After the Jasmine Revolution
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.