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Five years later, the Egyptian revolution still strikes fear into the heart of tyrrany

| January 25, 2016
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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The thing about Egypt's January 25 revolution is that it still inspires. That's the day when, five years ago, young Egyptians of many ideological stripes and of no ideological stripes streamed into Tahrir square, the largest public square in Cairo to protest the war on hope that was the Mubarak regime. They returned to the square day after day and by Friday the 28th of January 2011 they had been joined by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians cutting across the divides of age, gender, faith, and ideology.

The thing about January 25 is that it still moves us. It is a symbol of hope and a harbinger of change. It fuels the dreams of those who struggle for dignity, wish for justice and yearn for freedom. And three years after a military junta dismantled the nascent democracy and established a new dictatorship, pundits and journalists as well as believers and activists ask when it will happen again.

Which is why the thing about January 25 is that it terrifies the brutal military regime in Egypt. The despotic regime pretending to govern Egypt today has spent the last three years trying to impose surrender upon the youth of Egypt. It has spent the last three years trying to rebuild a wall of fear that it considers key to its survival. It has become widely recognized as the most brutal regime in Egypt's modern history, perpetrating massacres and human rights violations on an unprecedented scale. And yet, three years into this process, every time January 25 rolls around the generals and the thugs are still filled with dread.

As an Egyptian Canadian I was filled with hope and joy as I witnessed Egypt's seemingly firm steps on the road to a developed democracy. For a brief time before the coup hijacked the revolution I volunteered in Egypt to try to contribute to the establishment of the new democracy.

But as a Canadian assessing the stance that our government took I can only cry shame. All the major Western governments held back from supporting the people of Egypt for far too long. They only got on the congratulatory bandwagon when it became clear that the military would abandon Mr. Mubarak. Under Mr. Harper, our government stood out by giving Egypt's democracy the cold shoulder even when other Western governments were belatedly trying to build bridges. And when the coup came, the Harper conservatives became staunch supporters of the military regime.

Mr. Trudeau's government has not been long in office and we have to give them enough time to adequately develop their foreign policy. Nonetheless, the signs so far are not promising. It is shameful that so far the Trudeau government seems intent on continuing with the plan to have the RCMP train Egypt's security forces. It is a shame that they have committed millions of dollars in grants to "develop youth and women employment" by a regime that has targeted youth and women for some of the worst human rights abuses. It is a shame that our defense minister visited his Egyptian counterpart to discuss counter terrorism efforts when the Egyptian regime is a perpetrator of terrorism rather than an ally against it.

I can already here the usual voices ridiculing this criticism of Western governments in general and Canada's in particular. The usual arguments will be made about Egyptian's "victim mentality," the need for Western pragmatism and engagement, and the rejection of any moral culpability on the part of Western governments. This would be well and good if not for three compelling considerations.

The first is the direct and immediate contribution of Western governments to the coup. Mohamed El Baradie, the man who did more than anyone else to provide the military with a veneer of civilian responsibility has openly stated that he spent months getting Western governmental buy in for the coup before it went ahead. These governments can hardly wash their hands of the mess that has resulted from their own actions and support.

The second is the clear and present danger presented by Egypt's present trajectory. When the pressing, immediate, and constant questions are when and how the next revolution will come, you can be quite certain that the status quo is unsustainable. But without concerted effort from those who can, the explosion of those who can't is neither predictable nor, when it inevitably happens, controllable. Allowing a country of 100 million people with enormous strategic and historic weight to become a powder keg with the fuse already lit is a recipe for disaster that will not be simply contained within the region but will have repercussions far beyond Egypt's borders.

Out of sheer self-interest, Western governments must exert every ounce of pressure at their disposal to dictate two things: individual security for all Egyptians, and some means of controlling the rampant corruption of the present regime. Only when these basic requirements have been imposed, and sadly they can only be imposed from the outside, can Egyptians have a real chance to heal a polarized society, bring about real development, and address their countries intractable problems.

And finally Western governments need to understand the real impact of continuing to hypocritically and blatantly betray our own values. Turning specifically to the Canadian government, its current course of action provides the most brutal regime in Egypt's recent history with finance, logistical support, and respectability. If in return for all of this we can't even bring home a Canadian citizen like Sarah Attia together with her family, let alone bring about the release of the tens of thousands of political prisoners, target assassinations carried out by government forces, and massive human rights violations and repression, then it is time to pull out.

To fail so completely in living up to our declared values is to directly feed into the narrative not only of today's enemies such as the so-called ISIS, but into the narrative of potentially more explosive extremists yet to come.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

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