a thousand words. This is true of Ben Curtis’s moving images of the Sudanese refugee massacre in Cairo two days ago in which Egyptian riot police, wielding truncheons, sticks, and water cannon waded into a crowd of 3,000 unarmed people. In the process of forcibly removing these people from the park where they were encamped illegally, the security forces trampled or beat to death 25 people, mostly elderly, women and children. The image looks entirely cinematic with powerful kleig lights shining on the protesters. And their upraised arms remind me of Delacroix’ Liberty Leading the People in which Liberty raises her arms to rally her comrades to fight on against tyranny. Curtis’ image is the priceless capture of a moment of righteous resistance against brutal dictatorship.
Anyone who follows news about Egypt even remotely knows the brutal nature of the Mubarak regime. We remember that those same security forces killed almost a score of voters who wished nothing more than to cast a vote for the candidate of their choice (Mideast democracy…something you claim to support Mr. Bush) who happened not to be the one favored by the government. And many of them were beaten brutally or murdered for their trouble.
More recently, we have seen the top opposition candidate running against Mubarak in the last election, Ayman Nour, thrown into prison for allegedly forging signatures for his petition to get on the ballot. Of course, the accusation is a complete fraud. But more than that, the severity of the punishment forces one to realize that Mubarak could’ve chosen any charge, secured a conviction and thrown Nour away for as long as he wished.
It’s astonishing that George Bush uses countries like Egypt as torture partners. When a suspect’s too hot to handle or needs some roughing up, we farm him out to bully nations like Egypt where they really know how to bust someone’s chops but good. And by getting into bed with a thug like Mubarak, we completely compromise what should be our most important message (one supposedly sacred to Mr. Bush): democracy. If we cannot harshly condemn Egypt for its awful behavior because they do us such favors in torturing our terrorists, then what good is our message? Why should any Egyptian or Arab for that matter believe our rhetoric when they see our actions? “Watch what I [Bush] do, not what I say” should be their motto.
Therefore, we officially welcome Egypt into the International Hall of Shame. Here to welcome Mr. Mubarak as he comes onstage to accept his award are the ‘murderer’s row’ of dictators: Saddam Hussein, Kim Song Il (North Korea), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Iran), Vladimir Putin (Russia), Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan), and I suppose we must add George Bush as well. A lovely group of guys. To all of them I say with a bitter smile: “To your health and that of your loyal, brutalized subjects.”
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees must also come in for harsh criticism. They were the agency at whom the refugees were directing their protests. They are the agency which washed its hands of them and turned the matter over to Egyptian authorities for the bloody resolution of the problem. The group’s spokesperson in Egypt is doing a miserable job of explaining to the world why UNHCR fed the poor and defenseless to the wolves. Instead of apologizing for the loss of life and taking at least partial responsibility for it, she said the following to the New York Times:
“The Egyptian authorities have been tolerating the sit-in strike for the past three months because, just like us, they wanted a peaceful solution, ” said Astrid Van Genderen Stort, a spokeswoman in Cairo for the refugee agency. “But at a certain point the situation became an issue of public disorder. There were serious health threats.”
Little did she know that the most serious ‘health threats’ didn’t involve poor living conditions or disease, but instead involved death.
I don’t known whether the refugees were in the wrong here for not compromising earlier in the process. But I do know that UNHCR should’ve known better than to shove the responsibility onto the Egyptian government. And while it appears that the police tried for hours to persuade them to leave, it is absolutely inexcusable for a simple physical removal of people that you need to stomp on them and beat them to death. Next we’ll be hearing from the Egyptians that the refugees were trampled by their own comrades in their rush to escape the police charge. Of course, the victim is always at fault especially in a dictatorship like Egypt. And while they’re at it, why don’t they charge the poor schmos with lawbreaking and throw a few of the ringleaders in the slammer for a few decades to teach ’em a lesson? Actually, I just checked today’s reports on this story in the Times and it proves I am clairvoyant or just know what kind of bullshit tyrants sling when they’re caught in the kleig lights with nowhere to run:
The Egyptian authorities said the Sudanese died in a stampede. The Sudanese had thrown bottles and rocks at the police, they added.
Human Rights Watch said that by international standards police must use non-violent means before resorting to force and may use force only when strictly necessary.
“The blood is still on the sidewalks, and already the government is blaming the Sudanese refugees and migrants,” said Stork. “Given Egypt’s terrible record of police brutality, an independent investigation is absolutely necessary to assess responsibility and punish those responsible,” he added.
Hey, Hosni go ahead, appoint that commission, you’ve got nothing to hide, right?