Will Egypt attain real democracy?
The path to real democracy is respect for law, and this starts from the top, writes Ahmad Naguib Roushdy
When the Egyptian youth spoke the unspeakable and revolted on 25 January 2011 against former president Hosni Mubarak, their goal was not only to oust a cruel dictator, but also to end the military led regime that has been suffocating the Egyptian people during the past 60 years, that eliminated their presence and infringed on human rights internationally recognised in all democracies. Being born free is the right of man that was first declared by Omar Ibn El-Khattab, the second Islamic caliph who preceded all democratic countries in declaring it. When he visited Egypt after liberating its Christian Orthodox inhabitants from colonisation by the Byzantines, Omar learned that the son of Amr Ibn Elaas, his appointed governor of Egypt, assaulted and beat an Egyptian boy, with no action from Ibn Elaas. Omar admonished Amr, saying, "How could you enslave people when they were born free?"
It was abundantly clear that the Egyptian youth were not aspiring to trade a tyrant Pharaoh for several Pharaohs represented by members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that hijacked the revolution in a secret coup against Mubarak, the latter forced to resign under pressure from the revolutionaries. In order to calm down the youth, SCAF members, in their meeting with revolutionary representatives, claimed they took over the government in order to protect the revolution and promised to establish a true democracy. But even before the election of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Mursi, as the new president of Egypt, it was clear that SCAF members had decided to continue to assert their military influence on the Egyptian government, thus destroying the revolutionaries' main aspiration of establishing democracy in the country.
This much was clear to me and my contemporaries who lived under military-led governments since Gamal Abdel Nasser's coup against King Farouk on 23 July 1952, a coup that abolished the democratic system that prevailed in Egypt after the enactment of the 1923 constitution. Since that coup, Egypt was ruled by dictatorship, concealed behind a false constitutional government. It is natural that once the military takes over governance, it rules by an iron fist that muzzles all freedoms, suppressing the people and turning them into obedient robots. I tackled this subject in some of my articles in Al-Ahram Weekly about the revolution in 2011 and 2012, especially on 28 June 2012. In those articles I made reference to the constitutional principles declared by SCAF last September to be included in the new constitution without subjecting them to popular referendum, unlike other provisions of the new constitution.
Chief among those principles was the assertion by the military of its role in protecting the country's security. But also included was supervising the performance of the civil government and taking over the government if necessary, and preventing parliament from reviewing the military budget, and the General Accounting Agency from reviewing its spending. To be protected, in particular, was the budget of the military commercial foundation that deals in the production and sale of aircraft, jeeps, some weapons, bread bakeries, hotels and wedding halls, that shower the military with billions of dollars, a good sum of which was distributed among the high military brass and other officers in order to guarantee their loyalty to former President Mubarak -- an arrangement that continued under SCAF rule, as was reported by local and international media.
SCAF imported those constitutional principles in its addendum to the Constitutional Declaration, issued after it dissolved the People's Assembly in accordance with a judgement by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) that annulled the outcome of elections for that assembly. That addendum slashed the authority of the civil president by giving the military the authority to appoint the ministers of war and of the interior and the leaders of the country's security agencies. The decree also stripped the president of the right to declare war and authorised the head of the military to do so. This right is a political decision constitutionally vested in the head of state in all democratic countries in regard to their relations with each other. It was reported in time that some SCC justices and other judges appointed by former president Mubarak helped SCAF in writing the constitutional principles and the new addendum. In one of my articles in the Weekly, I criticised that move by the judiciary to help the military to infringe on the people's constitutional rights.
The fact is that SCAF decisions demonstrate they have no understanding of civil society and no clear plans of how to govern after the ouster of Mubarak, in the same manner the so called Free Officers of the Command Council of the Revolution -- as Abdel Nasser and his fellow conspirators in the 1952 coup used to call themselves -- had done in ruling the country on an ad hoc basis. The only plan that can be credited to SCAF is that it decided, even before the announcement of presidential elections, to influence the newly elected civilian government, reneging on their promises to the revolutionaries who were demoralised after SCAF and the Brotherhood put a bullet in the head of the revolution.
It was reported that President Mursi, for his part, did the unexpected and changed his declared slogan during his election campaign -- that Islam was the solution and that he would establish an Islamic state, based on his and the Brotherhood's misguided interpretation of Sharia law, and that women and non-Muslims would be forbidden from running for the presidency. After he won the presidency he declared that he was in favour of democracy and equality for all, and that he would make no fuss about women's clothing and, surprisingly, that he would consider a Christian male as a vice president and even would assign some Christian women in his cabinet. He also declared that he would establish a free market system in order to alleviate the economy. That was a 360-degree turnaround. But I wonder if the president realises that there are at least two obstacles that will hinder his plan.
First, Mursi has to secure the country and to get rid of Mubarak's aides who helped him in his tyrannical rule, and also to get rid of Mubarak's remnants (his dissolved National Democratic Party), to recover the large income from tourism and the flow of investment into the country again. As everyone realises, Egypt, by its ancient antiquities, beaches and sites of old temples for the three divine religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism), is a great tourist attraction that if more well managed and preserved would bring billions of dollars and jobs to its economy. That will not happen unless Islamists respect the right of all people to freely practice their beliefs. Unfortunately, Islamist extremists are hostile to Christians and Jews; they consider them heretics and many Islamists wrongly believe that non-Muslims have no rights and should be eliminated and their temples destroyed, as happened last year when some churches were destroyed and some Christians were killed or assaulted by some of the Salafist sect. This is a flagrant violation of the Holy Quran's instructions to treat Christians and Jews as "people of the book" and to respect their prophets even though Christians and Jews do not recognise the Prophet Mohamed. Most important, Islamists have, as reported, called for the destruction of the pyramids and other antiquities being symbols of paganism, forgetting that the second caliph, Omar Ibn El-Khattab refused to destroy the monuments of the Egyptian ancients. Antiquities are a heritage of civilisation -- as long as the people are not worshipping them or using them as medium to God, as the Arab pagan used to do with their idols before Islam. If the antiquities are destroyed, this will cause the United Nations to take action against Egypt, including sanctions, and or encourage military interference as happened when the Afghan Taliban destroyed historical statues of Buddha.
Second, in order to establish a free market system, the president has to change his mind about the banking system and interest on loans and deposits, which is wrongly associated with reba (usury), prohibited in Islam. Fulfilling the people's needs is the essence of one source of Sharia, which is called al-massaleh al-mursalah, as I described in my article of September 2011 in the Weekly on economics under Sharia law. Furthermore, it seems that the president himself does not have a viable plan to fulfil his new promises, and the revolutionaries are still in doubt of his intention to establish a viable democratic system.
Now a power struggle has started to reshape the Egyptian government between President Mursi and the Brotherhood, on the one side, and SCAF on the other. I predicted in my article in the Weekly of 25 June that this struggle would be unavoidable as each party keeps claiming that it protects the revolution. It started with the SCAF decree slashing the president's authority. Then the struggle polarised after Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi dissolved the People's Assembly and SCAF took legislative power. The Brotherhood became furious and they gathered in thousands in Tahrir Square to demand the reinstating of the assembly. President Mursi found that he lost the support of his fellow members of the Brotherhood who has the largest number of seats in the assembly in comparison to others. He made a grave mistake by recalling the assembly to reconvene in what amounted to "the president's most aggressive assault yet against the lingering power of the former ruling military regime," as described recently by The Wall Street Journal. According to local media, Mursi said that parliament would serve until new elections took place after a new constitution is written, which could take months especially that the constitution has to be voted for by popular referendum
The Brotherhood believes that Tantawi had no authority to dissolve the Peoples' Assembly. They are wrong. Actually, Tantawi dissolved the assembly that in accordance with the judgment of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) invalidating the law that the elections were based on, because it infringed on the rights of independent candidates to compete for all seats. This implies the annulment of the elections, an action required from Tantawi, being effective head of the state at the time by virtue of his position as the head of SCAF. Local and international media wrongly interpreted the court judgment as ordering the dissolution of the Peoples' Assembly. This is not in the court's authority. The SCC decides on constitutionality, but the execution of its judgments is the onus of the executive branch of government
It was reported that the SCC, in an emergency session, concluded that President Mursi's decree overturning Tantawi's move dissolving the assembly was a refusal to execute its judgment, which constitutes a crime under criminal law. Some went to the extreme calling for the arrest of the president on charges of treason, and that he be removed from office. Among them were lawyers who should not forget that a person should not be accused of committing treason unless he conspires or collaborates with foreign entities against his country's security or territories. Undoubtedly, this reveals confusion and misguidance in issuing legal opinions.
It is now in the president's hands to put things back together. To demonstrate his good intention and respect for the constitution he should rescind his decree to reconvene the People's Assembly and call for new elections. He should let the people decide again, under legal procedures, instead of letting an illegal assembly continue to approve laws that would be challenged before the SCC, thus returning the state to the chaos that dominated since SCAF took over government. In which case, the president would be the one who invites military influence to continue, collaborating with them in destroying the 25 January Revolution.
The writer is an international lawyer.