Law is freedom
By Lubna Abdel Aziz
No society can exist without the rule of law! What if we all did as we pleased without recognizing our obligation to one another? Laws define our rights as well as our responsibilities Even the jungle has its own order, its own primeval code of rules.
Egypt was subjected to a painful drama on its road to democracy. In the dock, behind the rails, lay its former president, awaiting the court's decree on crimes committed against his people. Already persuaded of his guilt, as were we all, we impatiently awaited the call of the nation's august justice. The riveting suspense had us glued to our TV sets, paying little attention to the ceremonials surrounding him, his sons and his surrogates. Justice was at work. The justice that makes all men equal under the law, free from all that confuses, corrupts and deceives. Once the sentence was pronounced, according to the evidence dictated by the law, we all whispered a prayer of gratitude and satisfaction. Some, who were themselves arms of the law, ceremoniously erupted in unison condemning the judicial system of the land. It was a sorry sight, never before witnessed in a court of law, no matter how displeasing the sentence was. Arousing public opinion, the voices of dissent grew louder, spreading to the streets and city squares, the air-waves and to the printed word.
Who was on trial here? Was it the former president, or Justice itself? Whatever happened to the majesty of Justice? The law that honoured us was not honoured in return. Suddenly anarchy seemed more frightening than the despotic rule of 3 decades past. It was a lamentable scene, best erased from our history and our conscience. Centuries of hard work and scholarly endeavours brought the laws of mankind to their present state.
Civilized societies, complex as they are, cannot exist without well-developed laws, the result of man's human wisdom and experience. Nations have developed constitutions to form the basis of their legal systems. Most legal systems are fundamentally similar, upholding the dignity of the human being. It was not always easy to implement, but has reached its most mature state, after over 20 centuries of trials and errors.
Long before the birth of civilization, long before man learned to write, he needed a system of laws in order to survive. Unfortunately we have no record of these laws, because they were never written. Scholars believe these were "customary laws", handed down orally from one generation to the next. Laws became the first behavioral system known to man.
When man invented writing he gave birth to his first civilization, about 3500-3000 BC. Man could now chronicle his life, his customs and his laws. Once writing was in place, people could read their laws and adhere to them. Thus we became a law-abiding race, dwelling in civilized societies more than 50 centuries ago.
The Middle East was the birthplace of civilizations and of the first law codes known to man. It was in Babylonia in 2100 BC when King Ur Nammu assembled the earliest known code. Three centuries later, in 1800 BC, King Hammurabi of Babylon produced the now famous "Hammurabi Code" which was similar to previous codes. They consisted mainly of a long list of rules to settle specific matters which varied from the theft of a cow, to the infidelity of a wife. There were no laws concerning man's infidelity.
The Hebrews assem bled their social and religious laws into a code from 1000 to 4000 BC. This was drawn mostly by Moses and is often referred to as the Mosaic Code or the Law of Moses. The Ten Commandments became a key part in the first books of the Torah, and had a tremendous influence on the moral content of most laws that followed.
It was left to the ancient Greeks to establish the first Western civilization and the first Western laws. For the first time Law became a human institution in the first democracy known to man. The very word in Greek means "rule of the people". Ancient laws reached their peak under the Romans which included the same branches of public and private laws that exist today. Between Hammurabi and the present time, lies the most amazing record of human exertion to achieve human justice for all. Are we allowed to wipe it in one afternoon?
Most countries today have modeled their law codes on "Napoleon's "Code Civil". Napoleon Bonaparte skillfully blended the ancient Roman laws with French customs and modern democratic principles. England always went its own way, and to date has no written constitution. It produced its "Magna Carta" or "Great Contract" in 1215, between King John, his lords and his people. Its basic principles safeguarding human rights remain in effect to this day.
This long struggle to achieve total justice through the perfection of reason cannot be overlooked in a moment of protest. In this transitional period in our infant democracy let it not be said that we abandoned reason to bedlam. Good, bad or indifferent, the law is the law is the law. Like it or not, let us learn to discipline ourselves and to acknowledge the sanctity of the courts and the courtroom. Only the principle of order can reduce chaos into harmony.
Let it not be said that Egypt yielded its unparalleled legacy of 7000 years of history, in order to appease "the madding crowd".
The law is the last result of human wisdom acting upon human experience for the benefit of the public.
-- Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)