Imagine if, in 1973, with elected Chilean leader Salvador Allende being swept from power in a bloody military coup by the unelected General Augusto Pinochet, a group like Amnesty International chose to focus its attentions almost exclusively on the plight of a poet being banged up in, say, Belarus. Even if you believed the imprisonment of poets to be a very bad thing, you would think that was weird, right? A case of twisted priorities.
Well, the equivalent is happening right now. In Egypt, a military dictatorship has deposed and imprisoned an elected president, massacred hundreds of his supporters, and created government departments to oversee the interrogation and torture of ‘terrorists’ (otherwise known as Muslim Brotherhood voters). And yet the big issue on Amnesty’s online activism page is, as it has been for months, the continuing legal fights of imprisoned Russian punk band Pussy Riot. It seems if you want to win the attention of the West’s best-known human-rights outfit, it helps to be pretty white women with guitars rather than gruff brown men with beards.
There are many striking things about the political situation in Egypt. But perhaps the most striking thing is the silence of those who pose as human-rights cheerleaders, of the West’s head-shakers over tyranny in far-off lands, who have gone strangely mute, or at least uncharacteristically coy, in the face of the Egyptian military’s seizure of power and repression of dissent.
From all those high-minded newspaper columnists who normally bang the drum for Western warmaking against foreign countries that do authoritarian things, nada. From the leaders of Britain, America and France who usually get off on denouncing tyrannical militarism, zilch – or at best a half-assed plea to the Egyptian military to calm down. And from the human-rights industry, the self-styled moral conscience of the decent West, not much. Scour Amnesty International’s recent statements and you’ll discover that it has in fact put out an anaemic press release about Egypt, calling on the security forces to ‘protect protesters from violent attack’. What? It’s the security forces, primarily armed police units, that are violently attacking the protesters. No wonder Amnesty hasn’t said much about Egypt – it doesn’t seem to know what’s happening there.
The Western do-gooder lobby’s lack of concern about the bad currently being done in Egypt is summed up in the severe downturn in the number tweets containing the word ‘Egypt’. Between 1 January and 28 February 2011, when Egyptians rose up against the then dictator Hosni Mubarak and his violent security apparatus, globally there were 3,005,395 tweets containing the word Egypt, as many Western radicals and human-rights types hammered their outrage into 140 characters. Over the past four weeks, as numerous Egyptians have taken a stand against the new dictator Fattah al-Sisi, and have been massacred or jailed in their hundreds for doing so, globally there have been 1,970,570 tweets containing the word Egypt. And bear in mind that the number of registered Twitter accounts has more than doubled since early 2011, rising from 175million to over 500million. So the number of Twitter users has risen exponentially, yet the liberal Twitterati’s expressions of outrage over events in Egypt are shrivelling up.