Group uses democratic rhetoric to push its own agenda

The Egyptian military’s ongoing crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters was not unexpected by the international community after the military coup that deposed Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president in Egypt. But new opposition to the group comes as a surprise to many. The Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies is coming forth to speak against the Brotherhood and hopes to gain American support as it does so.

Since 1985, the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies has been working for advancements in social sciences and economics in the Arab region, with particular focus in Egypt. The center has been celebrated for its promotion of democracy and human rights, but it has certainly changed its views recently as it publically supports the military regime in Egypt that has widely oppressed, silenced, and killed members of the opposition and the media that seeks to cover the regime.   

Dalia Ziada, executive director of the Ibn Khaldun Center, told UN Watch delegates during the Summit for Human Rights and Democracy in February, “I am here to assure you that what is happening in Egypt now should bring a lot of optimism, not only for Egypt, but for the whole region… after struggling for all these years, we are on the right path for democracy.”

But how can a country be considered on the path to democracy when its first democratically elected president is ousted by the military? Why would an institution that claims to work for democracy and human rights such as the Ibn Khaldun Center make such a claim?

This is particularly curious when the chairman of the center, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, is noted by the Human Rights Defenders Initiative as saying, “the West ought to be consistent and stay the course by continuing to promote democracy regardless of which groups gain political power – there should be nothing episodic.”

These contradictions presented by the heads of the institution raise questions of what it has stood for in the past and what it is actually standing for now. The core values of the organization are supposed to be the development and democracy of countries in the region; however, Ziada seems to prove that these values have changed.

During an interview with the Wilson Center, Ziada held that the military actions on July of last year were not a coup, and that the country is in fact better off, despite the human rights violations committed by the interim government

Perhaps understanding the center’s change of heart may be easier in light of Egypt’s 2011 revolution and the fact that Ziada ran for parliament. Following the revolution, Ziada co-founded a political party and attempted to run for a seat in parliament, but she was unsuccessful. Since her parliamentary loss she has been focusing on the 2022 elections, when it is believed she will run for president.  

The sudden interest of the center to brand the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization instead of a viable and popularly supported political party could reasonably be related to Ziada’s political aspirations.

Seeking to secure the United States as an ally in eliminating political opposition, the Ibn Khaldun Center is specifically making a trip to the United States this month to urge Congress to label the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. In fact, the center is focusing exclusively on possible human rights violations carried out by the Brotherhood; despite the atrocities and violations perpetrated by the interim government. 

Ziada has claimed that to achieve democracy it is necessary for “all factions and groups” to “take part in it”; nevertheless, she is attempting to ban any opposition which may stand in the way of her being elected from taking part in such a process.

The Ibn Khaldun Center’s attempt to exclude completely the Muslim Brotherhood and push for the American government to label them as a terrorist organization is not an act toward democracy or human rights, but rather toward achieving its personal goals. Thus, it appears that the institution is willing to work with an undemocratic government which has consistently oppressed and abused the Egyptian people in order to favor its own agenda—all in the name of democracy and human rights.

Congress cannot stand idle and allow itself to be influenced by an organization that has turned its back on the democratic transformation of Egypt. The Ibn Khaldun Center’s visit to the United States should be considered for what it truly is: a power play to gain support for its interests. Their true cause should not be hidden underneath the image of democracy and human rights, but instead it should be seen for its complete disregard for the democratic process and the Egyptian people.

Shehata is vice president of the Egyptian Americans for Democracy and Human Rights.

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