Ellison says he supports protesters in Egypt

A protester gestures in front of a burning barricade during a demonstration in Cairo.
REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
A protester gestures in front of a burning barricade during a demonstration in Cairo.

WASHINGTON — Rep. Keith Ellison, the highest-level U.S. government official so far to offer public support, today said he stands with the people of Egypt as protesters have taken over the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and other northern cities in defiance of President Hosni Mubarak.

“Ppl of Egypt DESERVE freedom; I stand w/ them. Yes, I urge the gov’t of Egypt to stop violence, excessive force,” Ellison tweeted Friday morning, shortly before a curfew was imposed in Egypt and the Egyptian military was ordered to take over the streets and quell the protests. Egyptian officials shut off Internet access in the country, and gunfire can be heard in the streets.

So far, the U.S. government has strived to take a neutral stance that leans toward the incumbent government. Officials in the White House and State Department have so far called for calm, non-violence and talks.

Protesters have accused the Mubarak government of oppression, calling him a “dictator” who allows only a token, toothless opposition but no dissent. Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning former head of the UN’s nuclear inspections agency, has returned to Egypt in opposition to the Mubarak government and, at one point, was fired on by Egyptian officials with water cannons and tear gas and has now been confined to a mosque.

“Let’s DO something,” Ellison tweeted again. “10k ltrs [letters] to WH urging pressure on Egyptian govt to release of M. El-Baradei, stop violence against protestors. C’mon!” 

Anti-government protests have spread in North Africa and the Middle East after a successful uprising in Tunisia, and field reporters on the Al Jazeera television network broadcasting from Egypt said the leadership change in Tunisia has inspired protesters in Egypt who have taken over police stations, lit government buildings and vehicles on fire and are presently defying an imposed curfew.

The U.S. has backed Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, for much of his 30-year reign in that country — especially following Egypt’s decision to normalize relations with Israel — and Vice President Joe Biden said recently that he considers Mubarak an “ally.”

According to The Guardian in London, leaked State Department cables confirmed the U.S. provides Egypt with $1.3 billion annually to finance its military — the same military that is now trying to quell protests on the streets.

Yet Thursday, the White House pivoted slightly, stressing that it had pressed Mubarak’s government on human rights issues.

“This isn’t a choice between the government and the people of Egypt,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. “Egypt, we know — and President Mubarak has for several decades been a close and important partner with our country.  And every time the President meets with President Mubarak — and I would point you to the speech in Cairo in 2009 where the President also specifically addresses this, as well as the readout that we put out on the September meeting that the President had with President Mubarak as part of the Middle East peace process — that we consistently have advocated for the universal rights of assembly, of free speech, of political reform.  All of those are important and we have at every turn encouraged President Mubarak to find a way to engender that political discourse in a positive way.  And we will continue to do that.”

For more coverage of this, I’d suggest the English-language Al Jazeera tv network, which is livestreamed online here.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 01/28/2011 - 12:26 pm.

    I blame it on Al Gore’s corn to ethanol push for (Al Gore now admits) political reasons. One third of the US corn crop is now used to make ethanol resulting in far higher food costs, especially in developing countries. These started out as food riots just as the French Revolution did.

  2. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 01/28/2011 - 10:44 pm.

    The soul of Wellstone must be resting on your shoulder Ellison…thanks to you Minnesota still has a congressman that gives one hope.

  3. Submitted by Debbie Gibbons on 01/29/2011 - 06:44 am.

    s o s Clinton told US people to respect peaceful protest. The only ones in the world not doing that is CNN, FOX and MSNBC . THe news reporting continues to show yesterdays protest of fire and scrambling in the streets when at present, breaking news today is a sunny day of peaceful protest. We all need to call for truth and live coverage. It is a crime to show breaking news as violence when there is total peace at the time. World TV ON LINE IS SHOWING THE TRUTH . How are we to trust US news?

  4. Submitted by William Pappas on 01/29/2011 - 08:17 am.

    Prior to the US invasion of Iraq and ill advised nation building in Afghanistan, Arab moderates in Egypt, Iran and Lebanon were gaining power and influence. Bush’s freedom foreign policy in the MidEast produced a hardline backlash in all those countries. The Muslim Brotherhood gained tremendous support as a result of America’s presence and aggressive, violent foreign policy and Mubarak eventually suspended elections because of the rising radicalism. These riots are a direct result of forces unleashed by America’s decision to occupy Arab countries. The problem now will be that democratically elected governments may in effect become theocracies as Muslim extremist are elected to office in response to the repressive policies of corrupt governments once friendly to the United States. America must face up to the fact that they cannot control the direction of every Mid East nation politically.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 01/30/2011 - 08:03 am.

    Deja vu all over again.

    from the BBC:

    “The Shah never returned to Iran. He died in exile in Egypt in 1980.

    Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran on 1 February after 14 years’ exile.

    He threw out Dr Bahktiar’s government on 11 February and, after a referendum, declared an Islamic Republic on 1 April.

    Khomeini guided his country’s revolutionary social, legal, and political development until his death in 1989.

    He presided over the country during the Iran/Iraq war, only reluctantly agreeing a ceasefire. He also issued a fatwa against author Salman Rushdie.

    Two decades later, liberals ushered in a period of transformation with their election victory in 2000 over the conservative elite.

    But reformist president Mohammad Khatami was at odds with hardliners, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and failed to make good on his promises.

    He was replaced by the ultra-conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2005.

    President Bush declared Iran part of an “axis of evil” in 2002. Washington accused Tehran of attempting to develop nuclear weapons,although Iran says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.

    Tehran resumed its uranium conversion process in 2005, provoking a diplomatic showdown with the international community.”

  6. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 01/30/2011 - 02:45 pm.

    Realnews latest coverage tells the history of Egypt’s protests through the interview of one Egyptian student of literature in the U.S. working on his masters degree as he speaks on realnews.com:

    …Many may not remember the long history of discontent over Mubarak’s dictatorial leadership that has evolved into the present crisis which is a mutual empowerment among academics, workers, business, students; judges too, determined to oust their leader so fortified by our policies embedded with an enormous military funds buildup for Mubarak’s regime.

    And Clinton says so simply, “dialogue” is the solution? No kidding…but how to get there from here? Not by more military interference or ‘looking down on’ as if we had the answers in this ‘winter of our own discontent’ also; but sans violence I hope.

    Whisper a little louder please Hilary, but good to remember too, our hands are a bit soiled here in the history of Egypt’s oppression?

    Whose millions? How did all our money and military support help to build up such a dictatorial regime? Why do we always speak ‘democracy’ and support dictators at the same time?

    Somebody better define what we mean by ‘democracy’.

    The conditions of oppression exist. Diverse citizen groups are now joined and determined to follow through as chaos and calm blink neon in the streets.

    Meanwhile back at Pennsylvania Avenue Hilary taps her foot and her pencil too – a nervous ‘mentor-figure’ with a stern face – as she plays teacher, teacher telling the world “democracy is the answer”.

    Tell us about it teacher. Define it clearly. “Dialogue” won’t come that easily if we don’t clarify our intentions and redefine the meaning of democracy.

    Its’ not exploitation of others. It’s not we ‘over’ them. It’s not elitism, exceptionalism as some believe. We are just more of the same; human souls with so many diverse and not all honorable ambitions and not all of them democratic?

    How about you too, Obama…we counted on you?

Leave a Reply