Thursday, February 03, 2011

Targeting Journalists In Egypt, Prelude To A Violent Crackdown

The escalating violence in Egypt as Mubarak thugs and provocateurs are unleashed into peaceful crowds needs to be dialed back before the situation spirals out of control. Most disturbing of all is the rising death toll and what appears to be the beginnings of a crackdown by the military. The Mubarak thugs are now targeting journalists with the usual trumped-up accusations that they're foreign agents working to undermine the regime.

It's always the same story when a repressive regime begins to lose its grip on power. It goes something like this: International pressure leans on the dictator to show restraint against the demonstrators, from the President of the United States to the UN Secretary General, with little effect. The regime publicly promises restraint, but at the same time, behind the scenes, unleashes its thugs against the demonstrators. The regime's attempt to shut off the internet failed. The regime could not stop twitter and cell phones from broadcasting the events on the street. Al Jazeera has a live nonstop feed, and all the major U.S. and international news organizations are on the scene. The international media are shining a spotlight on the violence, which has escalated to gunfire. Now, with its back against the wall the regime plans a major crackdown. Every military dictatorship has the same MO: Suppress the media and the semi-free flow of information before turning its guns on the people. Only journalists stand in the way. And they're very exposed. They've been beaten, detained, threatened, and hospitalized with serious injuries, all in the space of one day.

This is intolerable. It's incumbent upon President Obama to publicly and forcefully warn Mubarak to not harm journalists, who are there to tell the story, and to immediately deescalate the violence. No one is more imperiled than journalists in a chaotic, violent situation in which they can't even count on the relative protection of large numbers of people. Mr. President, please do not allow the Egyptian crisis to degenerate into another Tiananmen Square. Your silence on this matter will embolden violence against the media first, followed by terrible violent repression of the demonstrators. It could be a blood bath. Tell Mubarak: Stop the killing. Cease the violence. Step down. NOW.

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