On February 11, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak stepped down, leaving the Egyptian military in charge until a new government can be established. Mubarak's resignation came after more than two weeks of protests in which the people of Egypt called for an end to Mubarak's repressive regime.
This is an impressive victory for the grassroots, but the hard work of building a new government now begins. And hopefully the new government will be worthy of the popular effort it took to get this far. Such is a recurring theme in statements by some of the world's leading human rights organizations.
Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, praised the resolve of the Egyptian people in demanding dignity, human rights, and social justice. But, he pointed out, "the departure of one man is not the end."
"Those in power must grasp this opportunity to consign the systematic abuses of the past to history," said Shetty. "Human rights reform must begin now."
Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, agrees, saying, "This is a dramatic victory for the Egyptians who showed courage and determination in demanding their rights. The army should seize this historic moment and ensure a speedy transition to a new era of democracy and human rights. There is still a long way to go."
Neil Hicks, International Advisor for Human Rights First, called on Washington to support the right kinds of changes in Egypt. "This is a critical moment for the U.S. government to make clear its intention to support the Egyptian people - not the next despot," he said.
Hicks continued: "[On February 9] in the U.S., 'Mubarakism without Mubarak' is what one witness said we needed at a Congressional hearing on developments in Egypt. This will not stand. The United States is not the arbiter of power in Egypt. It cannot appoint and dismiss presidents at its will, nor write and rewrite Egyptian laws. These powers belong to the Egyptian people. However, the Mubarak regime has relied on U.S. assistance to deny the Egyptian people basic rights and freedoms again and again. If the U.S. government continues the status quo, it will be endorsing the same despotism that has brought us to this point of crisis."
Human Rights First is calling on President Obama to take the following steps:
• Push for the transfer of power to a more representative, inclusive transitional authority, not solely composed of Suleiman and Mubarak's military advisors.
• Push for a new constitutional and legislative reform committee that is not made up of regime loyalists and Mubarak appointees. It should be nominated through a process of open consultation with the opposition and independent figures.
• Use our points of contact with the Egyptian military to help ensure a genuine, inclusive transitional process.
Time will tell if Obama will follow this very reasonable advice.
This is an opportunity for Obama to start earning that Nobel Peace Prize. I hope he will not let the people of Egypt down.