One year after the coup, let’s not forget Egypt’s struggle for democracy

Rallying for democracy. | Photo by Mariam Soliman

Rallying for democracy. | Photo by Mariam Soliman

Summer in the city. This weekend, I got offline and out with the family to enjoy a few of the many festivals on right now in Vancouver. Later, reflecting on the changing of the seasons, I realized we’re coming up on the one year anniversary of the coup in Egypt, in which the military overthrew democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi.

My thoughts turned to the Egyptians I met last summer, when we spent many evenings together on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery protesting the coup and the massacres that followed. Those gatherings were a place to voice opposition to the repression in Egypt and to the Canadian government’s woeful response, but they were also an opportunity for many in the local Egyptian community to come together and share concerns and grief about their loved ones back home.

I remember clearly the passionate speech of Vancouver resident Lamia Siam, whose brother Sharif Gamal Siam was murdered along with dozens of other prisoners by the coup regime’s security forces on August 18, 2013.

The whole world was inspired by Egypt during the joyous weeks of the uprising at Tahrir Square in early 2011; we owe it to the memory of Lamia’s brother, and all the others killed in Egypt, not to look away now, but to remember and to support the ongoing struggle for democracy in that beleaguered country.

On July 3, 2013, the high command of the Egyptian military seized power, cynically hijacking mass protests and manipulating legitimate widespread grievances against the Morsi government. At the time, the Wall Street Journal shared its hopes: “Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet…”

The past year has been a nightmare, as the Wall Street Journal’s dreams have come true. Dissent has been crushed, including mass killings, jailing of journalists and mass death sentencing against regime opponents. In mid-August 2013, hundreds if not thousands died in the Rabaa massacre, the worst incident of repressive violence in modern Egyptian history.

After all that, the head of the military, Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, stepped down and installed himself as president in an ‘election’ where he received 97 per cent of the low voter turnout. Egypt now has its Pinochet.

Incredibly, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird recently praised these sham elections as “a key step along Egypt’s path to democracy.”

The Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy issued a statement in response: “It is with great disappointment that we see our Canadian government turn a blind eye to the facts and call a, now fulfilled, military coup d’etat a democratic process… We urge Mr. Baird and the Canadian Government to call a spade a spade and to stand beside the Egyptian people in a practical and concrete manner by confronting the coup dictatorship till it falls and till democracy returns to Egypt.”

Unfortunately, we have to call a spade a spade here too: the government of Stephen Harper and John Baird is an enemy of democracy at home and abroad. They serve big business, not the interests of the people. It’s evident in their predictable greenlighting of the Enbridge pipeline, despite overwhelming public opposition in BC and from First Nations. It’s also evident in what priorities really guide Canada’s foreign policy. While this Conservative government refused to condemn an anti-democratic coup in Egypt, they boasted about an unprecedented sale of military hardware to Saudi Arabia, which happens to be the number one sponsor of the coup in Egypt and a notoriously repressive and misogynistic regime. In February, Canada announced a new $10 billion manufacturing deal that will see General Dynamics supply the Saudis with armoured vehicles for years to come.

In addition to being a significant arms dealer to the entire region, Canada, especially under the Harper government, plays a major role as an uncritical supporter of the Israeli government and its occupation of Palestinian territories. Harper has been an unstinting backer of the cruel siege of Gaza, and no doubt is pleased that the new Egyptian regime is coordinating again with Israel in its clampdown on that thin strip of territory known as “the world’s largest open air prison.”

Pundits never tire of saying that foreign policy issues don’t win or lose elections, or that “all politics are local.” But this is a myopic view. In today’s world of diverse populations, mass migration and integrated worldwide communications, all politics are really local and global. Justice is indivisible. Our security and our chances for a decent and happy life here are bound up with the struggle for freedom and liberation everywhere.

So keep the Egyptian people in mind this summer. The Canadian government has betrayed them, but we don’t have to. We should mark this one year anniversary of the coup in Egypt by condemning John Baird and Harper for giving succor to Sisi, the new Pinochet on the Nile.

As Lamia Siam told the Vancouver Sun last year: “Shame on you, Egypt. Shame on you, world. Watching innocents killed and still dying every day and keep silent.”