- Saiful Bukhari marries TV3 personality Nik Suryani Megat Deraman
- M'sian couple on Aussie rich list
- 'Only two solutions to avert disaster'
- 20 ancient tombs unearthed near China's 3 Gorges reservoir
- Vintage Apple computer auctioned off for $668,000
- PKR to file Balik Pulau petition
- Mom stabs 2-year old girl in head with scissors during tiff with hubby
- FA Cup premier league results
- Suspected rebels injure India ruling party leaders
- Reports: 27 indicted in Bari match-fixing inquiry
- Malaysia targets 28 million foreign tourists next year - Nazri
- University lecturers to boost English in schools
- UK police question alleged soldier killer's friend
- Google eyes Waze as Facebook targets hot Web maps property
- Rosberg puts Mercedes on pole position for Monaco GP More
WITCH HUNT: The trial of Egyptian democracy activists is fraudulent and riddled with inconsistencies
IN February, in the Cairo courtroom where the democracy advocates were being held in the same kind of cage as Anwar Sadat's killers, Nancy Okail, defendant No. 34, stood out.
The Egyptian woman, who leads the Cairo office of the United States-based Freedom House, was the one in the cage reading George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia.
It was her gesture of resistance to the Egyptian military regime that had put on trial democracy advocates who dared to partner with Egyptians in promoting democracy in a country that supposedly just had a democratic revolution.
Apparently, Okail didn't have her copy of Orwell's 1984 or Animal Farm, classics on authoritarianism, because this fraudulent show trial could easily have been a chapter in either one.
While seven American democracy workers who were slated to be tried with Okail had been allowed to leave the country, she and dozens of her Egyptian colleagues still face prosecution at a trial re- set for June.
She is deeply, and rightly, worried that the US, now that it has gotten its citizens out by paying a US$5 million (RM15.3 million) bail, will forget about the Egyptian democracy workers.
After the US workers were released, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton approved US$1.3 billion in military aid to the Egyptian army to keep relations on an even keel.
The Egyptian authorities responded by asking Interpol "to issue worldwide notices for the arrest of 15 nongovernmental workers, 12 of them Americans, accused of illegally operating pro-democracy programmes and stirring unrest", The National Journal reported.
"When the US decides to just give away the military aid to Egypt without considering the consequences on us," Okail told me, "it sends a message that the West and the US don't care about democracy and human rights.
"They just care about strategic stability. The battle we fight standing in that cage, hearing calls for our execution, is not a battle for our freedom but a battle for liberating Egyptian civil society."
But it isn't only liberals who are having a hard time.
Last Sunday, Egypt's new Islamist-dominated Parliament demanded that the country's senior ulama, the state-appointed grand mufti, Ali Gomaa, resign because he had visited East Jerusalem to pray in the Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
Gomaa said it was a personal visit, arranged by Jordan. Nevertheless, Reuters reported that the Egyptian parliamentary committee responsible for religious affairs issued a statement that the "brutal enemy" -- Israel -- controls Jerusalem's "entries, exits, mosques and churches. Going in enforces occupation and bestows upon it legitimacy. It also represents a sign of normalisation with the Zionist entity that is popularly rejected".
This tells Americans that the Arab awakening in Egypt blew the lid up. But the lid -- the old regime and intelligence services -- is still around. By blowing the lid up, though, it created space for the young people who sparked the revolution there to take to the streets and for the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, and even a few liberals, to get elected to Parliament.
But now you have a six-way struggle for power in Egypt: the army, the Islamists, the youths, the liberals, the old regime's loyalists and the businesses.
America's job is to let whoever wins know that bilateral relations will depend on their commitment to free elections, an independent judiciary, free press, open trade, religious pluralism and the rule of law.
Anyone who thinks that the Arab Spring proves that Arabs don't care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict any more is fooling themselves. Resolving it is now more important because the Arab street now has a bigger say in politics than ever, and the issue still resonates. America has so much more credibility with Arabs in promoting democracy when it is also seen as promoting an Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Finally, while it is understandable that the Obama team would initially take a low-key approach to defending democracy workers in Egypt, Okail is right: there is such a thing as too low-key.
If Americans don't stand up firmly for their own values, then what will happen to those Egyptians who do? Americans must respect Egypt's sovereignty and dignity, but there is no reason to respect a contrived witch hunt against democracy workers trying to hold their own government accountable.
Americans bit their tongues with former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and how did that end? Without vibrant civil society groups, there will never be a sustainable democratic transition in Egypt. NYT