Opinion

Why Despotism Is Not the Solution for Egypt

By Daniella P. Cohen | The Media Line

July 22, 2015

Hakim Khatib
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The assassination of the man responsible for thousands of prosecutions, most significantly the controversial death sentences of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, has paved the way for the incumbent Egyptian president to take a one-time knockout swing at dissenters within the country.

Speaking at the military funeral of Hisham Barakat, the Prosecutior-General of Egypt killed in a car bomb on June 29, President Abdulfattah Al-Sisi threatened to amend the laws to make them responsive to the implementation of justice. “Under such circumstances, courts are useless and so are laws,” said Al-Sisi, promising to strictly enforce the death penalty or lifetime sentences against those he called “terrorists.”

“The arm of justice is chained by the law,” Al-Sisi said. “We are going to amend the law to allow us to implement justice as fast as possible,” he added, emphasizing his decision to push for the death sentence. This raises the issue of the provisional death penalty being upheld against members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including the sentence against Mohammad Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president, who was ousted having been accused of “the biggest case of espionage in the history of Egypt.”

Consolidating his despotic power faster than any other dictator in the Middle East to impose his decisions over the Egyptian population and territory, Al-Sisi seems to co-opt the judicial system as well as communications means. Succeeding in doing so, Al-Sisi might be able to control the means of persuasion – the law, government loyal clergy and media, and the means of coercion – military, police and security forces.

Due to the fact there hasn’t been an elected parliament in Egypt since 2013, Al-Sisi enjoys the privilege of passing laws in the form of decrees. The assassination of Barakat can be easily politicized – and actually already has been – accelerating the process of power consolidation even further. Implying that the Muslim Brotherhood was responsible for the terrorist attack against the Prosecutor, Al-Sisi has stressed that the legal processes could take years to indict those responsible and therefore should be speeded up: “We are facing terrorism. The laws and courts shall respond to it,” he said.

To confirm his control of coercive instruments, on 4 July Al-Sisi appeared in the north of Sinai wearing his military uniform and talking to police and military forces about their important role in fighting terrorism, according to the official Facebook page of the Egyptian Presidency. Al-Sisi said: “Under control is not enough … everything should be stable.” However controlling instruments of persuasion and coercion doesn’t seem to be enough and is less effective externally than it is internally. Therefore Al-Sisi has claimed to be fighting terrorism to defend not just Egypt but also the whole of the civilized world.

While Egypt seems to be divided between those who kneel to the sole-leader and those who see injustice and despotism and thus refuse to kneel, any alternative voices are not much heard. Actually, the speed of events and the scale of the regime’s crackdown – not only against the Muslim Brotherhood but also against any alternative voices from within the regime – has left very little space for different narratives and constructive criticism. Intellectuals have failed to present alternative narratives and perspectives on politics to the dominant discourse of the Egyptian regime putting social coexistence on the periphery. The mainstream bulk of clerics is either loyal to the government or silent due to mounting fear.

Hassan Nafa’a, professor in political science at Cairo University said that amending the law does not hinder terrorism. It is rather despotism that offers a haven for terrorism to flourish. Nafa’a’s point can be traced back in Egyptian history to 1948 when the Muslim Brotherhood was dissolved following its involvement in violence in Palestine – with parallels to the present. The Muslim Brotherhood continued to grow despite Nasser’s despotic measures against them. He ordered the arrest of more than 27,000 people in 1965, allegedly all were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and hundreds were sentenced by a special court, from which more than 20 were tortured to death.

The harsh crackdown continues under Al-Sisi in the name of fighting terrorism, which increases the sense of victimization for a considerable segment of Egyptian society. While routes to finding justice seem to be absent in Egypt, the feeling of victimization remains as long as the disaffected’s case is still unsettled.  “Mass death sentences are fast losing Egypt’s judiciary,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s director of the Middle East and North Africa division. “Instead of weighing the evidence against each person, judges are convicting defendants en masse without regard for fair trial standards.”

While media outlets are busy justifying Al-Sisi’s harsh policies, several out-of-tune journalists were banned, imprisoned or pushed into exile. Despite its political dimensions between Qatar and Egypt, the case of Al-Jazeera Journalist, Mohamed Fahmy, who had to renounce his Egyptian citizenship to be freed last February, is a case in point. According to the Egyptian Newspaper Rassd, in just the past two years, 26 Egyptians, most of them talented contributors, have renounced their citizenship – for among others Israeli, Saudi Arabian and American citizenry. This tendency, according to the paper, owes to the lack of freedom, citizenship and feeling of belonging, poverty, oppression and injustice, which forces Egyptians to change hearts.

As a defense minister two years ago, Al- Sisi warned of using force against citizens and stressed the fact that violence produces more violence. Unfortunately, the teacher is doing exactly what he deemed useless. By Isolating segments of society, no matter how the elimination process happened and how long it took to crystallize, new resistance is forming in the backyards, far from the regime’s surveillance.

Alas, a draconian era is set to fall upon Egyptians, and is more likely to fire back at those who have despotically coordinated it, should the same policies continue. Today is different from the times of Nasser and if people once knew that they could remove a military dictator – Mubarak, or an Islamist would-be dictator, Morsi – it wouldn’t be farfetched to believe that they wouldn’t work towards the same end under Al-Sisi.


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