Egyptian security services today raided the offices of several pro-democracy and human rights groups in Cairo. Several activists were arrested, blindfolded and taken away to unknown locations.
The offices of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center and the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights were raided. Police confiscated office computers and the mobile phones of several staff members.
The government’s violation of Egyptian citizens’ freedom of assembly and expression is an unacceptable violation of universal norms, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today.
“It’s especially at times of crisis that governments must express their adherence to these universal values,” she insisted.
“I urge the government and a broad and credible representation of Egypt’s opposition, civil society and political factions to begin immediately serious negotiations on a peaceful and orderly transition,” she said.
During the raids, police accused the pro-democracy activists of being agents of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and Mossad, the Israeli secret service – a stunning example of the activists’ political promiscuity or the police’s intellectual confusion.
“The propaganda of Mubarak’s regime to discredit pro-democracy groups and peaceful demonstrators is typical of crumbling dictatorships,” says Daniel Calingaert, deputy director of programs. “The pro-democracy movement in Egypt is entirely home-grown, and it reflects the widespread desire among Egyptians for freedom.”
Civil unrest and violence is likely to escalate as long as Mubarak remains in power, a consortium of civil society groups warned today. More than 61 NGOs signed a joint declaration calling on the army to protect demonstrators and demanding immediate measures to initiate a democratic transition.
“A coalition government in which the different political parties and groups are represented must be formed as a transition period that would lead to a new political regime based on a democratic civil state that believes in the transition of power and social justice,” the group demands.
Today’s crackdown came as the April 6th Movement and other pro-democracy groups prepared for Friday’s Day of Departure. The opposition’s latest attempt to force the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak could be a tipping point.
The scale of the mobilization will be a vital indicator of the opposition’s vitality and momentum in the light of the regime’s violent backlash.
Successive US administrations have failed to counter Egypt’s authoritarian drift, allowing Mubarak “to crush the few remaining pockets of breathing space for civil society and the political opposition,” writes The New Yorker’s George Packer.
But influential voices are now demanding that Mubarak pay the price.
Today’s crackdown prompted Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to call for the US to halt aid to Egypt unless Mubarak resigns. Last Friday, the senator urged the administration to reconsider assistance to Cairo if the regime failed to lift its “digital iron curtain” on the Internet and continued to violate Egyptians’ rights to free expression.
The Egypt Working Group, a bipartisan group of former U.S. officials and foreign policy analysts echoed calls for the U.S. to freeze military assistance to Egypt until the military’s role becomes clear.
“Until unrestrained thug violence began on February 1, the Working Group was hopeful that the Egyptian military would play a positive role in safeguarding a peaceful transition,” it said. But recent events had dashed those hopes.
“If the government continues to employ such violence, the United States should immediately freeze all military assistance to Egypt,” it said. The group endorsed President Obama’s call for “an immediate start to the process of democratic transition.”
The escalation of violence by the regime demands a reciprocal response from the US, said George Washington University analyst Marc Lynch.
“By unleashing violence and refusing the demand for an immediate, meaningful transition, Mubarak has now violated two clear red lines laid down by the President,” he writes. “There must be consequences. It’s time to meet escalation with escalation and lay out, in private and public, that the Egyptian military now faces a clear and painful choice: push Mubarak out now and begin a meaningful transition, or else face international isolation and a major rupture with the United States.”
After playing catch-up with events, it is now time for the Obama administration to show some audacity, writes Michelle Dunne, editor of the Arab Reform Bulletin:
Is the way forward uncertain and fraught with risks for Egyptians and the U.S.? Yes, it is. But change — messy change from the grassroots up, rather than tidy reforms from the government down — is now under way. The U.S. can’t stop it and would only damage its interests further by trying.