Al-Ahram Weekly Online   29 June - 5 July 2006
Issue No. 801
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

In focus:

Galal Nassar

This season's footwear

Shoes are but one item in the growing armoury to which people resort knowing that there is no redress in the law, writes Galal Nassar

While the world sat back to enjoy the World Cup unfolding in Germany, the Egyptian Cup final was held. And while Egyptian football fans thought they knew what to expect -- not much -- the final between Ahli and Zamalek produced at least one dramatic moment, when the president of Zamalek took off his shoe and threatened senior Ahli officials as the game was going on, and in front of cameras. In front of President Mubarak's envoy, the chairman of the National Sports Council and the president of the Egyptian Football Association, a scuffle broke out, and millions of viewers cringed at the extraordinary spectacle.

The worst part, perhaps, was the feeling of déjà vu. Football can get rough, admittedly, but Mortada Mansour, the president of Zamalek, is hardly a first-time offender. Inside his club, and in his relations with rival teams and their supporters, he is known for his caustic manners and unusual tactics. He has been reprimanded before for breaking regulations and throwing all semblance of decorum to the wind.

The shoe was the latest addition, and one of the mildest, in Mansour's arsenal of aggression, which has so far featured guns, knives, sharp objects and foul language. I don't follow football, or Mansour's antics, but I am interested in what he stands for, for it can be argued that his behaviour embodies the current zeitgeist.

To be fair, threatening to hit someone with your show is not proof of intrinsic evil. What is worrying, though, is not only the frequency with which weapons are being used, but the number of supposed legal bigwigs who are opting to take the law into their own hands.

Noaman Gomaa, the former Wafd leader who broke into his party headquarters with guns blazing is a professor of law and a former dean of the Law School. Talaat El-Sadat, an independent parliamentarian, who allegedly tried to strike National Democratic Party whip Ahmed Ezz with a shoe, is a lawyer. Mansour is himself a former judge and currently a lawyer. The officer who recently hit a judge with a shoe was also a representative of justice. The Muslim Brotherhood general guide, who threatened to beat his opponents with a shoe, studied law after following his physical education degree. Is it a coincidence that all these men are legal experts?

In a society where the law is respected it is only the criminal class that resorts to violence. When legal experts follow their lead, it begins to tell us something about just how far respect for the law has sunk. "Why," they are telling the public, "should I resort to the law when no one else does?"

The demise of law and order has taken various shapes. People no longer respect the decisions of their own parties and institutions. The public finds no reason to trust in the outcome of elections. The regime sees no reason to respect the will of the voters. No one believes that the state is an impartial arbitrator. No one believes that the ballot box decides the outcome of elections.

The law has become worthless. It has been replaced by thuggery and violence. The government keeps the public firmly beneath the heel of its heavy boots, sending in troops to the streets to quash peaceful protests. Then it tries to engage everyone in an endless dialogue about reform that never materialises.

But things don't need to be this complicated. What we need is quite simple. We need to rehabilitate state institutions that have been hijacked and distorted. We need to stop insulting the law by concentrating on tiny details when it is convenient, and ignoring it altogether when it is not. We need to focus on what matters -- the rotation of power for example. We need a law that is freely legislated and then justly upheld.

The government could, for a start, refrain from stalling on implementing court rulings passed against it in disputes with citizens. It could bring justice to bear on the rich and powerful. On the same day Mansour's shoe incident was reported in the press, papers carried a plea by a woman asking the interior minister to implement a court ruling against a man who had embezzled her. Her plea has been published in more than one local newspaper, in front page advertisements and certainly at immense expense. Such pleas are now commonplace in Egyptian papers, and they tell us something. They tell us that lawlessness has the country by the throat, that there is no respect left for the law and the state. So let's stop splitting hairs over reform. When people are making their points with shoes it is a sign thatsomething must be done.

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