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Getting cold feet?

By Philip Whitfield CAIRO: The deed was done. At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst, Aristotle counseled. Justice in Egypt demands its day in court. The law is tricky. How best to banish evil is the bugbear. Egypt relies on poetic justice, applying a …

By Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: The deed was done. At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst, Aristotle counseled. Justice in Egypt demands its day in court. The law is tricky.

How best to banish evil is the bugbear. Egypt relies on poetic justice, applying a punishment to fit the crime — retribution, much advocated in the 19th century by philosophers such as Kant.

We’re witnessing the demise of talion, the English word that describes punishment meted out to match the offense. Gandhi said an eye for an eye eventually makes the whole world blind.

These days more influential is Dr. Michael Davis, the eminent American professor of law, ethics and political philosophy. In his view punishment should match the wrongdoer’s gain.

The military is accused of serious crimes against the people. YouTube and the testimony of countless describe the murder and inhuman beating of hundreds of innocents. It can’t be swept under the rug.

The military tried bombast to get them out of a tight corner. As King Charles I said: Never make a defense or apology before you are accused.

Secretary of State Clinton’s used the words systematic degradation to condemn them. In the same breath she chose criminal to describe the Egyptian junta.

Mrs. Clinton is a well-qualified lawyer. She graduated Yale Law School in 1973; was twice recognized as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America. She understands the legal nuances of public accusation.

Her specificity stirred the military council to apologize. But you can’t get off a murder charge telling the cops you’re sorry. Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both, Clinton’s erstwhile mentor Eleanor Roosevelt said.

The perpetrators can be held to account in Egypt and face retributive justice. Faith in that is flimsy. Tyrants such as the Serbs have to defend themselves in courts established for the purpose: the United Nations’ World Court and the European Court of Human Rights.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague has considered genocide, the systematic destruction of a people. See how Mrs. Clinton mirrored that word systematic.

The ruling generals risk future prosecution for complicity in serious crimes unless they put an end to violence now and bring the perpetrators to justice, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said, describing the crackdown as vicious.

If Egypt’s leaders bury their heads in the sand, the malcontents — the families of those killed by snipers and bullies — will drag them out for public airing.

The drumbeat to change US policy towards Egypt echoes through newspapers across America. The syndicated Miami Herald columnist Frida Ghitis writes that President Obama missed an opportunity to put the squeeze on Mubarak in February 2010 — alerted by Middle East experts who identified a turning point.

Let’s hope Washington uses its influence wisely this time, Ghitis says, linking foreign policy to the fortune she notes America spends in Egypt every day — words read by hundreds of candidates prepping up for re-election, including Obama.

Americans need to embrace the courage we see in those who are fed up but don’t resort to violence, who protest with soul force, writes Ron McDonald in Memphis. If there is ever a time for military action, it is not while courage stands so tall, for military action against bullies gives in to the rage that feeds cowardly behavior.

If the international community fails to follow up, they are partners to the crime. Argentina avoided uncomfortable truths for 40 years. Last year 82-year-old General Reynaldo Bignone, a puppet president in 1982 was found guilty of torture, murder and kidnapping during the wilderness years between 1976 and 1978. Hundreds of victims’ relatives testified at the trial.

Recognizing the past was more difficult for Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge’s chief torturer Kang Kew lew was captured and tried for crimes against humanity in 2009, almost 40 years after the regime killed 2 million Cambodians.

If, as Egypt’s military says nothing is wrong, they have nothing to fear. If they can’t or won’t face the allegations they are convicted, in absentia.

There’s another consideration. The Brotherhood blinked. Their Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) rejected calls for the military council to bring forward presidential elections to January. Absent explanation, we can surmise.

The FJP is in a much tougher fight with the Salafis than they’d anticipated. If they acquiesce with popular demands to join the government soon, the barrenness of their economic policies will be laid bare. Their liberal partners in the election list will want to water down the FJP’s pro-Islam social agenda. That’s what happened in Turkey.

Second the Muslim Brothers probably want to be seen as squeaky clean, not making an end run to win office. More likely they want the military junta to stew in its own juice. Moody’s downgraded Egypt’s credit rating and warned it could cut the rating further, citing the unsettled political situation undermining investor confidence.

A consortium of oil companies, including BP handed back to the government its option to exploit the South East July Concession in Egypt, in itself not a big deal and part of a larger withdrawal as world demand fore energy slumps. But it portends the difficulties ahead.

The falling-out with America is more likely influencing the Brothers’ tactics. After blaring down her foghorn in Washington, Mrs. Clinton picked up the phone and called the Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri direct to register deep US unease about the situation, particularly the attacks on women.

That indicates regular diplomacy between the American Embassy and the Foreign Ministry is tottery. America is enraged. The White House weighed in with tough talk as well. Those responsible for the violence, including security personnel should be brought to account, the spokesman said.

Egypt’s reaction? Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr rejected US interference in Egypt’s internal affairs.

Who was the last person Washington sent to press the flesh in Egypt? Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, here less than a fortnight ago. With whom? The Muslim Brotherhood. What did he say? I’m not surprised at your election success.


Keep your hands off the treaty with Israel, which is another reason for the Brotherhood’s coyness.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based commentator.


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