'WE ARE fighting for the inalienable right of humankind, black or white, Christian or not, left, right or merely indifferent, to be free,' said Tony Blair in his fawning speech to the US Congress last month. Lying, as we know, comes naturally to Blair.
Amnesty International recently issued a report accusing the United States of undermining international standards for human rights by detaining without trial those it calls 'unlawful combatants' at Guantanamo Bay and at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan.
There are widespread reports that detainees are being tortured at Bagram. But, as Amnesty notes, it isn't just that what the US is doing is bad. Its example is giving the green light to repressive regimes around the world to behave even worse.
Egypt is a case in point. President Hosni Mubarak presides over a brutal dictatorship with a long history of human rights violations. The radical Islamists who assassinated Mubarak's predecessor were crushed in a savage campaign of torture, assassination and executions. Now Mubarak is showing his commitment to democracy by grooming his son to succeed him as president.
None of this, of course, has prevented the US and Britain from treating the Egyptian regime as one of their key allies. In March Egypt had some of the biggest anti-war protests in the region. Many activists were arrested. One of these was Ashraf Ibrahim.
As Socialist Worker reported last week, he and four others have now been charged before the Emergency State Security with leading or belonging to 'an illegally established group...the group of Revolutionary Socialists, established in violation of the law and calling for the replacement of the existing regime with another that is based on fanatical communism, and which depends on workers' councils in its activities.'
According to Ahram Weekly, 'The prosecutor's unexpected decision surprised not only Ibrahim, who has been in detention since 19 April, but also came as a shock to the four other defendants named by the case.
'Their shock emanates from the fact that they were never summoned for interrogation, nor had prosecutors ordered their arrest in the over three months that Ibrahim has been in jail. The other four-Nasser El-Beheiri, a researcher at the Land Centre for Human Rights, Yehia Fekri Amin, an engineer, Mutafa Mohamed El-Bassuini, an activist, and Reymon Edward Guindy, a student-are currently at large... The defendants face a maximum prison sentence of 15 years if found guilty.'
Between the 1950s and 1970s the Egyptian state used ferocious repression to crush the Communist movement. But more recently Islamists have been the main target. It's more than 20 years since such serious charges have been made against the left.
According to the Middle East Times, 'The Revolutionary Socialist Group, which the government accuses the activists of belonging to, is a radical Trotskyite organisation that has slowly grown in the second half of the 1990s. 'While the regime was busy with its war on Islamist militants and the mammoth-size Muslim Brotherhood, the leftist group established a foothold in some of the major universities, professional syndicates and industrial centres. 'Its militants reportedly have an active role in the anti-war and intifada solidarity movements.'
A statement issued by human rights organisations in Egypt underlines that this is much more than an attack on a small group of socialists.
According to the statement, 'The developments of this case represent a new stage in a series of hegemony and police terrorism directed against civil society organisations and political parties, and all those involved in public or political activism, especially activists in the movement in solidarity with the Palestinian intifada and the anti-war movement.'
But there's even more at stake. One of the most significant features of the anti-war movement in Egypt is that it has represented the re-emergence of a secular opposition.
Followers of the great pan-Arab nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser and socialists have been in the lead. This represents a chink of light in what has been the dark picture presented by Arab politics for the past 20 years.
The main polarisation has been corrupt and brutal regimes that have thrown their lot in with US imperialism, and Islamist opposition movements that often fight with great courage but are seeking what amounts ultimately to a reactionary utopia. Now, in Egypt at least, an alternative is beginning to emerge to this sterile opposition.
The charges against Ashraf Ibrahim and his co-defendants indicate that the regime wants to nip this development in the bud. It's up to everyone around the world who wants to see a real secular left in the Middle East to flood the Egyptian government with protests at its latest attack on human rights.
Write to His Excellency Mohammad Hosni Mubarak, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Abedine Palace, Cairo, Egypt. E-mail [email protected]
STOP PRESS: The Cairo conference in October of the International Committee Against US Aggression has been postponed. See future issues for details.