The following is a letter I just sent to the manufacturer of the tear gas used by the Egyptian and other Arab governments. You can contact them yourself here. Feel free to borrow any or all of the letter below, if you like.
To the management of Combined Systems, Inc.,
I am writing to ask you to end your relationship with the Egyptian government and other authoritarian governments who have misused your products to kill their own citizens.
To be clear, I do not believe you have acted criminally. To the best of my knowledge, your company has followed every single regulation regarding the sale of military hardware to foreign agents. As of yet, the US government has not applied the Leahy Law to the Egyptian security forces for the violence it has committed against its civilians. Therefore, you have every legal right to sell your products to the Egyptian government.
Nor do I believe you have acted repugnantly. When used properly, your products have the potential to save lives by allowing security forces to respond non-lethally to security disturbances. You are not pigs for selling your products to American allies – though some have called you just that. After all, it is ultimately the responsibility of the Egyptian government to use your products humanely.
Yet the Egyptian government has not used your products humanely. The Egyptian military and police have used them to brutalize and kill civilians. During the revolution, more than 800 Egyptians were killed because they dared to demand their inalienable rights. Sadly, the crimes against the Egyptian people did not end with Mubarak’s reign. This weekend alone, at least two dozen more have been slain for the “crime” of protesting peacefully in the streets.
It is impossible to pinpoint how many have died as the result of your products. But to be sure, they have played a bloody role. Your products have suffocated peaceful protesters. They have made them wheeze and gag. They have made them vomit and spit up blood. They have knocked them unconscious. And they have killed them.
Much of this brutality has been the result of the Egyptian government misusing your products. There have been many documented cases of Egyptian police and soldiers shooting tear gas canisters horizontally, creating lethal projectiles out of your purportedly non-lethal products. Moreover, the Egyptian government has consistently used expired tear gas, clearly against the safety regulations your company upholds.
This summer, I was walking through Tahrir Square when an old man approached me. Around his neck lay several of your tear gas canisters strung into a morbid necklace. He roared, “You see this? THIS is America!” Egyptians blame the United States – they blame our country – for the crimes of the Egyptian government. They see the “Made in USA” stamp on your products, and their blood boils with anger. How could they not when they have seen their friends die from American products? From your products?
As I said before, you are neither criminals nor pigs. But you are Americans. And I therefore ask you as fellow Americans to end your dealings with the Egyptian government. Not only does that relationship seriously harm our important relationship with the Egyptian people, but it undermines our shared, American belief that all people deserve freedom.
I know many of your staff have served in the military and for domestic police forces. You know what it means to serve our country and to sacrifice for it. I also recognize that ending your relationship with the Egyptian government will cause a loss of revenue. But I nonetheless ask you to sacrifice a small portion of your bottom line to serve your country and the values we hold dear.