In the World

Praying for Egypt isn't enough

It always feels a bit odd to me to pray for justice in the world--better to work for
justice and to pray for the courage and wherewithal to keep at it. Of
course, I know that my power to effect change is relatively small, and I
believe that God's is infinite. So I pray for justice, even though mere
words seem too easy even as I'm saying them.

it's odder still to hear such a prayer from the most powerful person in
the world. Yesterday at the National Prayer Breakfast (an event of
dubious value, but that's another post), President Obama offered this:

pray that the violence in Egypt will end, and that the rights and
aspirations of the Egyptian people will be realized, and that a better
day will dawn over Egypt and throughout the world.

Hard to argue with that. But a prayer? Obama is singularly positioned to actually do something about this, by increasing pressure on Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to step down immediately--under threat of cutting the rather massive military aid the U.S. sends Egypt's way.

Obama does end up taking a harder line on Mubarak, the political
pressure he'll be responding to won't necessarily be from his own
constituents. As Adam Serwer argues,
it'll be because it's clear that Mubarak's likely to lose power anyway.
Our foreign policy is idealistic in rhetoric but pragmatic in fact, and
it's always strategic to pick a winner. And, Serwer adds, while the
Obama administration can tell Mubarak to respect human rights,

not hard to understand why neither Mubarak nor the leadership of
Egyptian security forces would take this too seriously. For years, the
United States has implicitly asked Egypt to violate human-rights laws on
our behalf. Why would they take U.S. calls to respect them seriously

Mubarak confidant and now vice president Omar Suleiman is well-connected in Washington, and the Obama administration's private discussions with Mubarak have reportedly included
the idea of a transitional government with Suleiman at the helm.
Suleiman's U.S. connections, however, include his leading role in the
CIA's rendition program: when we needed to outsource torture, he was our
point person in Egypt.

In one case,
a suspected Al Qaeda operative confessed, allegedly while being
tortured under Suleiman's direct supervision. He was later imprisoned at
Guantanamo Bay, and his earlier confession was used as evidence in his
trial there. Guantanamo, of course, remains open for business.

the U.S. has a stake in Mubarak's thuggish regime. It will take more
than prayerful words for us to help the people of Egypt.

other things, it's past time we got our own house in order when it
comes to human rights. Next month, Duke Divinity School is hosting a
gathering on faith-based antitorture advocacy. The aim is a "moral
consensus against torture," and the conference web page states the case concisely:

is never justified; it dehumanizes both victim and perpetrator; and it
ultimately renders the nation that practices it morally damaged, less
secure, and less human than before.

Our moral credibility in the world depends on us becoming more human again.

Steve Thorngate

The Century managing editor is also a church musician and songwriter.

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