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March 23, 2011

Democracy in Egypt: Harper shameful stand

Reuel S. Amdur

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Israel claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East. Of course, ancient Athens was also a democracy, but built on slavery. Israel's democracy is built on denial of the rights of its Palestinian minority and its colonial and irredentist exploitation and mistreatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Moreover, it wants to remain "the only democracy" in the area.

When there was a danger that democracy could break out in Egypt, Israel’s leaders got a bad case of the jitters. 

After all, they have had a cozy relationship with Hosni Mubarak over the years, exemplified by cooperation on the blockade of Gaza. 

So, as reported by Barak Ravid in Haaretz, “On Saturday night (February 12) the Foreign Ministry issued a directive to around a dozen key embassies in the United States, Canada, China, Russia and several European countries. The ambassadors were told to stress to their host countries the importance of Egypt’s stability.  In a special cable, they were told to get this word out as soon as possible.”

The Harper government heard the message loud and clear. 

As Jennifer Ditchburn, writing for Canadian Press, observed, “The Canadian government has markedly refrained from asking for Mubarak’s ouster.  Instead it has spoken in broad terms about the need to respect human rights and a peaceful transition to democracy.” 

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon emphasized the gradualist approach in a scrim outside the House of Commons. 

Ditchburn quoted him as speaking approvingly of comments made by Egyptian Vice-President Omar Suleiman: “I think these steps form part of this orderly transition effort toward reforms, and ultimately an election.”  Suleiman headed the secret service in Egypt, notorious for torture. 

In the Commons on February 3, Cannon listed “four basic conditions” for Canada’s support of the future Egyptian government, half of which relate to Israel.  “It must recognize the State of Israel,” and “It must adhere to existing peace treaties.”  These comments by Cannon precede the instructions to the Israeli ambassadors. 

Thomas Woodley, commenting on behalf of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) on February 4, criticized the Canadian government’s attitude.

While Lawrence Cannon said, “The transition must be orderly,” Woodley complained, “It is unfortunate that Canada is advancing a position which prolongs a painful status quo for the Egyptian people, and which reflects no discernible principle. Egypt’s democratic reform movement should not be discouraged because Israel and the West are more comfortable with the status quo.”  CJPME noted at that time that “The United States, the UK, Germany and France have taken more progressive stances than Canada in support of imminent democratic reform in Egypt.”

A blogger commenting on Ditchburn’s article made this observation:

“Canada demands that a future Egypt ‘must respect freedom, democracy and human rights. . . must adhere to existing peace treaties; and . . . must respect international law,’ when it doesn’t demand these things of the current Egyptian regime nor of Israel, neither of which meet the criteria.”

Lawrence Cannon has consistently connected any of his comments about Egypt with a strong tilt toward Israel. 

A quotation above that Ditchburn took from Hansard is illustrative. 

Then, on February 6, he issued a press release in which he said, “We expect that any government that will emerge will uphold Egypt’s commitment to international law, as well as all past peace accords and agreements including with...” guess whom?  If you guessed Israel, you get the prize. 

Then on February 11 Stephen Harper added his imprimatur: “We will also continue to support Egypt’s efforts to promote regional stability and peace, including with Israel as well as continued respect for peace treaties in the Middle East.”

The Harper government wants Egypt to uphold a commitment to international law, but what about Israel’s obligations in this regard? 

For example, the International Court of Justice ruled that the separation wall should not encroach on Palestinian land.  Also, international law forbids colonization of conquered territory by the victorious power.  Why do all of these declarations call only on Egypt to respect international law?

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