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Canadian Impotence

by YVES ENGLER

Once again Conservative ideology has trumped what’s right.

Prominent Toronto filmmaker/professor John Greyson and London, Ontario, physician/professor Tarek Loubani have been locked up in an Egyptian jail for nearly 40 days. After a prosecutor recently extended their detention by 15 days, these two courageous individuals launched a hunger strike demanding their release or to at least be allowed two hours a day in the fenced-in prison yard.

Some 140,000 people, including filmmakers Ben Affleck, Danny Glover and Atom Egoyan, have called on Egypt’s military rulers to release the two men. Despite this outpouring of support, the Conservatives have done as little to win their release as a Canadian government could possibly do in the circumstances. While Canadian officials have summoned Egypt’s chargé d’affaires in Ottawa and called it “a case of two people being in the wrong place at the wrong time”, they’ve failed to demand their immediate release, criticize the arbitrary process or condemn the dictatorial regime responsible.

Under the emergency legal system currently in place in Egypt, Greyson and Loubani can be kept in jail for up to two years without charge or trial. But Ottawa has refused to even comment on these highly arbitrary rules.

Canadian officials have also ignored the rise of anti-Palestinian sentiment that partly explains Greyson and Loubani’s incarceration. Greyson and Loubani flew to Cairo en route to do humanitarian and political work in Gaza, which would displease Egypt’s military rulers who associate the Hamas government in Gaza with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Since taking power on July 3 the military regime has deepened the brutal blockade of Gaza. Before the coup some 1,200 people a day crossed through the Rafah terminal in Egypt, Gaza’s main window to the world (Israel is blocking most other access points). Now about 250 make it through every day and the Egyptian authorities have shut the Rafah crossing entirely in recent days.

Ottawa has long supported efforts to punish Palestinians in Gaza. After Hamas won legislative elections in January 2006 Harper’s Conservatives made Canada the first country (after Israel) to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority and Ottawa has cheered on Israel’s blockade and repeated bombings of Gaza.

More significantly from Greyson and Loubani’s standpoint, the Conservatives support the Egyptian military’s overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi and its brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests. Foreign Minister John Baird initially called the military’s overthrow of Morsi a “coup” but he’s explicitly rejected calls for the elected President to be restored. On August 22 Baird said “We’re certainly not calling for them [Egypt’s elected government] to be restored to power.” This is in contrast to the US, France and UK, which have at least nominally called for Morsi’s restoration to power.

Ottawa has also justified the military’s brutal repression of largely peaceful demonstrations. “We think the interim government is dealing with some terrorist elements in the country,” Baird told reporters a month ago. “A lot of this is being led by senior officials in the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Baird is simply parroting the military regime, which has killed over 1,000 democracy protesters and incarcerated at least 3,000 more since overthrowing Morsi. They’ve also imposed martial law, a curfew and banned the Muslim Brotherhood.

In a bid to control the flow of information the military regime has shuttered a number of TV stations, including Al Jazeera, and stripped tens of thousands of imams – Muslim clerics – of their preaching licenses. The goal is to better control the political messages emanating from mosques.

Greyson and Loubani have had the misfortune of being caught up in this repressive climate. They are two, among many, victims of an out of control military regime desperately trying to reverse the democratic space opened up two and a half years ago with the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

While Greyson and Loubani’s incarceration is an irritant for the Conservatives, they are decidedly antagonistic to democracy struggles in Egypt. On January 25, 2011, Egyptians began 18 days of protest, including widespread labour actions, which would topple the 30-year presidency of Hosni Mubarak. The Conservatives stuck with Mubarak until literally the last possible minute. On February 10, 2011, Foreign Affairs called for “restraint from all parties to settle the crisis” and about three hours before Mubarak’s resignation was announced on February 11 Harper told a Newfoundland audience: “Our strong recommendations to those in power would be to lead change. To be part of it and to make a bright future happen for the people of Egypt.” The Prime Minister failed to call for Mubarak’s immediate departure.

Most of Canada’s traditional allies abandoned Mubarak before the Conservatives. The day after he stepped down Alec Castonguay explained in Le Devoir: “Canada was the only Western country to not call for an ‘immediate transition’ in Egypt. While Washington, London, Paris, Madrid and Rome openly called for an end to Mubarak’s rule and the transfer of power to a provisional government, Ottawa sided with Israel in refusing to condemn the old dictator.”

The Conservatives lackluster support for Loubani and Greyson reflects their support for Egypt’s military rulers, which is tied to an extreme pro-Israel outlook. If these two courageous individuals are further harmed blame the pro-Israel/anti-Egyptian democracy forces in this country.

Yves Engler is co-author of the recently released New Commune-ist Manifesto – Workers of the World It Really is Time to Unite, a rewriting of the original designed to spark debate about a new direction for the Left and union movement. For more information go towww.newcommuneist.com

Yves Engler’s Canada in Africa — 300 years of Aid and Exploitation will be published in September. He’s the author of The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s foreign policy.

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