Obama and Egypt: The Window for Action Remains Open

February 11, 2011

Note: This post was updated at 12:30 p.m. EST)

US President Barack Obama makes a statement on the situation in Egypt on Feburary 1, 2011. TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

Hosni Mubarak’s stubborn pride and imperious manner made change in Egypt personal, but he was right in his speech Thursday when he said it was not about him.  It is about bringing about institutional and constitutional change that will embed and protect democratic and human rights for all of Egypt.

That means that after a day of celebrating Mubarak’s resignation, the protesters are cognizant enough that there is hard and important work to be done.  And that means President Obama still has one more chance to do what’s right for Egypt and for the United States.

Human rights activists and the Egyptian protesters have been rightly disappointed so far in his muddled and wavering message and policy.  His call for an “orderly transition” to democracy has been met by Mubarak with stinging rebukes and excuses for further delays.

If one is inclined to have some sympathy for the administration, you can point to this: For 30 years, every American president has known the day when payment for compliance with the region’s autocrats would come due.  Each has at best hoped that they could delay that day to the next president.

Obama is that next president and reversing that history and making it right requires change of our own. It is up to him to stand up to the Washington army of paid hacks and Mubarak retainers who whisper caution, to the other allies in the region who fear change and to the wise men, serious-thinking pundits and religious leaders who see Arab democracy as a phony front for a global caliphate.

Amnesty International’s Human Rights Agenda for Change provides a guide for what he needs to do.  He should make a clear statement that the window for delay has gone, and only specific and immediate action, not promises for down the road will be acceptable.

These include demanding through public and government channels the following:

  • An immediate end of the State of Emergency, arbitrary detention, torture and unfair trials and the immediate release of all prisoners concience;
  • A reform of the penal code to uphold the rights of freedom of speech, religion and political association, including assurances that the peaceful protesters are not arbitrarily arrested and detained;
  • Creation of an independent, fair and public panel to review the use of violence in the demonstrations;
  • Abolishing the use of military and State Security (Emergency) courts to try civilians.
  • The supply of equipment used by police forces should be immediately suspended pending further review of the substantial risk of further violations. The United States government should also comprehensively review all arms supplies and training support they are providing to the Egyptian military, security and police forces and ensure that all such supplies and support are subject to the willingness of those forces to respect and protect human rights in their operations.

This Saturday, Amnesty International will lead a Global Day of Solidarity promoting human rights in Egypt, with rallies across the world.  In the United States, AI members will rally in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco and Houston, all sites of Egyptian embassies and consulates.

In Washington, the activists will convene in Lafayette Square across from the White House.  Our message will be for the Egyptian government to end its delay in implementing clear and immediate institutional reform to end policies that support torture, prolonged administrative detention, unfair trials, arrests of prisoners of conscience and other human rights abuses.

You can read more about the U.S. rallies here. If you can’t attend one, you can still participate by posting your support on Amnesty International Facebook page or by taking this online petition.