Letting Egypt Abuse Code Pink Leader

The U.S. State Department, which – in just the past year – has made excuses for violent coups toppling democratically elected leaders in Egypt and Ukraine, showed more disdain for democracy by tolerating Egypt’s mistreatment of U.S. peace activist Medea Benjamin, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

For several months, the peace organization Code Pink was in communication with Egyptian diplomatic representatives in the United States to arrange the arrival of approximately 100 women from around the globe who would go to Egypt and then travel up to the Rafah border crossing with Gaza. If prevented from crossing into the besieged territory, they would hold a demonstration on International Women’s Day (March 8) to show solidarity with the women of Gaza.

One of the principal organizers of this event was the well-known peace activist Medea Benjamin, winner of such awards as the Martin Luther King Peace Prize (2010), the Marjorie Kellogg National Peacemaker Award (2012), the Thomas Merton Center Peace Award (2012), and the Peace Foundation Memorial Award (2012). Benjamin is, as the Los Angeles Times put it, “One of the high profile leaders” of the American peace movement.

Code Pink leader Medea Benjamin.

Code Pink leader Medea Benjamin.

Here then was the situation: We had a nationally known personality traveling to Egypt for a publicly scheduled and well-advertised peace mission. The Egyptian government knew she was on her way and it is probable that the U.S. government also knew her plans.
Benjamin, along with several other members of Code Pink, arrived at Cairo’s international airport about 8 p.m. on March 3. In her own words here is what happened next:

“I arrived at the airport. When I gave in my passport, I was taken aside, brought into a separate room, where I was held for seven hours without anybody ever telling me what was wrong. Then I was put into a jail cell at the airport, held overnight. And in the morning, five very scary-looking men came in and wanted to take me away. And I said, the [U.S.] embassy is coming. They were supposed to have arrived. Instead, the men dragged me out, tackled me to the ground, jumped on me, handcuffed my wrists so tight that they started bleeding, and then dislocated my shoulder, and then kept me like that grabbing my arm.”

In the meantime, both the Code Pink members who had accompanied Benjamin to Egypt as well as those in the U.S. were pleading for help from the U.S. embassy in Cairo. They would continue to plead for some 13 hours. The embassy refused any assistance, telling the women that they “were on their own.”

To this day Benjamin has not received any explanation for the incident from either the Egyptians or the Americans.

When an official at the Egyptian Interior Ministry, Brigadier Alaa Mahmoud, was asked about the incident by CNN, he replied, “Benjamin was not detained. She was denied entry because her stated reason for visiting Egypt was to make a trip to Gaza. Authorities explained to her that the crossing was closed and consequently refused to allow her to enter the country.” He denied that she was assaulted or that force was used on her.

Mahmoud did not explain how Benjamin ended up on a plane to Turkey with a broken arm and a dislocated shoulder. Further, he did not explain why many other Code Pink women coming to Egypt for the same purpose as Benjamin were allowed entry into Egypt? Maybe it was because CNN did not ask these questions.

Who Has Responsibility?

Here is what I surmise happened. Medea Benjamin’s horrid treatment was not a mistake. It was not the action of a few rogue border officials. It was a premeditated act on the part of the military dictatorship that now passes for a government in Egypt.

Who gave the orders? No doubt this plot started in Washington when someone, probably a security officer attached to the visa department at the Egyptian embassy, recognized Benjamin’s name. He alerted someone in Cairo that a major supporter of the Palestinians and someone who had spoken up for democracy across the region was coming to Egypt. Then someone in Cairo decided to make an example of her.

The next question is: Would you do that to a high-profile American activist without running the scheme by some relevant U.S. official? I guess that depends on just how cocky the Egyptian security folks have gotten. However, considering the reaction (or lack thereof) of the U.S. embassy personnel in Cairo, it sure looks like the U.S. government was in on the plot. And, if they were, one has to ask the question why.

After all, when an American embassy gets a call from a U.S. citizen who has just been assaulted and harmed to the point that they need hospitalization, the standard policy is to render assistance. If necessary an embassy representative is dispatched to the scene to ensure such assistance. To deny such aid is so counter to policy that any embassy employee doing so is putting their job in jeopardy.

Unless, of course, someone higher up has explicitly changed the rules. That is unlikely to have been done on the spur of the moment by someone at the embassy in Cairo. Such a negation of policy would have had to come from someone relatively high up in the Department of State or perhaps the White House.

There is actually precedence for this flip-flopping of the rules, and it is found at the U.S. embassy in the country of Israel. As the American activist Rachel Corrie and others who have protested Israeli treatment of Palestinians have discovered, in Israel the denial of assistance to U.S. citizens in trouble is the rule, not the exception. That might now be the case in Egypt too. (Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer on March 16, 2003, when she tried to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian house.)

As a matter of training and policy American diplomatic personnel are not supposed to cooperate with the hired thugs of Egyptian dictators or the military murderers of various regimes ranging from South and Central America to the Eastern Mediterranean. They are not supposed to conspire in the denial of the rights of American citizens just because they, or their bosses, disapprove of the political positions and actions of those citizens. To do so is to utterly trash the U.S. Constitution.

But we know that in practice our diplomats are quite capable of doing just this. And, while you will never get the bureaucrats to admit it, I am pretty sure that there are government officials both in Washington and the U.S. Embassy in Cairo who conspired with the thugs now employed by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to drag the U.S. flag through the mire by turning their backs on Medea Benjamin. There should be consequences for such treason.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

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16 comments on “Letting Egypt Abuse Code Pink Leader

  1. Larry McGovern on said:

    Please provide the names and addresses of the Cairo embassy and D.C. State Dept. office that one can write to to protest this awful treatment.

  2. F. G. Sanford on said:

    We’ve just witnessed the leader of Europe’s first openly white supremacist government in seventy years warmly welcomed in Washington, DC by America’s first Black President. That Medea Benjamin was treated any worse by Egyptian authorities than Occupy protestors were treated in New York City is difficult to determine. It seems likely that our government may have suggested the specific treatment involved. Please note that Hillary is, and will remain silent on this issue. For those American women who boast that they are “Ready for Hillary”, please pay attention.

  3. Egypt was a distinct situation, they were kidnapping and torturing people, spying on people and jailing/executing people for purely political reasons. It was a true expression of democracy, as was the ouster of the Muslim brotherhood (which America installed to fit their own narrative). Democracy in action should not be lumped in with what is happening elsewhere.

    • F. G. Sanford on said:

      Egypt was a distinct situation, they were kidnapping and torturing people, spying on people and jailing/executing people for purely political reasons.

      Afghanistan was a distinct situation, they were kidnapping and torturing people, spying on people and jailing/executing people for purely political reasons.

      Iraq was a distinct situation, they were kidnapping and torturing people, spying on people and jailing/executing people for purely political reasons.

      Yemen was a distinct situation, they were kidnapping and torturing people, spying on people and jailing/executing people for purely political reasons.

      Pakistan was a distinct situation, they were kidnapping and torturing people, spying on people and jailing/executing people for purely political reasons.

      Somalia was a distinct situation, they were kidnapping and torturing people, spying on people and jailing/executing people for purely political reasons.

      Excuse me, but exactly which organization are we talking about here?

      • Jonny James on said:

        The Egyptians, with the aid and support of the US/Israel/Saudi rogue govts. , routinely violate the human rights of Palestinians. The Egyptian govt. (like the Kiev govt.) is an illegitimate coup govt. One cannot expect an illegal, brutal regime to respect human rights or the law.

        The US govt. does not abide by its own laws, let alone intl. laws. This is normal behavior for Israel/Egypt. (the Israelis have murdered US citizens before, with no support from their own country, for that matter Israeli citizens receive more financial benefits per capita from the US govt. than US citizens do.)

        If we want to stop this madness, we need to stop the systems and structures that support and enable the lawlessness. Sure what happened to Medea is deplorable, but it’s insignificant compared to the atrocities being done with our taxes.
        Recall that the US president reserves the right to murder anyone, US citizen or not.

      • Jonny James on said:

        Sorry FG Sanford, I double posted. I meant to post for your response;

        Well put! and now we can add Ukraine (less Crimea)

  4. 0jr@zero.com on said:

    I dont believe 1 word of it i think the story is fake and they just keet her away from the real violence

  5. Jonny James on said:

    The Egyptians, with the aid and support of the US/Israel/Saudi rogue govts. , routinely violate the human rights of Palestinians. The Egyptian govt. (like the Kiev govt.) is an illegitimate coup govt. One cannot expect an illegal, brutal regime to respect human rights or the law.

    The US govt. does not abide by its own laws, let alone intl. laws. This is normal behavior for Israel/Egypt. (the Israelis have murdered US citizens before, with no support from their own country, for that matter Israeli citizens receive more financial benefits per capita from the US govt. than US citizens do.)

    If we want to stop this madness, we need to stop the systems and structures that support and enable the lawlessness. Sure what happened to Medea is deplorable, but it’s insignificant compared to the atrocities being done with our taxes.
    Recall that the US president reserves the right to murder anyone, US citizen or not.

  6. jaycee on said:

    Two Canadians – including a well-known filmmaker – were detained and roughed up by the Egyptian authorities last August. They were also attempting to travel to Gaza. They spent 51 days in an Egyptian jail with the authorities threatening “terrorism” charges against them, before finally being released in October. The Canadian government monitored the situation with a distinct lack of urgency.

  7. Lumpentroll on said:

    NGO’s are commonly used as fronts for/by US intelligence. Everyone in Egypt — and also Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Russia, Yemen, Iran, etc. understands this perfectly by now. A good journalist should insist on explicating this detail unless his purpose is propaganda.

    Ms. Benjamin is well aware of the circumstances and context of her visit. Her explanation does not sound credible.

    At best, it is possible that Ms. Benjamin was a willing dupe, allowed by US officials to make her trip so as to test the mood of Egyptian authorities.

    But really who cares? And who do these professional roving globalist NGO do-gooders think they are? What is their peculiar mindset in terms of their chosen targets given that the United States is the world’s number exporter of militarism and fascism? Why isn’t Ms. Benjamin protesting the actions of her government at the Cuba-Guantano border? Even if we assume she has good intentions, does she really believe that the people of Gaza or Palestine are waiting to be liberated by a Jewish American activist from Code Pink?

    At the very best, Ms. Benjamin feels responsibility from the brutal treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli Aparthied regime. She likely worries that the unremmitting brutality of the Occupation has turned 85% of the world against Israel and she understands that this isolation undermines the viability of the Jewish State and will ultimately be terminal to the Zionist dream.

    Which is certainly apparent as the whole world now sees Israel as a state run by local gangsters for the benefit of other gangsters — and glory seeking types from further afield.

    • more lies about Israel. There is no apartheid-there are Arab citizens serving in the Judiciary, government, and military. The real apartheid exists in the arab world. No or a minute few live in most of those countries, do not serve in any capacity, women are less than second class citizens, no civil rights, the list goes on and on.

  8. I am appalled at the treatment that Medea Benjamin received at the hands of the Egyptian Government (ur Military). That our Government/Embassy failed to protect and support her lets us know that we now travel at our own peril.

  9. This was Obama’s revenge against Benjamin for her effrontery in shouting out questions about people he’s assassinated by drones during a speech of his in May 2013.
    See “Obama Has Egyptian Military Regime Break American Peace Activist’s Arm”
    http://jasonzenith.blogspot.com/2014/03/obama-has-egyptian-military-regime.html

  10. Paul G. on said:

    It strikes me as somewhat presumptuous and naive for Ms. Benjamin to enter what has been demonstrated to be a brutal dictatorial country to protest the actions of its neighbor-which said dictatorial government seems to agree with- and not expect some bruises. In a way she is emulating the arrogance and intrusiveness of her own Federal Government in messing in someone else’ business. How very American.

    Seeing as her own government probably had a dirty hand in all this, as well as definitively in Israeli atrocities and Egyptian nefariousness; as an American it would be more appropriate, constructive and less arrogant for her to concentrate her protests inside the belly of the beast, which is backing all of this. In other words stay home and bugger up the slime balls in DC and AIPAC.

  11. i believe it was more like protective custody ,why don’t we get any injury reports on her return ect I believe she is a crypto zionist and hid out while the real protesters risked thier lives and injured