ISTANBUL -- Egypt is no stranger to criticism from the U.S. and other countries for its violent crackdowns on protests. But as attention turns to protests raging in Ferguson, Missouri, over the police killing of an unarmed black teen, Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued some criticism of its own, sending out a statement to the press Tuesday urging “restraint and respect for the right of assembly and peaceful expression of opinion.”
It’s a bold statement, considering Egypt's own bleak human rights record, as well as its now-shaky relationship with the U.S., a longtime financier of the Egyptian military.
With the 2011 revolution a thing of the past, it is now illegal for Egyptians to protest without prior permission from authorities. Thousands of people -- suspected supporters of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, revolutionary activists, Egyptian and foreign journalists and academics alike -- have been locked up, often without fair trials. Protesters have been targeted and killed en masse (Aug.14 marked the one-year anniversary of the Rabaa massacre, in which security forces killed at least 800 demonstrators). Human Rights Watch, whose staff were deported from Egypt last week, said the killings likely amounted to crimes against humanity.
Egyptians, as well as people from all over the Middle East, have been expressing solidarity with the Ferguson protesters and offering tips on how to curb the effects of teargas. Demonstrators in Ferguson have been arrested, and journalists detained, intimidated and restricted from covering events on the ground. Meanwhile, police in Ferguson look like they’re armed for combat.
Egypt said it's keeping a close eye on the whole thing. Here’s a translation of the full Arabic statement from Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
“In response to a question by the Middle East News Agency on the escalating protests in the city of Ferguson in the state of Missouri as a result of the killing of the young American Michael Brown by police:
The Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated that we are closely following the escalation of protests and demonstrations in the city of Ferguson and the reactions to them. He pointed out U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s statements, which reflect the international community’s stance toward these events, especially what the secretary general mentioned in regard to restraint and respect for the right of assembly and peaceful expression of opinion and his hope that ongoing investigations shed light on the killing of the American youth and that justice will be enforced, in addition to him urging authorities to deal with the protests according to American and international standards.”
For some people on Twitter, the irony was hard to ignore:
From the nation that brought you 1,100 deaths in 1 day: Egypt's foreign ministry urging US police to show restraint in #Ferguson.
— Nancy Youssef, نانسى (@nancyayoussef) August 19, 2014
— H.A. Hellyer د. إتش (@hahellyer) August 19, 2014
For sake of consistency, Egy foreign ministry should have condemned the blocking of roads in Ferguson,somehow linked it to violence in Sinai
— Basil الضبع (@basildabh) August 19, 2014
#Ferguson will definitely be used by the Egypt regime and its supporters.
— The Big Pharaoh (@TheBigPharaoh) August 14, 2014
May Kamel contributed reporting from Cairo.