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Opinion

A warning to John Kerry on Middle East trip: Egypt could become the next Iran

Take note, Secretary of State John Kerry: Under the rule of Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt is in danger of becoming a Sunni version of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The US must demand the protection of human rights and back rhetoric with action.

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With little regard to the controversy surrounding the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadeinejad’s recent visit to Egypt to participate in an Islamic summit, Morsi warmly welcomed him. He left the Sunni religious institution, Al-Azhar, and the flying shoe of a Syrian dissident to deliver condemnations of Iran’s Shiite expansion efforts in Arab-Sunni territories and their support of the Syrian regime. Meanwhile, Morsi negotiated with the Iranian president about ways to improve political collaboration and economic partnership. Recently, Egypt and Iran signed an agreement to foster tourism between the two countries.

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It is important that the international community carefully watches this newly forged alliance and takes steps to prevent the repeat of the Iranian experience. This is not a call against Islam, but against the establishment of a theocratic state that practices a wide range of human right abuses with impunity, under the banner of religion.

It is not enough that world leaders such as Secretary Kerry make clear in their public discourse that such practices will not be tolerated, but the rhetoric should be reinforced in private talks to demonstrate seriousness. International investments and funds to support Egypt’s economy should continue to be conditioned upon implementation of the rule of law and protection of human rights.

International human rights and civic organizations should be diligent in supporting similar organizations in Egypt. Having a strong and active “third sector” is the only way to ensure that state abuse, torture, and imprisonment are widely reported and actions are taken to support the victims and their families, and to bring perpetrators, including the state, to account.

It is critical that international trade unions continue their support of Egyptian trade unions. The current religious state sees these unions as a threat to its dominance and is enacting laws to control their independence, operation, and right to assemble and protest.

Just like the revolution in Iran was hijacked by the Shiite clergy in 1979, the Muslim Brotherhood is doing the same in Egypt now.

Morsi and his government seem to have learned well from the Iranian regime about how to deal with opposition. The tens of thousands of disappointed activists, bloggers, seculars, liberals, trade union members, and frustrated Egyptians back in the streets in a “revolution of rage” calling for Morsi’s resignation, are brutally attacked, tortured, imprisoned, and killed as Iran did with the protestors of the Youth Green Movement in 2009. 

There is a fine line between interference in domestic affairs and the responsibility of the world community toward the protection of human rights and individual freedoms. Kerry and the rest of the Obama administration must remember this.

Recognizing that only Egyptians can determine the type of government they want, the protection of the rights of minorities and individuals is a global responsibility that we all share as nations, organizations, and people.

Dr. Nesreen Akhtarkhavari is director of Arabic Studies and an assistant professor at DePaul University in Chicago. Her research focuses on Islamic law and minority and women’s rights. This piece was written in association with The OpEd Project, which seeks to expand the range of opinion voices.

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