On December 18, Egyptian security forces raided the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), a leading think tank. The timing is extraordinary, because foreign diplomats and human rights activists were still in town after the December 16-17 meeting of the "Forum for the Future." The Forum was a G-8 Initiative established during the Bush years to promote closer cooperation between governments and civil society organizations in the Middle East, and thereby help promote human rights and democracy. The full story is told by Michele Dunne and Amy Hawthorne here.
In Cairo, Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel, and Ahmed Douma were given three year sentences. As Egypt Independent put it,
The defendants were demonstrating against the instatement of the new protest law, which requires prior authorization from the Interior Ministry to hold demonstrations. The arrest of these prominent political activists worries human rights groups that the new political establishment is falling further backwards towards the old police state of the Mubarak era, or perhaps worse.
Maher and Adel were founders of the April 6 Youth Movement that led the protests against the Mubarak regime. So their jailing is a clear message to protesters that continuing activity will land you a stiff prison term--and a message to us that Egypt is simply becoming a military dictatorship once again. As The New York Times explained last May when Maher was arrested by the previous government, "Mr. Maher founded the April 6 Youth Movement in 2008 to organize young people and express solidarity with striking textile workers in the Nile delta town of Mahalla, north of Cairo. It began on Facebook, where the first April 6 group page attracted 60,000 members and the attention of the security forces, who arrested, tortured and threatened to rape Mr. Maher in 2008." He was released then, but is now back behind bars.
In November, Secretary of State Kerry visited Cairo and said he thought they were on track toward democracy: "The road map is being carried out to the best of our perception, there are questions we have here or there about one thing or another, but foreign minister [Nabil] Fahmy has re-emphasized to me again and again that they have every intent, and they are determined, to fulfill that particular decision and that track."
Questions here or there, one thing or another, but the message was clear: "Kerry visits Egypt, hails signs of democracy after military ouster," said NBC; "Egyptians Following Right Path, Kerry Says," was how The New York Times reported it.
The jailing of Ahmed Maher for a three year term is a mockery of those remarks. Members of Congress who still believe there should be no interruption in U.S. military aid to the Egyptian military regime should think again. What exactly will we be paying for? Does anyone believe that jailing peaceful and popular protest leaders will create a stable Egypt?