Actors Amr Waked and Khaled Abol Naga call for solidarity against tyranny in Egypt
Egyptian actors Khaled Abol Naga and Amr Waked would have liked to be in Cairo, not Washington, discussing human rights, but the repression in their home country, they say, has reached a dangerous level of intolerance against the mildest disagreement with the government.
On Monday, both actors appeared on a panel in Washington on the human rights situation in Egypt, urging international solidarity with Egyptians currently living under military rule.
The panel capped a day of activism by Naga, Waked and dozens of other activists who met with members of the US Congress to rally against proposed constitutional amendments in Egypt that would enshrine military rule and allow Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to serve as president until 2034.
Naga, who is also known as Kal Naga, called on "every peace-loving human being" to stand with Egyptians struggling against tyranny behind bars of fear and actual prison bars.
"The narrative in Egypt is: 'Nobody cares about you anymore,'" said the Eyes of a Thief star.
He added that when Western officials appear next to President Sisi without uttering a word about human rights, it sends a message to Egyptians that they have been abandoned.
"More than ever, right now, Egyptians need that hope, that light at the end of the tunnel: That this is not the case; it cannot be the case, and it should not be the case. And hopefully, with our efforts, it will not be the case," said Naga, who has starred in dozens of Egyptian and Western movies and shows.
Solidarity needs to be public, he said, asking supporters of human rights in Egypt, including Western lawmakers, to be vocal in their advocacy for the Egyptian people.
Calls for hope
Naga, who was one of the most vocal celebrities in support of the 2011 revolution that ended the 30-year rule of former President Hosni Mubarak, called for hope in the face of oppression.
He said the apparent setback to Egyptians' democratic aspirations is a natural trajectory of revolutions.
In 2012, Egyptians elected Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in the country's first-ever free presidential vote. A year later, the army overthrew Morsi following demonstrations against his rule.
Sisi assumed power and began an enormous crackdown campaign on dissent, jailing critics en masse and shutting down media outlets associated with opposition figures.
"Revolutions go through reigns of terror… but make no mistake that those are the receding black waves of the beautiful tsunami that broke the regime in 2011," Naga said.
The actor urged activists to never forget the power of the popular uprisings that rocked the Arab World in 2011, toppling several leaders across the Middle East and North Africa.
"The most important event that we've all witnessed in our lives is the Arab Spring. It's a seismic, big event that we're still living the repercussions of, including the repression in Egypt right now," he said.
"Eventually this noble message will prevail."
Both Naga and Waked have faced pro-government Egyptian media campaigns vilifying them and accusing them of being parts of plots to take down the state.
Waked ridiculed such charges, saying that the Egyptian government has developed an "allergy" to the truth in its quest to crush dissent.
"I've been accused of insulting the state, just because I voiced my opinions about politics and about events that are happening in my country," Waked said. "I think those who are insulting the state every day are the ones who are reducing it to one person."
'We do not fear you'
Waked, who starred in the Hollywood hit Syriana as well as many Egyptian movies and shows, was sentenced in absentia to eight years in jail in Egypt earlier this month because of his criticism of the government.
On Monday, he vowed to continue his activism for a free and democratic Egypt wherever he goes.
"This is not going to go down, not on our watch. We have to deliver this message to them very clearly: we do not fear you; you are going down," Waked said.
He went on to criticise the possibility of giving one man ultimate power and allowing him to govern for life, questioning what would happen to the country if the ruler goes mad.
'It is a statement to the young people of the country: That none of you matter, that there is only one person who can hold power, only one generation that can hold power'
-Congressman Tom Malinowski
Speaking at the event on Monday, which was organised by the Freedom Initiative rights group, Congressman Tom Malinowski also slammed the proposed constitutional amendments, saying that the push to strengthen tyranny in Egypt should make US officials re-evaluate Washington's relationship with the Egyptian military.
"It is a statement to the young people of the country: That none of you matter, that there is only one person who can hold power, only one generation that can hold power," Malinowski said.
"It is wrong; it is stupid, and it is generally very, very self-defeating as we've seen throughout history."
Malinowski, who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, pledged to work on imposing human rights conditions on US aid to Egypt. He called the annual $1.3bn military assistance to Egypt the most "wasteful" US foreign aid programme over the past decade.
"It has purchased a military that is too incompetent to actually fight Egypt's enemies, utterly incapable of dealing with the threat of terrorism and extremism… In fact, it's so incompetent that it's actions exacerbate rather than mitigate that threat," Malinowski said, pointing to Cairo's failure to crush Islamic State (IS) group militants in Sinai.