By Salama A Salama
Sometimes we wonder why the world takes such an acute interest in our affairs. What difference does it make, we ask, whether we observe human rights, respect women, or avoid sectarian strife? Why is it, we ask, that Egypt is always on the spot? Why does the world get so uptight about Nagaa Hammadi?
The world, it seems, has developed a tendency to stick its nose into our affairs. Something would happen and immediately you get the State Department, the European Parliament, Human Rights Watch and what have you hard on our case. Then you get people from religious freedom groups, some of which are affiliated to the US Congress, landing in Egypt, asking questions and demanding audiences with the pope. Not to forget the demonstrations of Coptic expatriates in front of our embassies.
You'd wonder: why don't they just leave us alone? As it is, we are not the only ones with sectarian strife and violence. There are countries far more troubled than we are. There are countries with more persecution and worse discrimination than anything we have here. Look at Nigeria, Libya, Iraq, to mention just a few. Why is it that we keep getting singled out for rebuke?
The comforting excuse that is often used is that Zionists are on our case, or the European far right is out to get us. We are just victims to the ill intentions of others. And anyway, these are private matters that outsiders should not step into. This is our country and we are free to do as we please. Right?
Actually, this attitude is no longer acceptable anywhere in the modern world. Remember the case of the offending Danish cartoons? Remember how we got up in arms and sent emissaries to the entire world to protest? And when Switzerland banned minarets, didn't we send parliamentarians over there to tell the Swiss how wrong they were?
Let's agree that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If we protest when others offend us, then others can protest when we offend them. We have agreements with Europe and America in which we promised to respect human rights and uphold religious tolerance. So it is not exactly "none of their business". We cannot treat binding agreements as mere scraps of paper dispensable at will.
Egypt is central to the region and proud of it. With such stature comes responsibility. Egypt is influential in its region, not only in politics but also in many other ways. If we have good governance in this country others may think it is a good idea too.
One other thing: the world is not going to forget that much of the terrorism and Islamic fanaticism we see around us came -- and perhaps still comes -- from this country. So any progress made here may inspire others around the region.
It is true that the scope of freedom in this country has increased over the years. But the more freedom we get, the more security restraints are imposed. Recently, we arrested rights activists and bloggers for going to Nagaa Hammadi to offer their condolences. Such behaviour undermines our credibility around the world.
When it comes to human rights and religious tolerance, we cannot speak from both sides of our mouth. A government that abuses the rights of its own citizens exposes itself to international outrage.
Human rights councils abroad exist to ensure that international laws and regulations are observed. Here, we still regard the National Council for Human Rights as a semi- governmental agency. This has to change. Until we achieve freedom and democracy in this country the world will keep berating us.