More of the Same in Egypt


morsi-rallyThe more things change in the most populous Arab country, the more they remain the same

By Stephen Lendman

On July 3, Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) ousted President Mohamed Morsi. Coup d’etat rule replaced him. Appointed civilian puppets represent it.

In February or March 2014, parliamentary elections are planned. In early summer, a presidential one will follow.

Does it matter? Not likely. It’s back to the future. Despotic rule reflects longstanding Egyptian policy. It’s been especially harsh since July.

General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi is Washington’s man in Cairo. He heads SCAF. Since August 2012, he’s been top commander.

He’s Defense and Military Production Minister. He’s a 1977 Egyptian Military Academy graduate. He got US training. He’s a US War College graduate.

He maintains close Pentagon ties. Washington manipulated Mubarak’s ouster. It was complicit in toppling Morsi.

Democracy in Egypt is verboten. Coup d’etat fascists rule. Business as usual doesn’t surprise. Egypt’s version of democracy is tyranny. Ordinary people have no rights whatever.

A new constitution is being drafted. News 24 publishes online from South Africa. On November 24, it headlined “Egypt draft charter deflates hopes for change.”

Provisions are still being discussed. Finalization is expected by early December. Provisions reflect business as usual.

Human rights groups and activists hoped “it would curb the military’s wide-ranging powers and privileges.” They’re sorely disappointed.

One provision permits secret military tribunals for civilians accused of “harming” SCAF. At issue is targeting anyone opposed to militarized rule.

Egyptians get to vote up or down by referendum. Initially it was planned for December. Mid-January or later appears likely.

A SCAF-appointed 50-member panel drafted the new constitution. Muslim Brotherhood members were excluded. Tulane University Law Professor Joerg Fedtke asked:

“Where has the revolution gone? It has not (been) transferred into the document. The paradigm has not changed since 1971.”

Egypt adopted an earlier constitution. It established autocratic Anwar Sadat rule. Mubarak continued it. Morsi’s ouster solidified it.

Constitutional provisions grant Egypt’s military special privileges. Entrenching its power is prioritized. According to Human Rights Watch Egypt director Heba Morayef:

“This is not a moment where there is any likelihood of limiting the military’s privileges.”

“They see the civilian justice system as an infringement. And one of the privileges the military has clung to very consistently is the broad discretion to punish and try people as they choose. They really care about maintaining that.”

SCAF can indict anyone for alleged crimes affecting the military. Secret tribunals exclude judicial fairness. Kangaroo court principles apply.

Military judges have full discretion. They can impose harsh sentences. They can’t be appealed. Detainees are denied legal counsel.

In 2011, Mona Seif co-founded No Military Trials. She’s sorely disappointed. “We wanted the committee to support a complete ban on the use of military trials for civilians, even in cases where one of the parties is a military officer,” she said.

SCAF decided otherwise. It has final say. It demands unchallenged military authority.

“The army knows that having this in the constitution makes their use of military trials much more legitimate,” said Seif. “Now we know they will never give it up. It’s their most powerful tool.”

They can target anyone for any reason, true or false. They can imprison anyone challenging coup d’etat rule. Police states operate this way. Egypt is one of the region’s worst.

Hundreds already were secretly tried. Hundreds more await their turn. Thousands of political prisoners languish in Egypt’s gulag. Torture and abuse is commonplace.

In late October, a military tribunal sentenced el-Watan journalist Hatem Aboul-Nour to a year in prison on trumped up charges. He was lawlessly detained for two months prior to his trial.

According to HRW’s Morayef, troops are deployed nationwide. “They’re in the streets. They are the law enforcement.”

“So if a military officers (claims) you insulted him you can be brought to a military tribunal.”

“If you are arrested by a military officer,” you can be tried, convicted, sentenced and imprisoned. Guilt by accusation suffices.

According to human rights activists, this stuff persists secretly. People are disappeared. Legal rights don’t exist. Junta power rules.

“This will have very serious consequences for all civilians, and not just political activists,” said Karim Medhat Ennarah. He’s an Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights security sector researcher.

“We’re talking about people – ordinary people – who get caught up at a military checkpoint and are never heard from again,” he added.

Note: In late November, Mona Seif was arrested. She and dozens of others were targeted for protesting against constitutionally authorizing military tribunals for civilians. Their fate so far is unknown. SCAF justice denies it.

Other constitutional provisions institutionalize junta power. Appointed or elected civilian officials have only rubber stamp authority.

Secularists only may participate in future elections. Religious parties and candidates are prohibited.

In September, a court issued injunction banned the Muslim Brotherhood. Doing so denies it legal status.

Its assets were confiscated. Its members are targeted for arrest. Hundreds are imprisoned. Most MB officials were seized. Others went underground.

Morsi’s being tried on trumped up charges. Potentially he faces the death penalty if convicted of inciting murder. Proceedings were adjourned until January 8.

SCAF ruthlessly usurped full control. Diktat power rules. On Sunday, appointed president Adly Mansour signed a new anti-protest law.

It’s draconian. It bans overnight sit-ins. It prohibits public and private gatherings without official authorization.

A maximum of 10 people are allowed. Not larger numbers. Police have final say on all demonstrations. Anti-regime ones are strictly forbidden.

Gamal Eid heads the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. “This law brings Mubarak era (harshness) back,” he said.

“It’s weird that the colonialists would have a law that is more just than the supposedly post-revolutionary one.”

On October 30, Human Rights Watch said the new law “effectively bans protests.” Police have “absolute discretion.” They can “forcibly disperse overall peaceful protests.”

According to HRW’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson:

“This draft law would effectively mandate the police to ban all protests outright and to use force to disperse ongoing protests.”

It “strangle(s) what’s left of independent life in Egypt.” It renders it null and void. It effectively bans all rights not explicitly authorized by SCAF.

“The final law will be an important indicator of the extent to which the new government is going to allow for political space in Egypt,” Whitson added.

It strictly bans sit-ins and demonstrations within 100 meters of any official military, police, executive, legislative, or judicial building. So are others close to places local officials designate.

Vague language prohibits what’s called “imped(ing) the interests of citizens” or seeking to “influence the course of justice.”

Article 6 permits forceful police or military dispersals. Free expression is effectively criminalized.

Severe penalties are imposed. One report said imprisonment up to 10 years is permitted. Another said up to seven years.

Stiff fines are imposed. One report said up to $42,800. Another said up to $72,500. Inability to pay perhaps means longer sentences. Most Egyptians are impoverished or close to it.

Wearing masks is prohibited. Doing so discriminates against Egyptian women wearing niqabs. They cover the face.

Assemblies in places of worship are prohibited for purpose other than prayer.

On November 12, an Egyptian court ruling ended a state of emergency. Doing so was two days ahead of schedule. It was three months after it was imposed.

Decree law effectively replaces it and then some. At issue is solidifying unchallenged junta rule.

Police states operate this way. Democracy proponents are targeted. Interior Ministry official General Abdel Fattah Othman said law violators won’t be tolerated.

Protest “behavior is a challenge to the state and its prestige,” he said. “The protesters want to embarrass the state. Any gathering without a permit will be dealt with according to the law.”

On November 26, hundreds of Egyptians defied decree law banning protests. Security forces targeted them violently.

Dozens were arrested. Downtown Cairo became a battleground. Demonstrators chanted:

“The police are thugs. Down with military rule.” Signs read “No Military Trials.” Riot police reacted straightaway. Water cannons and tear gas was used.

Protesters were beaten. Many were dragged away. They were effectively disappeared. Women were targeted as viciously as men. So were youths.

Activist Nazly Hussein said police beat protesters. They dragged them to the ground. They physically and sexually assaulted them.

Ahmad Maher co-founded the April 6th youth group. “We don’t acknowledge the (new) law,” he said. “We find it unfair.”

He and other organization members refuse to seek permission to gather publicly. Doing so “means that we approve the law,” he added.

Public demonstrations are likely to continue. Expect harsh crackdowns to follow. Egyptian-style democracy reflects tyranny.

It bears repeating. Police states operate this way. SCAF plans authorizing ruthlessness constitutionally. Militarized viciousness persists. Washington provides support.

Clarion India - News, Views and Insights about Indian Muslims, Dalits, Minorities, Women and Other Marginalised and Dispossessed Communities.


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