Saturday, February 5, 2011

Basu: Egyptian in Iowa: Drop Mubarak

Hossam Albashrawi has seen what Egyptian police are capable of and that's why he's now in Iowa. But these days, as a mix of hope and chaos rules the streets back home, and the government dangles on the verge of collapse, the distance between Ankeny and Alexandria weighs like a club.

Albashrawi, 27, was in his first year of surgical residency in Egypt when police last June allegedly beat his friend, Khalid Said (alternately spelled Saeed) to death. Said had posted a video online showing some officers illicitly sharing drugs seized in a raid. The next day, as people watched, he was dragged from a cyber cafe into the streets, where his head was smashed and he was left for dead. The incident became a rallying cry for reform; a Canadian paper calls Said "one of the two faces that stoked the flames of revolution" in the region. The other was the unemployed Tunisian who burned himself alive, triggering revolts that toppled a 23-year government there.
Albashrawi said he had urged Said to post the video to expose police corruption. The officers denied the beating and said his friend died of suffocating from swallowing drugs. But photos sneaked out of the morgue showed his badly battered face. The officers have yet to be prosecuted.

Amid fears police would come after Said's friends, Albashrawi in August moved to Iowa on a student visa. He hopes to attend the University of Iowa medical school so he can practice surgery in America. In preparation, he's taking courses at DMACC. He lives on the Ankeny campus.
Unable to reach Egypt by phone this past week, he says he can't eat, sleep or focus. He gets together with another Egyptian student to watch the news; one will start crying, then the other.

He fears for his brothers, somewhere out there among the police and masses, which include 10,000 newly released criminals. He fears for his father, a retired Army colonel, who could be wrongly targeted. And though desperate for an end to the rule of President Hosni Mubarak, he fears for Egypt if the Muslim Brotherhood assumes power.
Under a 30-year state of emergency, Mubarak is said to have rigged elections and banned political parties and protests. Torture and killings take place with impunity. But the Muslim Brotherhood would, in Albashrawi's words, drive Egypt back to the Stone Age - flouting civil liberties, women's rights and political freedoms. His best hope, and the leader he thinks we should support, is Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate and retired head of the International Atomic Energy Commission.
Much has been said about the bind the Egyptian situation puts the Obama administration in because of our conflicting interests in democracy vs. stability in the region. There's no bind. We must stand with pro-democracy forces, even though we supported Mubarak all these years. This is a chance to affect our long-term security and goodwill in the region. As rebellion spreads through Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan and Lebanon, we must show civilians we support their drive for rights and representation.
Our loyalty to Mubarak has in large part been driven by our wish to buffer Israel against Hamas and Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is urging countries not to abandon Mubarak. But we cannot prop up a government that has lost legitimacy.

Albashrawi has an appeal to the American public: Your tax money is paying to keep in power dictators who torture their own people. "Please don't support such regimes."

As voters who do get a say, we can use ours to help others get theirs.