Friday, February 10, 2006

Egypt's "moderate leadership"

ObservatioNZ takes offence at Helen Clark's comments on the opening of a New Zealand Embassy in Egypt. According to Clark,

"[Egypt] does have moderate leadership [and] we should be there," she said. "It [the opening of an embassy in Cairo] fits in with the general strategy we have of empowering the moderates, building up the relationships with the moderate leaders of the Islamic world."

But as ObservatioNZ points out, the Egypt is an authoritarian state which rigs elections, beats voters, imprisons journalists, kills demonstrators, suppresses public protest, imprisons without trial, and tortures people (both for its own purposes and as a subcontractor to the Americans). If this is "moderate", I'd hate to see what Clark considers "extreme".

Not that I object to opening an embassy per se. Talking to regimes like this isn't necessarily bad, and we already have embassies in Tehran, Riyadh, and Beijing. But "talking" should not involve an endorsement of an authoritarian government which denies its citizens the right to choose their own leaders, or of human rights practices which are among the very worst in the world. Unfortunately, that is precisely what Clark has done by calling the Egyptian regime "moderate".

Once upon a time, the Labour party stood for democracy and human rights. Once upon a time, it would have made it clear that we were holding our nose when talking to people like Pervez Musharraf, and raised human rights with people like Recep Erdogan. Instead, they're holding their tongues. What has happened to the Labour Party?


BTW, if anyone wants to see how horrible the Egyptian regime is, try the US State Department 2004 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Egypt. "Moderate", my arse.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/10/2006 04:31:00 PM

The problem with the language of diplomacy is that it's not direct. Helen may well call the regime moderate to indicate moderation is a condition of the relationship. Or whatever, the language is so convoluted and obscure it is literally another language. But you can be sure it's designed to send some message or other that is completely different to the words used.
Now personally, I favour honest and open, but it'd probably get the diplomats shot or something..

Posted by Anonymous : 2/10/2006 06:44:00 PM

Speaking of subtle messages, Youssef Chahine's 1997 movie "Destiny" was indirectly critical of the influence of fundamentalism in Egypt. It would be great if Helen could use her contacts in the arts scene to invite Youssef Chahine on a cultural tour someday.

(1997; 135 minutes)

"The most courageous frontal attack on Islamic fundamentalism to come out of the Arab cinema to date...both an entertaining historical biopic...and a blunt allegory condemning the politically driven fanaticism of present times." -- Deborah Young, Variety

Muslim Andalusia, in the 12th century: Abu ibn Rushd, the great philospher known throughout Christian Europe as Averro√ęs, inspires his many young followers of all faiths to study the teachings of the classical Greek philosophers. Yet there are those who condemn all such speculation, seeing this kind of intellectual exploration and adventure as an assault on religious orthodoxy. Awarded a special prize at Cannes for his remarkable and incredibly courageous body of work, director Youssef Chahine has created in DESTINY a deeply felt, exuberant historical fresco with profound implications for today--and spiced it all with a few rousing musical numbers.

Other movies of his at:

Posted by Anonymous : 2/10/2006 07:25:00 PM

NRT, my compliments with the direction this blog is going. First a post where you didn't defend Labour that it bought the election, now a post where you don't defend the spin, what's happening?

Posted by Berend de Boer : 2/10/2006 08:56:00 PM

Berend: Simple: this isn't a party hack blog. I represent my own views, not those of the Labour party or any other organisation. If you're surprised by this, I can only presume that you don't read here often enough.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/10/2006 10:23:00 PM

Moderate by Middle East Arab state terms, but hardly moderate by OUR terms. Turkey is moderate. The PM could probably argue China is moderate, compared to North Korea!

Posted by Libertyscott : 2/11/2006 01:06:00 AM

Libertyscott: Egypt is "moderate" by Middle East terms in that they have a peace treaty with Israel and are run by secular thugs rather than religious ones. And that's about it. It's pretty much the same on torture, on freedom of the press, on democracy. Hell, Iran arguably has a better "democracy" than Egypt, in that they merely stack the candidates rather than fixing the results and beating people as well...

Really, if Egypt is "moderate", you have to wonder what metric is being used...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/11/2006 01:54:00 AM

'what metric is being used...'

The same metric, alas, that is always used in international political affairs: cynical self-interest.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/11/2006 06:54:00 AM

What is happening with the Labour party? I have enough trouble stomaching the fawining courting of China for trade agreements, let alone this ridiculous tagging of a brutal dictatorship-in-all-but-name as 'moderate'.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/11/2006 10:33:00 AM