What the murderous Egyptian junta wants from Stephen Harper
Egypt’s brutal junta would dearly love for Canada to become the first democratic nation to agree to call the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. By:Haroon SiddiquiColumnist,Published on Wed Apr 16 2014
Egypt’s military government — the one that seized power in a coup last July and has created a police state since — has been lobbying potentially friendly governments to give it a pass on its wretched human rights record and help it crush its only real opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, by designating it a terrorist group. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is among those the military junta is pinning its hopes on.
If he obliges, he would make Canada the only democratic nation to go along.
In February, Saudi Arabia followed Egypt in slapping the Brotherhood with the terrorist label. The only other state to have ever done so was Russia, back in 2006, when Vladimir Putin did it as a favour to another military strongman, then-president Hosni Mubarak.
In return, Egyptian ruler Field Marshall Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi may release Canadian citizen Mohamed Fahmy, the Al-Jazeera journalist detained in Cairo along with two colleagues since December on multiple charges, including terrorism.
His crime was not what he reported but rather whom he works for, the TV network funded by Qatar, which backed the Arab Spring that led to the elections that the Brotherhood won.
By contrast, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other monarchies are giving the Egyptian generals billions of dollars in aid and loans for crushing the Brotherhood. It’s the only viable institution in Egypt other than the army, and its offshoots across the Arab world pose the only potential democratic opposition to entrenched autocratic regimes.
Foreign Minister John Baird is scheduled to be in Cairo Thursday and Friday. We shall see what concessions he offers the military regime, beyond what Ottawa already has.
Harper was as skeptical of the Arab Spring as the region’s generals and unelected oil sheikhs. When Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first-ever elected leader, was toppled and jailed last year, Harper stayed mum. When he finally spoke, he welcomed el-Sissi’s military coup as a “return to stability.” The prime minister is among those who still operate under the discredited belief that Israeli security is best guaranteed by military dictators and monarchs in the region.
Lasting peace comes between democracies, not through client regimes whose illegitimacy, in fact, erodes support for Israel and fans anti-American, anti-West sentiments.
Harper and Baird have been vocal about the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt, while wooing Coptic Christian voters in Canada. That ethnic community helped the Conservatives win Mississauga-Erindale in 2008. With riding redistribution, the Coptic vote would be important in three ridings in Mississauga. The sitting MP for one of them, Brad Butt (the same fellow who had to withdraw his remark that he had seen voter fraud in elections), has tabled a petition in the House of Commons calling for designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. Last fall, a delegation of Coptic Christians was in Ottawa lobbying for just such a designation. Among thoselending an attentive ear were David Anderson, parliamentary secretary to Baird, and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.
Baird’s office says that in Cairo he will meet, besides government apparatchiks, “religious groups” (read, Coptic Christians). It also says he “will signal Canada’s willingness to support Egypt during this important transition” (read, military rule is fine).
This is in keeping with the Harperites’ use of foreign policy as a wedge issue to win votes among selected minorities. Besides the Jewish and Coptic communities, Harper’s aggressive posturing on Ukraine is clearly aimed at Ukrainian Canadians, as is his recently acquired fondness for Canadian Tamils’ genuine concerns about the Sri Lankan government’s long reign of terror against the Tamils. Last year, Harper boycotted the Commonwealth Summit in Colombo and on Monday, Baird suspended Ottawa’s $10 million a year funding for the Commonwealth Secretariat in London for “turning a blind eye to human rights abuses” in Sri Lanka.
The posturing on Egypt is particularly shameful, considering that the Egyptian army and police have killed more than 1,000 civilians since July (that’s in the same league as the 1989 massacre of unarmed protesters in Tiananmen Square). More than 16,000 Egyptians have been arrested. Last year, Canadian physician Tarek Loubani and filmmaker John Greyson were released only after much public uproar. Still in detention is Khaled Al-Qazzaz, Canadian permanent resident, married to the Canadian-born Sarah Attia of Toronto. He worked for Morsi and was picked up post-coup, thrown into solitary confinement without charge and denied access to his family.
Both Egyptian and international human rights groups have been condemning the wave of official violence, jungle justice and the reign of terror and torture unleashed by the military junta. Particularly ferocious has been the treatment of women protestors, including young girls, who are being subjected to sexual harassment, virginity tests (particularly approved by el-Sissi) and rape.
But Harper and Baird think el-Sissi is just peachy.