Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1169, (24 - 30 October 2013)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1169, (24 - 30 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Impunity rules

A conference on transitional justice served only to underline its absence almost three years after the revolution, writes Amira Howeidy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Sunday’s drive-by attack by gunmen on a Cairo church which left four wedding guests dead is playing out in predictable ways. The Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters, some of whom blame the church and Egypt’s Copts for the military’s seizing of power, have been fingered for either executing or inciting the attack. The security apparatus has come under fire for again failing to secure churches as more than 40 have been burned and looted since the military removed Mohamed Morsi by force and installed an interim government and president. Busy apportioning blame, no time is left to address the sociopolitical roots of sectarianism — long ignored by various regimes — let alone the current context of political violence and turmoil engulfing Egypt. Rhetorical questions about minorities and extremism are the order of the day as yet more names are added to a death roll for which no one is held accountable.

“This is the time when transitional justice should be most compelling,” says lawyer and human rights activist Ahmed Ragheb. “Yet we’re as far from it as ever.”

A Ministry for Transitional Justice and Social Reconciliation was created at the eleventh hour, as the Hazem Al-Beblawi cabinet was about to be sworn in on 16 July.

Al-Beblawi and interim President Adli Mansour originally wanted to appoint Mohamed Amin Al-Mahdi as justice minister but were faced with fierce opposition, mainly from the Judges Club. It was then that the idea of a transitional Justice Ministry was born and assigned to Al-Mahdi.

Three months after being established and the ministry doesn’t appear to serve any function. No transitional justice law has been drafted and there are no signs one is being discussed. The ministry doesn’t have a permanent home. Instead, it operates from the cabinet building in downtown Cairo.

Transitional justice — judicial and non-judicial measures to redress the legacies of massive human rights abuses — is a term frequently invoked in official discourse since 3 July. Yet there are no signs the political will exists to pursue it. Under the interim military rule that followed Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, and during the six-month life of the Brotherhood-dominated parliament, efforts by rights groups to include transitional justice on the legislative agenda failed.

“What has been made available of the draft constitution and the surrounding debate suggests every effort is being made to protect state institutions relevant to achieving transitional justice — the judiciary, the security apparatus and the military — instead of restructuring them,” said Ragheb.

Judges don’t want oversight of their budget, the military wants more authority to try civilians, the Armed Forces want to choose the defence minister and the State Council wants more authority.

Ragheb, a long time human rights activist, was a member of the fact-finding committee formed last year by Morsi which probed the killing of protesters since January 2011. The committee issued a damning report on the role of the Interior Ministry and the military and presented it to the president in December 2012. Morsi then shelved it so as not to antagonise two institutions he was trying to appease. Leaks from the report made it to the international media but were immediately attacked by officials as part of a conspiracy to tarnish the military’s image.

Except for two police officers serving five-year sentences for killing protesters in January 2011 no one has been held accountable for the death of thousands of demonstrators. Mubarak escaped conviction for ordering the killing of protesters and though a retrial was ordered the scant media attention it has received speaks volumes about its perceived irrelevance.

Morsi, held incommunicado in an undisclosed location since 3 July, is scheduled to appear in court on 4 November to face charges of inciting the murder of protesters outside the presidential palace in December 2012. He is also accused of espionage — conspiring with the Islamic resistance movement Hamas to facilitate a nationwide prison break during the January 2011 Revolution.

The government-appointed Adel Qoura fact finding mission concluded in April 2011 that security forces and prison guards supervised the jail breaks. Today, though, the official narrative has changed. Accusing fingers are pointed at the Brotherhood and Hamas for orchestrating the escapes — Morsi was one of the detainees who fled — as well as for engineering the murder of protesters in Tahrir Square during the revolution.

At the opening of a two-day conference on “transitional justice and national reconciliation” this week Mohamed Fayek, chairman of the government-appointed National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) which organised the event, claimed transitional justice has not yet been achieved because of foreign intervention in Egyptian affairs, the mixing of religion with politics — “the discourse at the Rabaa [pro Morsi] sit-in was sectarian and they made their children wear death shrouds” — and political polarisation.
When Social Solidarity Minister Ahmed Al-Boraai took the podium he launched a scathing attack on the Brotherhood. With the exception of NCHR’s Deputy President Abdel-Ghaffar Shokr none of the speakers at the opening of an event intended to discuss transitional justice mentioned the security apparatus.

“Human rights violations have been occurring from [religious groups] and some security apparatuses. There are random detentions, juveniles are in custody and churches are being attacked. These are all challenges for us,” said Shokr. But without restructuring the judicial system and in the absence of a transitional justice law “how can we achieve justice and hold accountable the Mubarak regime for its crimes of torture, unlawful detentions and rigging of elections,” he asked.

Shokr warned that “there is a possibility of the old regime returning.” Yet he insisted “the Mubarak, Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and Morsi regimes must be held accountable for their crimes and we will demand the cabinet issue a transitional justice law.” The audience broke into applause.

Whether those demands will be met is far from clear. To date the NCHR has been dancing to the government’s tune, happily approving a controversial draft law that claimed to regulate protests but effectively criminalised them. Meanwhile, the transitional Justice Ministry’s only foray into drafting legislation has been to propose a law respecting the national flag and anthem and another on the exercise of political rights.

“Since the January Revolution no regime has wanted to pursue transitional justice,” says Ragheb, “and the reason is that Mubarak’s state continues to rule Egypt.”

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