Al-Ahram Weekly Online   1 - 7 June 2006
Issue No. 797
Press review
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The moral imperative

There is a renewed pride in core democratic values and a refreshing vigour to do away with policies which got Egypt through most days, after a fashion, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Nothing is final in politics. And, political commentators have racked up an impressive list of evidence of how the political climate in Egypt today is fast changing. Some of the old ways persist, but changes are afoot. Freedom of expression is essential for a vibrant democracy. It is only then, with a free press, argue pundits that the comparative weight of political forces will be revealed.

The press was replete with commentary on the ongoing judges saga and expressed alleged sodomisation of activist Mohamed El-Sharqawi by security forces.

Editor of Al-Karama (Dignity) MP Hamdeen Sabahi, who defected from the Nasserist Party in 1996 to found the pan-Arab nationalist Al-Karama Party, lashed out against the government and the "barbaric brutality" of the security forces in his column.

Egyptians are determined to express themselves more freely and to criticise their leaders. This touchiness was underlined this week by an interview conducted by Al-Masri Al-Yom, one of Egypt's more popular papers, with Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif. "We shall not permit chaos," Nazif sternly warned in a two-page spread. He described the current political climate as "replete with political stirrings". He noted, however, that the national discourse was "not properly organised", stressing that a structured national dialogue on the political, legal and socio-economic future of the country must be conducted in an orderly fashion. "People sometimes assume that democracy is simply a question of elections," Nazif observed. "However, in reality the main feature of a vibrant democracy is the conduction of dialogue in the context of respecting the others' views -- the respect of contrary perspectives is vital.

"We must learn how to differ in a civil manner."

Nazif had recently come under scathing personal attacks in the press, including in Al-Masri Al-Yom, so the interview provided a golden opportunity to defend his record, put his point of view across and answer the knotty questions of democratisation and political reform in contemporary Egypt.

His presentation was, by and large, clear and incisive.

To head off complaints, he stressed that his government respects the independence of the judiciary.

Another person who came under fire was the president's son. There are many reasons to express doubt about the rationale behind the recent trip to Washington by secretary-general of the Policies Committee Gamal Mubarak.

Bilal Fadl wrote the script for the racy, race- oriented and socially poignant Haha wa Tufaha, a social satire about the urban petty bourgeoisie. Both beer and blacks are conspicuous in the comedy, and Fadl uses his wry wit and humour this week in a critique of Gamal Mubarak's trip to Washington. While pundits around the capital dissected the possible reasons behind the visit, Fadl summed it up thus: "if we believe the explanation of the Egyptian ambassador to the United States, that Gamal Mubarak's presence in Washington was in order to renew his flying licence, then perhaps he popped in to see President Bush to waive the fine for traffic violations," he jested tongue-in-cheek.

Fadl, a distinguished columnist in the impressive Al-Dostour, one of the country's most controversial independent papers, whose jocular albeit biting commentaries in his regular page Qalamein -- roughly translated as two slaps on the face (and also rendered 'two pens'), has satirical wit he deems to be pure comedy -- and it does not purport to be anything else -- particularly not politics.

Egypt's judges continued to demand an independent judiciary. "Everyone calls for a political role for the judiciary in Egypt," contended political commentator Nabil Abdel-Fattah of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, in Al-Dostour. "The Egyptian judiciary plays an important role in buttressing the foundations of the modern Egyptian state."

"Minister of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Moufid Shehab revealed that the government put the finishing touches to the plan to amend the current judiciary law," disclosed Al-Masri Al-Yom. The paper noted that Shehab admitted to a difference in opinion between the ideas proposed by the Judges' Club, the Legal Committee and the government. "But these differences were very minor," the paper quoted the minister as saying.

"He added that the media review of the entire judges saga was fair. "

The paper quoted Brotherhood MP Saad Khalifa as saying, "we understand that Islam is both religion and state. We cannot separate religion from the state." This apparently was said in reference to a commentary on Administrative Affairs Minister Ahmed Darwish. Another Brotherhood MP Hamdi Hassan concurred and he warned that new, more Islam-oriented laws ought to be promulgated.

The Muslim Brotherhood MPs were also severely critical of Nazif's "controversial comments" in the satellite television channel Al-Arabiya in which he said that Egypt is a secular country. The Brotherhood MPs countered that it is imperative to emphasise that in the Egyptian constitution Islam is the state religion and that Sharia is the main inspiration and source of jurisprudence in the country."

And the country's independent press renewed its disapproval of the rigging in the parliamentary elections and the legal entanglements surrounding the two judges, Hisham Bastawisi and Mahmoud Mekki, brought before a disciplinary court.

On a lighter note, the press was fascinated by actress Hanan Turk's decision this week to don the veil. The sensationalist weekly Rose El-Youssef grabbed the first full interview with Turk who "doesn't consider this a step towards retirement and does not conflict with her professional work as an actress." In a two-page spread, Turk said she was "eager to explore the role of the veiled heroine."

The demure Turk had considered veiling after comedian Alaa Walieddin passed away in 2004. "Why doesn't the Egyptian cinema veil like the Iranian cinema?" Turk was also quoted as wondering in Nahdat Misr.

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