Last Wednesday, 4 June, the Obama administration did two notable things. First, it being the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacres, it paid tribute to those Chinese activists who struggled for ‘basic freedoms… including the freedom of expression, the freedom of the press, and the freedoms of association and assembly’. Then, a few hours later, it congratulated the victor in the presidential elections in Egypt: General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. A man whose electoral victory has been built on the suppression of his opponents’ freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedoms of association and assembly. A man whose forces massacred more protesters in Cairo last August than the Chinese did in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. A man whose regime didn’t simply drag away and imprison individuals who bravely stood in front of its tanks, as the Chinese Army infamously did in 1989, but, as this footage shows, shot them where they stood.
That Washington can in the same day tut-tut over Tiananmen Square and declare that it is ‘looking forward to working with’ a military ruler who massacred thousands of protesters last year shows how confident it is that no awkward questions will be asked of its current policy on Egypt. It is right to feel confident. For Egypt is one issue on which the human-rights industry - all those observers, international lawyers and NGOs who normally love telling anyone who will listen how outraged they are by foreign tyrants - are at worst silent and at best sheepishly critical. If Putin imprisons a punk band, they go into overdrive; if Russia so much as flies a helicopter over Ukraine, they pen irate columns asking when the West will do something about this new Nazism; if an African terror group kidnaps schoolgirls, they galvanise every celebrity on Earth to demand that the UN brand it a crime against humanity. But Sisi? He can massacre thousands, ban political parties, imprison critical journalists and win an election through fraud and violence, and the West’s so-called guardians of human rights won’t lose much sleep.
The double standards of Western leaders in relation to foreign authoritarianism have been thrown into sharp relief by Sisi’s election victory. Sisi came to power in a coup d’état in July 2013 when, as defence minister in the democratically elected government of President Mohamed Morsi, who is linked with the Muslim Brotherhood, he and his military forces swept President Morsi aside, put him in prison, and suspended the Egyptian constitution. Just a couple of weeks after pontificating against the wickedness of strongman Putin in relation to Ukraine - whose actions have consisted largely of trying to preserve Russian interests without causing too much regional instability - both the Obama administration and the UK Foreign Office sent their congrats to the genuinely unforgiving strongman Sisi as he won last week’s elections and was sworn in this week. Obama officials said they were looking forward to developing a ‘strategic partnership’ with Sisi’s Egypt. UK foreign secretary William Hague congratulated Sisi and said the UK ‘looks forward to working with the Egyptian government’.
And how did this Sisi government so warmly congratulated by Western officials come into existence? Through terror. Sisi won 96.91 per cent of the vote in last week’s presidential elections. If that sounds suspicious - remember all the Western mocking that would greet news that Saddam Hussein had won 97 per cent of the vote in Iraq? - that’s because it is. Sisi won by effectively banning any serious force from standing against him. First the National Democratic Party - the party of Hosni Mubarak, the tyrannical president ousted by an uprising in 2011 - was banned from ‘running in any presidential, parliamentary or council elections’. Then the Muslim Brotherhood was banned ‘from taking part in presidential and legislative elections’. The Brotherhood had already been branded a terrorist organisation by the Sisi regime and was banned from gathering in public. With big hitters like Mubarak and MB forced aside, the vast majority of the other candidates for the presidency took the repressive hint and withdrew. In the end there were only two candidates: Sisi and a leftist named Hamdeen Sabahi. Sabahi actually came third, if you count spoiled ballots as a voting bloc. Most Egyptians, in particular MB-supporting Islamists, boycotted the elections, and on a turnout of 46 per cent, Sisi won nearly every vote.
In the months preceding the elections, Sisi had created a situation in which criticism of his regime, never mind organised electoral opposition to it, became a criminal offence. His opponents ran the risk of arrest, imprisonment and even death merely for expressing their political views. Last August, following Sisi’s military coup against Morsi, Islamists who had voted for Morsi took to the streets to demand his reinstatement. They were massacred in their hundreds. It is estimated that at least 1,000 were killed, ‘probably more than the number killed in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square’, says one report. In the most shocking incident, soldiers surrounded a pro-Morsi camp and ‘fired into it for several hours’. Strangely, this didn’t cause much consternation among leftists in the West, who save their outrage for far milder instances of police meddling in square-based protest camps in the US and Europe. In the 10 months since the August massacres, hundreds more pro-Morsi protesters have been killed by the police and army.