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- Written by Eman Jueid
- Category: World News
On Saturday, February 18, the family of Omar Abdel Rahman hosted a rally and press conference outside the embassy at the site of the sit-in. While only around two hundred people attended, speakers included several prominent Islamist and revolutionary figures.
Islamist lawyer Muntasir al-Zayyat was in attendance. He achieved fame by defending many Islamists against the accusations of the Mubarak government during the years of his crackdown against them. He accused the U.S. of violating its own laws in the detention of Omar Abdel Rahman, and led the call to parliament to sponsor the cause and pressure the military council to demand that the U.S. return him to Egypt.
Magdy Ahmed Hussein, a leader in the Islamist-leaning Labor Party, was also there and leveled vitriolic criticism against America, saying that the United States, like all tyrants, will not answer to any “request” but rather, only to the response of power. He thundered that Egypt could do without U.S. aid and floated the idea of attacking Israel. He accused Islamists of being weak, catering to the United States and failing to impose Islamic law.
One man cried out from the audience, “No, it is the Brotherhood only!”
Interestingly, Hussein’s bravado faded as he addressed Egyptian action: The crowd should send a delegation to parliament today, but tomorrow would be fine; They should ask them to consider the request, but be sure not to put too much pressure on them since they have a busy agenda. They should also take care not to have a big rally or march, as there is enough of that in Egypt already.
The highlighted speaker, however, was Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, the Salafi candidate for president of Muslim Brotherhood lineage. He spoke with a calm and dignified demeanor in contrast to the bombast of many others. Abu Ismail drew a parallel between the case of Omar Abdel Rahman and that of the U.S. NGO personnel in Egypt. Both are judicial matters independent of politics – or – both are issues of national security. Either way, he noted, they should be treated the same and Egypt should not bow to U.S. pressure.
In terms of the judicial angle, Abu Ismail criticized the Egyptian government in the case of the alleged U.S.-Israeli spy Ilan Grapel. Charges of espionage were brought against him by the court, but he was later surrendered as part of a prisoner exchange with Israel. The trouble is that the judicial process was not completed, even if only in issuance of an official pardon. The Americans accused in the current NGO dispute must go through the full examination of Egyptian law.
The United States, however, is looking to expedite this process through extra-judicial pressure and threats of withdrawing US aid. Abu Ismail believes that the U.S. wishes to solve this crisis during the transitional period of military government.
The Egyptian government – and parliament – has been lax in terms of its pressure on Omar Abdel Rahman. For them it has been a matter of patience . He believes it is shameful that his family has been forced to endure this.
American pressure must be met by Egyptian pressure, or else the situation will calm and everyone will forget about the Blind Sheikh again. If this threatens to cost Egypt the substantial U.S. aid package, let us call their bluff. He imagines the U.S. is too cowardly to actually withdraw its money.
Why? In reality, he says, it is not “aid” at all. Most of the money is delivered directly to the military establishment and used to purchase American weapons – a American government subsidy, in essence, to the arms industry. The small percentage of money spent on civil society, meanwhile, largely pays the salaries of American citizens who run U.S-linked NGO programs.
He also believes that the United States should not be understood as a “righteous” nation with which to deal. It uses its “aid” to pressure every nation of the region – save Turkey and Iran – into supporting Israel, while paying lip service to principles of democracy, freedom, and rule of law. Then the U.S. turns back home and exports its political prison to Guantanamo so that it can escape its own principles of freedom and rule of law. This is the context in which the struggle to free Omar Abdel Rahman must be waged.
Rumors and rumblings in Egypt suggest a possible solution to the NGO crisis may amount to a trade of the Blind Sheikh for the detained American NGO personnel. The upcoming trial, if the legal system runs its course, anticipates these Americans held in a courtroom cage, as per Egyptian custom. It is an image that will resonate deeply with the American public, and even invoke memories, if not wildly inaccurate comparisons, to the Iranian hostage crisis.
In an atmosphere of charged politics and conspiracy theories, the NGO crisis plays into fears of foreign interference. Among analysts who doubt these NGOs have done anything amiss, they bill the affair either as playacting to buttress the popularity of the military council, or else designed to move Egypt out of the US orbit, by hook or crook.
Is something major brewing geo-politically at the Blind Sheikh sit-in outside the US Embassy in Cairo? Or are these the sincere, devoted efforts of a family to reunite with their father, against an American system that will never bend to pressure? Or, finally, is it a simple matter of justice for a man long – and perhaps wrongly – imprisoned?
Revolutionary Egypt holds far more questions than answers. The case of the Blind Sheikh is far below even the local media radar, but bears monitoring all the same.By Jayson Casper, Aslan Media Contributor
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