Mohamed Morsi

A thick skin is a necessary prerequisite for every successful politician, at least in democratic societies. Love them or hate them, political satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are symbols of the deep-seated respect for freedom of opinion in the United States (as well as Americans’ love of a public roasting). In nondemocratic parts of the world, however, politicians are much less willing to become the butt of the joke.

The Egyptian public and the international community were shocked last week by televised images of civilian Hamada Saber being dragged, stripped, and brutally beaten by police officers amid ongoing clashes between police and protesters in Cairo.

One of the primary demands of the 2011 Egyptian revolution was to end the three decades of emergency rule under President Hosni Mubarak. But two years later, President Mohamed Morsi has declared a state of emergency in three canal cities: Port Said, Suez, and Ismailya.

This past week marks the first anniversary of an unprecedented assault on civil society in the history of Egypt. The Egyptian authorities raided 11 offices of human rights and democracy NGOs, including Freedom House’s Office in Cairo. The raid came after several months of an aggressive smear campaign in the Egyptian media against foreign funded NGOs.  The campaign particularly targeted local and international human rights defenders, defaming their activities, casting doubts on their intentions and accusing them of being a threat to national security.

In the wake of recent violence, including the tragic death of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya, some have called for the United States to decrease its diplomatic engagement with the Middle East. With perceptions of America in the region already greatly damaged by a legacy of narrow relationships with autocratic governments, such a move would be a grave mistake with dire consequences for U.S. foreign policy and national security interests. Ambassador Stevens was among the strongest advocates of building relationships with the Arab public, and it would be tragically ironic to see his death lead to an abandonment of this critical task.

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