Af­ter the Jas­mine Revo­lu­tion

Southasia - - CONTENTS - The writer is a re­tired vice ad­mi­ral of the Pak­istan Navy and for­mer Vice Chief of the Naval Staff.

Acourt in Egypt has sen­tenced 683 people to death, in­clud­ing Mus­lim Brother­hood leader Mo­ham­mad Badie, on charges of at­tack on a po­lice sta­tion. Ear­lier in March, an­other 529 Mus­lim Brother­hood sup­port­ers were sen­tenced to death in the same court­room. Only about 200 from amongst the over 1200 per­sons sen­tenced to death so far are in cus­tody while the re­main­ing are at large. The aver­age hear­ing time for each trial was about eight min­utes, prompt­ing one car­toon­ist to car­i­ca­ture the farce as dis­pens­ing cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment on an ‘in­dus­trial scale’. The trial pro­ceed­ings have now been re­ferred to the Grand Mufti, the coun­try’s top Is­lamic ju­rispru­dence author­ity, for ap­proval or re­jec­tion. Given the preva­lent po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment, this is ex­pected to be a mere for­mal­ity. The tri­als have sent shock waves in hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions through­out the world. The Amnesty In­ter­na­tional has cau­tioned Egypt’s ju­di­ciary against be­com­ing a tool of re­pres­sion in the hands of its rulers but the warn­ing is un­likely to be heeded.

Egyp­tian of­fi­cials in­sist that the mea­sures taken are nec­es­sary to bring some sem­blance of sta­bil­ity and or­der to the coun­try though quite the op­po­site is true. Egypt is used to decades of author­i­tar­ian rule but there is near na­tional con­sen­sus that the coun­try has never been as volatile be­fore. This is a sad re­flec­tion on the mis­car­riage of jus­tice and po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion and a mea­sure of the new depths to which Egypt has plum­meted.

The death sen­tences come at a time when the United Na­tions

Dis­pens­ing sum­mary cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment to 1200 people in a mat­ter of a few weeks has made Egypt a laugh­ing

stock of the world.

By Taj M. Khat­tak

Gen­eral As­sem­bly is call­ing for the sus­pen­sion (not abol­ish­ing) of the death sen­tence by its mem­ber states. The res­o­lu­tions passed by the UN in 2007 and 2010 in this re­gard are non­bind­ing but more mem­ber states voted in fa­vor of the res­o­lu­tion in 2010 than they did in 2007. The vote re­flects the mo­men­tum of the global pub­lic opin­ion in fa­vor of its sus­pen­sion. It is ex­pected that very soon, the UN will push for the ul­ti­mate abo­li­tion of the death penalty af­ter gen­er­at­ing suf­fi­cient world­wide sup­port for the move. It is no small irony that the UN res­o­lu­tions are spon­sored by Italy, which has been home to the dreaded mafia for over a century.

At the heart of the present un­rest in Egypt is the draft­ing of the new con­sti­tu­tion. The con­sti­tu­tion passed by for­mer Pres­i­dent Morsi in 2012, as well as the cur­rent one pushed by Field Mar­shal Ab­del Fat­tah al- Sisi in Jan­uary, have both come un­der in­tense crit­i­cism for their con­tent and the process adopted for their pas­sage. Con­sti­tu­tional ex­perts be­lieve that al­though the lan­guage in the two documents has grad­u­ally strength­ened in­di­vid­ual rights of the Egyp­tian people and up­held the rule of law, there are glar­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties when it comes to in­suf­fi­cient trans­parency, cir­cum­scribed col­lab­o­ra­tion and ex­clu­siv­ity in its draft­ing by the two regimes.

For ex­am­ple, un­der Morsi, the sec­u­lar po­lit­i­cal forces and Copts were in­cluded in the draft­ing process,

dom­i­nated by the Mus­lim Brother­hood and its Salafi al­lies, but they were ig­nored later. This strength­ened a wide­spread per­cep­tion that their in­clu­sion was only a smoke­screen to give an im­pres­sion of in­clu­siv­ity to le­git­imize an other­wise pre-de­ter­mined ob­jec­tive.

Barely a year af­ter the pas­sage of Morsi’s con­sti­tu­tion, and its re­jec­tion by in­flu­en­tial po­lit­i­cal stake­hold­ers, the sec­ond con­sti­tu­tion was put to vote in Jan­uary this year by the mil­i­tary junta. This met the same fate as it too was seen as non-in­clu­sive by a dif­fer­ent set of po­lit­i­cal ac­tors. Both regimes claimed to have fol­lowed le­git­i­mate con­sti­tu­tion-draft­ing pro­ce­dures but both were equally guilty of vi­o­lent crack­downs on pro­tes­tors and of marginal­iza­tion of dis­si­dents.

Egypt is no stranger to the Mus­lim Brother­hood. Its role has been quite sig­nif­i­cant in the evo­lu­tion of the Egyp­tian civil so­ci­ety as well as the coun­try’s gov­er­nance mod­els since 1928. Af­ter an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt on his life in 1954, Pres­i­dent Nasser was the first to or­der a crack­down on its cadre. This con­tin­ued till 1966 dur­ing which many of the move­ment’s lead­ers were ex­e­cuted and thou­sands of sup­port­ers jailed.

In the 1980s, the late Pres­i­dent An­war Sa­dat jailed a large num­ber of Is­lamists, prom­i­nent left­ists and lib­er­als called Nasserites – an ac­tion which was seen by most people as the cat­a­lyst leading to his as­sas­si­na­tion. For­mer Pres­i­dent Hosni Mubarak’s stron­garm tac­tics against the Brother­hood spawned a deadly mil­i­tancy for nearly three decades which, dur­ing the pe­riod 1992-98 alone, took over 1500 lives.

But the on-go­ing use of force against pro­test­ers, quite of­ten with not even a re­mote link to the Mus­lim Brother­hood, is un­prece­dented in Egyp­tian his­tory. So far more than 2500 demon­stra­tors have al­ready died in the last nine months and there is not much hope of peace and nor­malcy re­turn­ing any­time soon due to short sighted poli­cies of the mil­i­tary regime.

De­spite a whiff of the ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011, which top­pled Hosni Mubarak and brought hopes of end­ing decades of dic­ta­tor­ship, the scar­let thread run­ning through the re­cent po­lit­i­cal land­scape in Egypt is that of an in­tol­er­ant au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism em­bed­ded in ze­ro­sum psy­che. Harsh mil­i­tary tri­als of thou­sands of civil­ians to mute dis­sent, omi­nous dec­la­ra­tions by the rulers to place them­selves above the law and mass ar­rests of po­lit­i­cal dis­si­dents from both the re­li­gious right and the sec­u­lar left con­tinue to be the or­der of the day just as it was in Mubarak’s days.

The 2011 revo­lu­tion should have brought home an im­por­tant les­son that the author­i­tar­ian mode of pol­i­tics is not sus­tain­able in the long run, but ap­par­ently it did not hap­pen. Morsi made a grave tac­ti­cal er­ror when he placed him­self above ju­di­cial scru­tiny through a con­sti­tu­tional dec­la­ra­tion long enough to hold a pub­lic vote. This won him a tac­ti­cal vic­tory when the con­sti­tu­tion was passed in a low turnout ref­er­en­dum but even­tu­ally cost him po­lit­i­cal power and he is now un­der trial. The path adopted by the cur­rent rulers seems to be no dif­fer­ent. What is con­ve­niently for­got­ten, how­ever, is that there will be a to­mor­row – some­thing both Mubarak and Morsi have learnt to their great dis­ap­point­ment.

The nar­ra­tive put for­ward by the present regime to jus­tify its re­pres­sive ac­tions to quell the ter­ror­ist threat, pre­sum­ably from el­e­ments af­fil­i­ated with the Mus­lim Brother­hood, is un­con­vinc­ing, though some mem­bers of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity like Saudi Ara­bia, the UAE, Is­rael and Rus­sia have em­braced it fully al­beit for their own nar­row con­sid­er­a­tions. Many in the Euro­pean Union, how­ever, are deeply skep­ti­cal about the events in Egypt. The U.S., af­ter ex­press­ing ini­tial con­cerns, has seem­ingly ac­cepted Field Mar­shal Sisi as the coun­try’s next ruler since that ben­e­fits Is­rael’s se­cu­rity.

Who­ever holds the reins of power in Egypt needs to rec­og­nize that le­git­i­macy of law is cen­tral to any longterm and sus­tain­able po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity in the coun­try. Egypt needs a change of strat­egy where its cit­i­zens are more in­vested in the govern­ment’s eco­nomic suc­cess and po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity, and not in a con­tin­ued cy­cle of re­pres­sion. With­out it, the coun­try will re­main mired in un­end­ing vi­o­lence where eco­nomic pros­per­ity, well be­ing of its cit­i­zens and a re­al­iza­tion of their dreams for a bet­ter to­mor­row will re­main elu­sive.

Mean­while, or­di­nary Egyp­tians find tem­po­rary comic re­lief in the satir­i­cal TV shows of Bassem Youssef, a for­mer car­di­ol­o­gist who has risen to fame in the last three years be­cause of his sharp wit and hu­mor. His pop­u­lar show keeps get­ting off and on air due to cen­sor­ship. In one of his re­cent pro­grams, he promised to con­tinue his show, declar­ing, ‘ We won’t fear any­one.’ Just then as the un­mis­tak­able pro­file of Sisi ap­pears with back­ground laugh­ter, he quips, “It’s bet­ter we don’t say any­thing about him – that’s not fear, that is re­spect.” But when the re­al­ity of the long shadow dawns af­ter June’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, very few are likely to laugh.

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