Oh, how the tables have turned. The Egyptian government, which according to human rights groups last year committed one of the largest massacres in recent history, on Tuesday urged the United States to exercise restraint in dealing with protesters in Ferguson, MO.
Last night, law enforcement officials clashed with protesters demonstrating over the death of teenager Mike Brown at the hands of the police and what has been described as a “tiny minority of troublemakers,” firing off tear gas and herding the media into one contained area. On Tuesday, Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson said that two people were shot and at least 31 arrested in the chaos. This marked the fourth night in a row of renewed protests after a brief calm last Thursday evening.
The unrest in Missouri hasn’t gone unnoticed around the world, including in countries that have all the reason in the world to be glad a spotlight is being shined on the U.S.’ treatment of protesters. In answering a question from state-run news agency MENA, a spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that the government is “closely following the escalation of protests and demonstrations in the city of Ferguson and reactions thereto.” The United States, the spokesman said, should deal with protests “according to the American and international standards.” According to Daily News Egypt, the spokesman also referred to comments from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, saying they reflected the “international community’s position towards these events” including calls for “restraint and respect for the right of assembly and peaceful expression of opinion.”
The language used by Cairo comes across as particularly ironic given the way it mirrors language the U.S. put forward last year, following the military ouster of Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi. “We call on the military to use maximum restraint responding to protesters, just as we urge all those demonstrating to do so peacefully,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said on July 8th last year, three days after the Egyptian police fired at the first group of protesters. Two weeks later, Psaki repeat that “we’ve made it clear to the interim government, to the military, that they should exercise maximum restraint when dealing with protesters.” The same day, Deputy White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that the administration “urges the security forces to exercise maximum restraint and caution, and to do their utmost to prevent any clashes between opposing demonstrators.”
That call, however, went unheeded. According to a recently released report from Human Rights Watch, the Egyptian military completely ignored calls for restraint, instead quite possibly committing crimes against humanity. In the days after Morsi’s removal from power last year, the Egyptian military and police “methodically opened fire with live ammunition on crowds of demonstrators” who were holding a sit-in in the Rab’a al-Adawiya Square. On August 14, the report says, “security forces attacked the Rab’a protest encampment from each of its main entrances, using armed personnel carriers (APCs), bulldozers, ground troops, and snipers. Security forces gave little to no effective warning and opened fire into large crowds, leaving no safe exit for nearly 12 hours.”
“In Rab’a Square, Egyptian security forces carried out one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement accompanying the report. “This wasn’t merely a case of excessive force or poor training. It was a violent crackdown planned at the highest levels of the Egyptian government. Many of the same officials are still in power in Egypt, and have a lot to answer for.”
In response, the Egyptian government accused HRW of breaking the law and violating Egypt’s sovereignty, banning the group from entering the country. The arguments used against Human Rights Watch closely echo those Cairo has leveled against journalists operating in the country. Though reporters have been mistreated at the hands of law enforcement in Ferguson, and at times briefly arrested, none yet have been held for more than a few hours. In contrast, Egypt took several Al Jazeera journalists through a full trial, sentencing them to years in prison for the crime of doing their job.
Given all this, for Egypt to feel comfortable in calling out the way Americans are treated at the hands of their own government can leave one feeling both defensive because of Cairo’s own abuses and despairing over the fact that the protesters on the streets are being mistreated. And Egypt’s ironic denouncement of Ferguson is just the latest in a string of human rights violating countries calling out the United States for hypocrisy. In recent days, Iran’s Supreme Leader and China’s government have both criticized the U.S. for the way Ferguson is currently spiraling out of control.