Protests Flare In Egypt

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As the New York Times is now reporting, “Thousands of people calling for the end of the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak clashed with riot police in this Egyptian capital on Tuesday, on a day of some of the most serious civil unrest in recent memory here.”

Alexander Marquardt, a reporter for ABC News I knew on the 2008 campaign trail, is covering the protests. The Egyptian government is blocking online access to Twitter, but he is still tweeting on his BlackBerry. (Follow him here.) He passes along this video of the protests, which gets remarkable at about 1:20.

This is taking place in the same city where Obama gave his speech to the Muslim world on June 4, 2009. An excerpt after the jump.

No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other. That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people.  Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people.  America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election.  But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things:  the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.  These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.  And that is why we will support them everywhere.

Even though the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is an ally of the United States, it would be jarring if Obama makes no mention of this unrest in his speech tonight, or in some other public statement.

According to the State Department’s 2009 report on Egypt, the Mubarak government has a dreadful human rights record.

The government’s respect for human rights remained poor, and serious abuses continued in many areas. The government limited citizens’ right to change their government and continued a state of emergency that has been in place almost continuously since 1967. Security forces used unwarranted lethal force and tortured and abused prisoners and detainees, in most cases with impunity. Prison and detention center conditions were poor. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals, in some cases for political purposes, and kept them in prolonged pretrial detention. The executive branch exercised control over and pressured the judiciary. The government’s respect for freedoms of association and religion remained poor during the year, and the government continued to restrict nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The government partially restricted freedom of expression.

Read the full report here.

UPDATE: Late Tuesday night, the State Department released this statement on the protests in Egypt.

We are monitoring the situation in Egypt closely.  The United States supports the fundamental right of expression and assembly for all people.  All parties should exercise restraint, and we call on the Egyptian authorities to handle these protests peacefully.

As Secretary Clinton said in Doha, people across the Middle East – like people everywhere – are seeking a chance to contribute and to have a role in the decisions that will shape their lives.  We want to see reform occur, in Egypt and elsewhere, to create greater political, social, and economic opportunity consistent with people’s aspirations.  The United States is a partner of Egypt and the Egyptian people in this process, which we believe should unfold in a peaceful atmosphere.

We have raised with governments in the region the need for reforms and greater openness and participation in order to respond to their people’s aspirations – and we will continue to do so.

In his State of the Union Address, Obama seemed to make an oblique reference to countries like Egypt.

We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.

Afterwards, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs put out this statement.

As we monitor the situation in Egypt, we urge all parties to refrain from using violence, and expect the Egyptian authorities to respond to any protests peacefully.  We support the universal rights of the Egyptian people, including the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.  The Egyptian government has an important opportunity to be responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people, and pursue political, economic and social reforms that can improve their lives and help Egypt prosper.  The United States is committed to working with Egypt and the Egyptian people to advance these goals.

More broadly, what is happening in the region reminds us that, as the President said in Cairo, we have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things:  the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and free of corruption; and the freedom to live as you choose – these are human rights and we support them everywhere.

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