Wednesday, 26 December 2012

"Christians in Egypt" and other novelties..

Long-awaited guidelines, intended to help unsuspecting citizens identify members of a newly emerged sect in Egypt called "Christians", have finally been issued. The document describes "Christians" (or "Copts" as they sometimes call themselves) as a monolithic collective of people who have appeared in Egypt recently under very suspicious circumstances. Even though not much is known about this new religious community, the advent of which introduces the concept of "religious diversity" to a historically religiously homogeneous Egypt, scientists and analysts have been able to collect some vital data about them hoping to raise awareness about the dangers they pose to the country.

Christians have been observed to consume disproportionately high quantities of fava beans for long periods of time during the year thereby endangering Egypt's strategic fava bean reserves. Their exact origins are unknown, but they have been said to come from an undiscovered planet called "Diaspora" hoping to raise havoc in the country. They seem to dispense over an unlimited supply of money and weapons which they are known to store inside their houses of worship where they reportedly also keep their pet lions. 

Coptic deacons chanting at the Cathedral

In addition to that, investigations have revealed that they are also in possession of vast areas of land around some of their more remotely located houses of worship where they claim to spend their time in contemplative prayer. These so-called "monasteries", however, are suspected of being no more than a façade for clandestine practices, possibly hiding places for ultra-sophisticated nuclear arms factories. 

In a recent incident where their dangers have become apparent, Christians carried out a diabolical plan by which they led several Armed Personnel Carriers (APC's) to a trap using their own bodies as bait. It has to be mentioned that some insightful media outlets with a heightened sense of responsibility attempted to warn the general populace of the evil nature of that plot, though unfortunately to no avail. This incident has resulted in considerable damage to the wheels of the APC's coupled with high clean-up costs which, in turn, have had dramatic effects on the country's otherwise stable economy. Not to mention the stolen APC's which authorities still haven't been able to recover, they might be found hidden in the monasteries as well.

Although the majority of Christians have succeeded in perfecting their Arabic language skills, an attentive listener can, with a bit of effort, pick up on their distinct Christian accent. This trait has helped to identify them in recent times, permitting experts to determine their exact participation percentages in protests by listening to them chant. Aside from that, they seem to have developed a separate language which they presumably use to communicate with their foreign associates, most likely members of occult organizations.

Even though they have only been in the country for a relatively brief time, they have managed to blend in well to the extent that they were able to partake in the political process by pretending to be regular citizens. Although their numbers are very small, insignificant one might say, they seem to possess a supernatural ability to increase in numbers at public gatherings and protests, but also during presidential elections. It is still unclear whether these are the only supernatural abilities they possess, but there have been unconfirmed reports claiming they also have invisible fingers, which are known internationally to be means of thwarting democratic transitions.

Regulations obliging Christians to wear visible signs identifying themselves as "Christian" are expected soon so as to make it easier to discern between them and normal Egyptians. In the meantime, citizens are strongly advised to exercise extreme caution when dealing with those they suspect of being Christian until more is known about their kind and how to neutralize their threat. 

Disclaimer: This is a satirical piece intended to highlight the disturbing rise of the use of sectarian rhetoric in Egypt. 

Monday, 24 December 2012

Who Owns the Revolution?

We're approaching the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution and seeing how we are apparently still stuck with the same "revolutionary - felool" paradigm (felool being a term originally used for old regime remnants but one that has come to mean anyone who opposes revolutionaries and/or the Muslim Brotherhood), it is time to critically evaluate the positions of the different actors on the political stage. Many have claimed that the Egyptian revolution had distinct goals, clear ideals that can function as a way to measure and determine whether someone was revolutionary or not. However, it has become clear that the slogan "bread, freedom and social justice" can hardly fulfill that goal. Under the umbrella of the revolution were united people who hold completely different views about the very basics of political and societal organization. The only thing that united these people was a hatred for the old regime and this for various reasons which aren't all common to all of them. Some, for instance, don't seem to want to change the system as much as the people who were in it, while others hoped for a more thorough change. It is obvious in any case, that once that common enemy fell, the revolutionary movement disintegrated into several groups each holding on to a separate meaning of the revolution and claiming to 'continue the fight' for its sake. 

Celebrations in Tahrir Square after Mubarak stepped down

One of the accusations hurled at the Muslim Brotherhood was that they 'stole' the revolution (a variation has them 'riding' the revolutionary wave). This rhetoric, though comforting for revolutionaries who feel frustrated they couldn't transform their ideas into reality, must be viewed with scrutiny. For what does it mean to 'steal the revolution'? Regardless of when they joined the street protests, the Muslim Brotherhood at one point also stood in the squares and also screamed for bread, freedom and social justice, also demanding that Mubarak step down. Why would their interpretation of the revolution be considered inferior to that of the (other) 'revolutionaries'? Why can't the Islamists claim that the establishment of a theocratic state is in fact a way of fulfilling the demands of the revolution as they understand them? 

Similarly, as Maikel Nabil was talking at a university in Israel, some have taken it upon themselves to deprive him of the 'revolutionary' label. He has no right to call himself a revolutionary, according to them, because his beliefs aren't in accordance with theirs. And this regardless of whether he was in the squares like them, screaming the same words and calling for the downfall of Mubarak as well. 

What many fail to understand is that the only thing the people in the square had in common was a hatred for the Mubarak regime and a desire for change. What direction that change would go and what exactly it would entail wasn't something they all agreed on, not by far. There were different factions from the beginning, people who have little in common. Most well-known pictures of Tahrir square which were spread on the media show the full square from afar, even most videos show the same image of a unified collective screaming loudly with one voice. But zoom in and you see the true picture, with all its political colors and nuances. A Salafi, a revolutionary socialist and a classical liberal all stood together, but their unity would end once their common goal was achieved, their visions about the post-Mubarak Egypt diverge in an extreme way. An important side note here is that not all those who hated the corruption of the Mubarak regime were in the squares. The so-called "Kanaba party", people who didn't really join in street action, aren't all one block either. The reality is much more complicated than the simplified black and white version many are advocating. There were those who, while reviling the system and the way things were going, didn't believe a revolution would bring any relief. Yes, there were those who believed slow, piecemeal reform would eventually yield better results than what they considered an uncalculated, risky regime change. 

When the second round of the presidential elections was held, many dubbed it the ultimate test to determine someone's revolutionary score. Nevermind the fact that there is no such thing as a "unified political program for the revolution" upon which a so-called "unified candidate" can get all the revolutionary votes. And indeed, Morsi, Sabbahi and Abul Fotouh were all considered revolutionary candidates by their followers, even though their respective political programs differed greatly. In the end, Morsi was dubbed "the revolutionary candidate" even though his plans for the country were fundamentally and completely different from those of a liberal revolutionary or a socialist revolutionary. And that same "revolution" which was used to usher in the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, was later on used to justify the way they ruled the country. It was somehow expected that all revolutionaries accept this in silence or be dubbed felool, remnants of the old regime, supporters of corruption. They fell victims to the dichotomy they created wereby one is either a revolutionary who stand for justice or a felooli who supports corruption and nepotism. 

Well, it is time to let go of naive simplifications of reality and start realizing the complexity and diversity that exists in the Egyptian case. In the end, what counts should be the actual ideological opinions and concrete plans for the country the person or group in question has. This is the divide we should focus on, this is the divide upon which parties and coalitions should be built, not the empty revolutionary - felool dichotomy! It is outrageous that those who didn't support the revolution or who supported Shafik should be treated as morally inferior to the so-called revolutionaries. Not after it became clear that some revolutionaries would in fact use that revolution to usher in a new age of dictatorship, this time in the form of a totalitarian theocracy. Some of those who opposed the revolution from the beginning and who voted for Shafik later on did so exactly because they had predicted this scenario. The vast majority of those Egyptians aren't criminals, nor people who approve of corruption, they are simply people who disagreed with the 'revolutionaries' on how this country should be run and how its problems should be solved. Try and punish the criminals of the old regime, but don't alienate those who did what they thought was best for their country and continue to do so. They don't need to justify themselves or apologize for breaching the "revolutionary" code in order to be accepted among the ranks of those legitimately opposing the current regime.

Egypt now stands before a difficult struggle. A struggle for freedom from state oppression, a struggle against a government that wishes to put itself above the law, a regime that would trample basic rights under the pretext of 'purging' state and society from 'evil elements'. In this fight, the distinction shouldn't be based on the meaningless revolutionary - felool divide, but on something more pertinent in face of the current threats.  As I write this, a quote by George Orwell comes to mind, one that seems to have been written exactly for the situation we're in today: "The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians."

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Constitutional Highway to Theocracy

It is no secret that the Egyptian Islamists (most importantly represented in the Constitional Assembly by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Da'awa Salafiya) who, together with clear sympathizers, possessed more than half the seats in the Constitutional Assembly, all want a religious state, a theocracy of sorts, a system where purely religious rules are enforced using state power. This demand has been at the heart of their chants in protests, their parties' political programs and their members' words whenever they appear in the media. In fact, during the discussions in the Constitutional Assembly, some members of that group wanted to remove the word "democratic" from the draft altogether, because it would imply putting the people's will above that of God (cf. infra).

In this article, I shall discuss some of the constitutional loopholes and mines through which the drafters wished to implement their plans of having the government play a big, intrusive role in the lives of citizens by invoking religion. Let it be clear that this article does not aim to belittle the role of religion in both private and public life in any way nor is the point to discuss a particular religion in se. I simply mean to clarify what the draft constitution entails and how it will be interpreted so as to counter claims by some so-called experts claiming it is not very controversial or that protests against it are exaggerated. It is therefore that I would like to discuss Dr. Yasser el Borhamy's words (AR), published by "Ana El Salafy" (I, the Salafi)*, a famous Salafi website. After having finished the constitutional draft, El Borhamy, who is a prominent Salafi member of the Constitutional Assembly, is seen in the video defending and explaining the draft to fellow Salafi sheikhs, among whom the prominent Sheikh Mohammed Hassan. The reason for this, was that there were some attacks on the draft from within the Islamist front itself.

Dr. Yasser El Borhami, member of the Constituent Assembly

El Borhamy starts off by stating the importance of article 2 of the constitution which proclaims that Islam is the religion of the state and the principles of Islamic law (Shariah) are the main source of legislation. It is important to note that Salafis believe the article, as it was interpreted in the past by the Supreme Consitutional Court (SCC), had a range that was too narrow for their wishes.

El Borhamy then clarifies that although only 50% of the Assembly were Islamists (while mentioning that Islamists should have had more than 70% but agreed to 50% in the end in order to avoid problems with SCAF and the SCC), many members from the "non-Islamist" group were in fact also "religious" and supported the "Islamist project". He concludes that there was thus a majority for Islamists in the end.

He continues by saying that they wished to replace the word "democratic" in article 1 of the draft with the word "shura". The word "citizenship" was also considered a problem by some Islamists, because, just like "democracy", it was suspected of being unislamic. However, since the SCC had interpreted "citizenship" to mean that citizens feel they belong to one nation and that their interests are interlinked, El Borhamy explains that it contains nothing that goes against religion per se. In the end, they decided to keep the word "democratic" in the first article, but define it by adding "shura" to its explanation in article 6. The reason for this addition was to make clear that democracy in Egypt would have a "ceiling", that there would be primacy for God's law (of course, always as interpreted by humans) over the will of the people.

The next article discussed is the controversial article 2. According to Salafis, the article had been void of meaning and was merely "decor" in the past. It is therefore that they wished to rewrite the article so as to make its range broader. In the end and after much discussion, the Islamists suggested  adding article 219 which defines the words "principles of shariah". It is this article, which is contained in the final draft, which the Salafis consider a "red line" as they feel it is the article that defines the entire constitution. El Borhamy even stated that adding article 219 is better than cancelling the word "principles" in article 2 (which was a previous Islamist demand) so that it becomes "Shariah (and not just its principles) is the main source of legislation".

Afterwards El Borhamy addresses some complaints he has heard about article 43 which guarantees freedom of belief. He points out that article 81 which concludes the chapter about "Rights and Freedoms" in the draft is the solution to the problem. This article stipulates that the exercise of rights and freedoms contained in the constitution must be in accordance with basic principles laid down in the chapter about "State and Society", which, as he explains, entail the principles of shariah contained in article 2 and explained in article 219. He mentions that Christians had objected to adding that article, but that it passed despite that. He exclaims that Anba Bola (the church representative) had the audacity to object to the article just because it refers to the shariah. An important quote that I'd like to make the reader aware of is El Borhamy saying "This constitution has restrictions [on rights and freedoms] that have never been included in any Egyptian constitution before."

When it comes to Bahai's, El Borhamy mentions that they will be able to legally exclude them from the application of the constitutional articles related to rights and freedoms.

Another essential point of discussion was an article El Borhamy found to be a most terrible article, namely article 76. The wording of this article in the old constitution is one most jurists in the world are familiar with, "nullum crimen, nulla poena sine lege" or "no crime and no punishment without a law". These words are considered fundamental safeguards of freedom and rule of law and are included in most constitutions in the world. El Borhamy explains that this article is dangerous because it would mean that consensual adultery, bank interests and sodomy wouldn't be considered crimes. Because all jurists in the Assembly were adamant on including that article in the constitution, according to El Borhamy, they were forced to include it. However, with the help of Dr. Selim El Awa (a former candidate for the presidency), they managed to change the wording. The altered article states "no crime, no punishment without a provision in the law or the constitution". El Borhamy explains that this alteration will enable them to include article 2 of the constitution and its explanation in article 219 as grounds for incrimination, making it possible to try and punish citizens for crimes not expressly mentioned in the law!

Finally, El Borhamy repeats something he had said quite a few times before, namely that article 219 which explains the meaning of the "principles of shariah" as mentioned in article 2, is a "red line", not open to discussion. He adds that this article was accepted by the "Committee for Senior Scholars".

I would like to point out that the "Committe for Senior Scholars" which is part of Al Azhar, is mentioned in an article El Borhamy didn't address in the video. Article 4 stipulates that it is obligatory to ask the opinion of the "Committee for Senior Scholars" in Al Azhar in all things related to the shariah. The importance of this article cannot be overestimated. If a judge is presented with a case in which someone is tried for an act which isn't punishable by law, but which (according to the altered article 76) may be punishable by purely religious rules, a judge would be forced to ask the opinion of the Committee. Now, although article 4 doesn't expressly say that the opinion of the Committee is binding, it will be so de facto since it is unimaginable that many judges would go against the decision of a body of Al Azhar (considered one of the most respected religious institutions in the Arab world) when it comes to religious matters. This is merely one example of the possible effects of this article.

This constitution puts the power to interpret things related to the shariah with the "Committe for Senior Scholars" thereby putting them not only above the courts, but also above the legislator. A group of religious men from Al Azhar will have a say in how the country is run and how laws are applied and those who claim to be for the independence of Al Azhar must be aware that no such thing can exist when they are so close to power. So both religious texts (including human interpretations thereof, obviously) and certain religious scholars are intentionally placed above the law and the constitution. Now, call me alarmist for saying that this constitution paves the way for theocracy...

This article doesn't contain all the reasons why this constitutional draft should be rejected, the draft contains many dangers in other chapters about private property, the separation of powers and judicial independence for instance. However, I hope it does give a clearer view on the actual meaning of this draft and its possible consequences. It may also be necessary to note that, in this context, it might not be those protesting the draft and the referendum who are against democracy.

*I'd like to thank Samuel Tadros for bringing that video to my attention. 

Monday, 6 August 2012

Revolutionary Felool

They are many and their numbers seem to be growing daily. They used to complain about the corruption that was so typical of the Mubarak era, they wanted change but didn’t quite know how to realize it. Some dreamt of a revolution, but thought such a thing was impossible in Egypt and would remain a dream. When the anti-Mubarak protests broke out in January of 2011, they supported them from day one, some stood in Tahrir, faced the hardships and finally saw before them a new Egypt, a fresh start they could actually realize. They chanted “down with the regime”, some of them were wounded or know someone who was killed by security forces. They cried tears of relieve and disbelief when Mubarak stepped down, thinking they were finally ready to take a step forward, this was their time to reclaim their country.

This is the story of many regular Egyptians. Not professional “activists” or anything like that, just young people dreaming of a better future, hoping they wouldn’t have to immigrate to find better chances outside of their country. Middle aged men and women who hoped this would mean their children could grow up in a country where they can develop their talents, where they can live safely and peacefully.

A scene from the movie "Birds of darkness" which was often used to symbolize the dilemma of the ordinary citizen having to choose between a regime representative and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

The group I’m speaking about were people who hoped for progress, true change in the government apparatus, rule of law and societal tolerance. They wanted a stop to the age of stagnation they felt Egypt was stuck in, they wanted technological advancements, better research facilities and education. They dreamt of decent healthcare and economic progress.

But instead, they found that many of the loudest voices speaking in the name of the revolution didn’t stand for these things at all. They found people hoping to limit freedoms even more, people whose only goal was to seek out confrontation with security forces even if it didn’t help their cause and people whose economic ideas would usher in disasters for a country with an already fragile economy. They found newly emerged political figures fighting for a few minutes on-air, spewing nonsense and outlandish conspiracy theories to justify themselves. They found “leaders” going the wrong way, cooperating with the wrong people and trusting promises they shouldn’t put their confidence in.

They were alienated and ridiculed when they started to doubt “the revolutionaries” and their methods. They were called “felool” when they didn’t support a protest or sit-in they felt would end up in violence and loss of lives and wouldn’t have any positive results whatsoever. They were called “elitist” when they didn’t agree with the mainstream opinions and explanations for recurring violence.

They were disappointed when they found a majority of so-called “human rights activists” blindly supporting a law that would ban a citizen from exercising his political rights. They were outraged that those who were once calling for rule of law were ready to ignore correct court decisions because they didn’t meet their “revolutionary” expectations and even started contemplating cancelling that court altogether.

And then, when it was time to choose a new president, they were shocked at how some “revolutionaries” naively supported a man who came from an organization which they felt represented everything they were against. Where they wanted freedom, he wanted less freedom in the name of protecting ‘public morals’. Where they wanted citizenship, his organization had sectarian tendencies. Where they wanted rule of law, he was ready to plainly ignore or go against court decisions. Where they wanted an end to corruption and hypocrisy, his organization had a record of lies and fabrications. It’s not that some people voted for Morsi because they believed him to be the best choice, the problem, for them, was that some people voted for him solely to thwart Shafik and his supporters, not because they believed he was the better candidate. The problem, for them, was that a man like Morsi, with the background and history of his organization, could be referred to as “the revolution’s candidate”!

Some of them decided not to vote at all or to void their ballots, deciding that a vote for either candidate would constitute an immoral act. Others decided to vote for Shafik because they believed he was the hero who would save the country and put it back on the right track. Others voted for Shafik because they felt Morsi was the worst choice and Shafik was the lesser of two evils and they had a responsibility to make a choice.

They are there, they have been alienated, but it seems that they are growing in numbers. Initially pro the revolution and against the Mubarak regime and all it stood for, they now feel the current regime might be/is even worse than the Mubarak regime. They no longer see themselves in that “revolution” which was said to be represented by Morsi. They no longer support a fight they feel is not for the good of the country anymore, but for the good of one organization. From “revolutionary” to “felool”, this is the story of those who lost faith in this revolution...

Thursday, 21 June 2012

A different perspective on the dissolution of parliament

No one can deny the Egyptian transitional period has been a legal mess from the very beginning. Let's take the constitutional referendum for instance, in which citizens were asked to either approve or reject amendments made to the Constitution of 1971. Was there enough time between the publication of the final version of the amended articles and the referendum so a decent public debate could take place? Could we say that a reasonable person would have had sufficient information and time so as to make an informed decision? Questioning that was often made equal to questioning the intelligence of the Egyptian people which would result in one's branding as 'nokhba' (elite), and thus started the first chapter of The War of Words I wrote about before. 

After the referendum had taken place and a majority of the population had approved the revised articles, a Constitutional Declaration was issued, one which included articles the public had never seen or discussed. Yet that declaration would become the main legal document for the transitional period. At the time some people questioned this, how due to a lack of time and information (mainly also about the consequences of a no-vote) the results may have been manipulated, but many were silenced and branded as "undemocratic" because the ballot boxes had 'spoken'. And so the entire theory of democracy, the whole process was reduced to what the 'ballots' said.

This piece is not meant to focus on the Constitutional Declaration and its many flaws, however I think what is written above clarifies the skewed understanding of democracy some people have. If millions went to vote, many would say this overrules any terrible procedural flaws which may even be enough to strip the whole process of any legitimacy.

This leads us to the recent dissolution of parliament. After the announcement of the decision taken by the Supreme Constitutional Court, media immediately jumped to the conclusion that a "coup d'état" had taken place as the only "democratically" elected body was dissolved. Going back to the facts of the case (AR), it was a lawyer who had asked an administrative court to halt the declaration of the results in a certain district by the Supreme Electoral Commission. In that district two party members had battled over a seat belonging to the one-third of seats to be filled by individuals (as opposed to the two-thirds reserved for electoral lists). The plaintiff argued that several articles in the electoral law were unconstitutional for disregarding the principle of equality stipulated in article 7 of the Constitutional Declaration. The administrative court refused to grant the plaintiff what he wanted on January 9th 2012 so he appealed the decision before the Supreme Administrative Court. In February, the case was halted and referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court so as to judge the constitutionality of the articles in question. 

Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court

In its decision, the Supreme Constitutional Court mentioned article 38 of the Constitutional Declaration, which stipulates the electoral system would be mixed including one third through individual voting and two thirds through the electoral list system (this article had been amended by the Constitutional Declaration of 25 September 2011 in order to constitutionally solidify the mixed electoral system). The Supreme Constitutional Court, arguing on the basis of the principle of equality and non-discrimination, found that this should mean that while two thirds of parliamentary seats were reserved for electoral party lists, the other third should be reserved for independents not belonging to any political party. 

This, indeed, had been the system which was in place before the political parties, most prominently the Freedom & Justice Party and the Nour Party who together garnered the majority of the seats in parliament, had threatened to boycott the elections unless SCAF amended the electoral law. Article 5 of said law which stipulated that only independents were allowed to run for the seats reserved for individual voting, was cancelled. This meant that parties were allowed to field candidates both on the party lists and through the individual voting system thus limiting the chances of independents. 

At the time, the political parties were ready to disregard considerations of fairness and equality under the pretext that article 5 would allow for the NDP to return to parliament. However, former NDP members could still join parties and run on their lists and didn't need to run for the individual seats, thus rendering that argument (at least partly) invalid. Unless specific NDP members were tried and convicted of certain crimes, one shouldn't simply derogate their rights (and that's assuming all independents are NDP members), at least not in a democracy in which the equal exercise of political rights is essential.

Furthermore, the people should be the ones to decide who they want in parliament. However, the slogans which were used during the constitutional referendum in March, which argued that any criticism of the process was an insult to the intelligence of the people and which glorified the ballots to the extreme, were no where to be heard. Apparently, the same people who were able to vote yes on the constitutional referendum, were unable to vote against the NDP in parliamentary elections..

So the Supreme Constitutional Court found this system to be in disregard of the equal political rights of independents, not belonging to any political party, as they were only allowed to run for one third of the seats while candidates belonging to parties were allowed to run for all seats in parliament including the one third which should have been solely reserved for independents. Based on this, the Court found the articles in question to be unconstitutional and consequently also the entire voting system, since if article 5 had still been in place, the entire outcome of elections would have been different: not only the third reserved for independents, but also the other two thirds, since parties would have probably organized their lists differently had they known they couldn't run candidates in the individual system as well.

Finally, I would like to point out that the same parties and political leaders who insisted on a voting system they knew could be found constitutionally flawed and yet went ahead with elections despite that, would later on enact the political disenfranchisement law. That law was declared unconstitutional as well by the Supreme Constitutional Court for being in blatant disregard of the respect for political rights among other things.

The law meant that parliament could simply vote away fundamental individual rights if the required majority is met (and not through a court decision after due process). Additionally, the law signified that it would be acceptable for parliament to limit the choices of the very same people who voted that parliament in by excluding certain candidates from the race.

It is this way of thinking, in which the outcome of the ballots is the only thing that matters even if the process itself was terribly flawed that is the most dangerous thing for a nascent democracy. I will conclude with this saying by Sallust: "Every bad precedent originated as a justifiable measure": if we are willing to trample the most basic individual rights, to disregard the principles of rule of law in order to reach our goals, then we must be careful for we will become like the very monsters we're claiming to fight. 

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The new Constitutional Declaration of 17 June 2012

As the results of Egypt's first 'democratic' presidential elections trickle in, a new constitutional declaration, issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), is made public. Here's a quick summary of the changes/additions made:

  • The new President is to take the oath before the Supreme Constitutional Court instead of parliament which has been dissolved. 
  • SCAF remains fully in charge of everything military-related. Field Marshal Tantawi maintains the duties legally assigned to him as president of SCAF and Minister of Defence.
  • The President has the right to declare war, but only after the approval of SCAF.
  • In case of trouble within the country, the President (again, only with the approval of SCAF) can ask the military to intervene to uphold order and security. The military maintains the competences bestowed upon it by law (and SCAF happens to be the legislator until a parliament is elected, cf. infra)
  • SCAF makes the laws until a new parliament is elected and is practicing its competences.
  • If there is an obstacle in the way of the working of the Constitutional Assembly (which there is), SCAF can appoint one within a week. The only 'specification' mentioned (if it can be called that) is that it has to represent all groups in society. This Assembly will have three months to write a draft constitution after which it is to be presented to the people in a referendum. Within the month following the  approval of the draft constitution in a referendum, the process for new parliamentary elections has to take off.
  • The President of SCAF, the President, the Prime Minister, the President of the High Council of the Judiciary or 20% of the members of the Constitutional Assembly can object to the draft constitution prepared by the Assembly if the draft is not in accordance with "the goals of the revolution, the principles safeguarding the higher interests of the country or the principles which governed the former constitutions of Egypt". By exercising this veto right, they can demand that the Constitutional Assembly review the articles in question, if there is no agreement, either of the parties can present the dispute to the Supreme Constitutional Court, the decision of which will be binding. No absolute deadline is included.
  • The law defines the conditions for eligibility of the candidates for parliamentary elections according to the system the law chooses. (The former article 38 of the Constitutional Declaration of 30 March 2011 which is altered here had the extra sentence "and these [conditions] may include minimum quota for women in both chambers". This sentence is now omitted.)

Addition: when it comes to the powers of the president, the following articles of the March 2011 Constitutional Declaration remain unaltered:

Art. 25
The President of the State is the president of the republic. He shall assert 
the sovereignty of the people, respect for the constitution and sovereignty 
of the law, and defense of national unity and social justice, according to 
means stipulated in this Announcement and the law. 

He shall undertake upon assuming his position responsibilities referred to 
in article 56 of this announcement, except for what is stipulated in 
provisions 1 and 2 of the article.  

Art. 31
The president of the republic will appoint within a maximum of 30 days 
after assuming his duties at least one vice president and determine his 
responsibilities, so that in the case of his stepping down from the position 
of the president, another will be appointed on his place. The conditions 
that must be met by the president will apply, as will rules governing the 
accountability for vice presidents of the republic.  

Art. 56 
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces deals with the administration of 
the affairs of the country. To achieve this, it has directly the following; 
1- Legislation 
2- Issuing public policy for the state and the public budget and 
ensuring its implementation 
3- Appointing the appointed members of the People's Assembly 
4- Calling the People's Assembly and Shoura Councils to enter into 
normal session, adjourn, or hold an extraordinary session, and 
adjourn said session 
5- The right to promulgate laws or object to them 
6- Represent the state domestically and abroad, sign international 
treaties and agreements, and be considered a part of the legal 
system of the state 
7- Appoint the prime minister and his deputies, ministers and their 
deputies, as well as relieve them from their duties 
8- Appoint civilian and military employees and political 
representatives, as well as dismiss them according to the law; 
accredit foreign political representative 
9- Pardon or reduce punishment, through blanket amnesty is granted 
only by law 
10-Other authorities and responsibilities as determined by the 
president of the republic pursuit to laws and regulations. The Council 
shall have the power to delegate its head or one of its members to 
take on its responsibilities 

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Mr. President, you have been warned.

Mr. President,

Whoever you are, whether leading Muslim Brotherhood figure and former president of the Freedom & Justice Party, prof. dr. Mohammed Morsi or former minister of aviation and prime-minister of the Mubarak regime, lieutenant general Ahmed Shafik. You need to know that I, like many others in this country, didn't want you to be the first post-revolution president in my beloved Egypt or at any other time for that matter. 

You are where you are despite the wishes of millions of Egyptians and you need to remember that very well. I imagine that the main force that drove people to choose you was either fear or greater disgust for the other candidate. The reason I'm telling you this is because I want you to know your place, know that we will not tolerate state media attempts to portray you as 'the great national leader' through songs and documentaries glorifying you and your past. After thousands of years, Egyptians are finally ready to abolish the position of Pharaoh in their country. Your former accomplishments and/or academic degrees are not of importance and you will be judged by what you do while in office.

Whoever you are, I would like you to be aware that you represent a lot of what I despise as an Egyptian liberal. You advocate for a big, intrusive government and you clearly disrespect the autonomy and intelligence of the individual citizen. 

Please know that I will not stand by as you try to make decisions for me that I should be making for myself in complete freedom. I will not tolerate censorship on my opinions and you can be sure I will write to criticize you in the harshest manner. No, you are not my father, no you don't deserve any respect because of the title you can now add to your name. I have been following your news, listening to your words and researching your opinions for a while and I have no reason to respect you, you will have to earn that while in office with incredibly hard and thoughtful work. 

Know that I will not tolerate you making decisions for me on the economic, cultural or social front. You will not subsidize sectors simply because your friends are active in them using ordinary Egyptians' tax money. You will not hinder the working of the free market for the sake of those close to you who stand to lose if faced with true competition. It is your job to tackle excessive bureaucracy and to make it as easy as possible for Egyptians to participate in a corruption-free economic environment. Workers' unions and syndicates as well as consumer groups and business owners' associations shall exist independently of government control. No favors to certain groups over others will be permitted. In short, you will not treat this country as your family business!

I don't need you to tell me what to wear, what to say, what to eat. Stay out of my wallet, my fridge and my closet. You will not dictate to me what morality is and how I should live and I won't stand for any abuse of religion and/or manipulation of religious institutions on your part in an attempt to justify your crooked policies. You will treat all Egyptians as equal before the law with no government discrimination based on sex, ethnicity or religion.

Human rights will be zealously defended  against any vicious attacks on them by your security apparatus under whatever pretense. NGOs and human rights organizations shall operate freely in the country when you're president. You will respect the rule of law and don't expect to get away with any exceptions to that in favor of your cronies.You will be responsible for the competences that have been granted to you in the constitution, if you feel you're too old or weak to do your job, don't count on any sympathy, your predecessor tried and didn't get any. Surround yourself with people who know what they're doing and who will advice you with honesty and integrity, again, if you don't, that is solely your failure. 

Finally, I absolutely do not want to hear empty, loud speeches and hollow rhetoric. I want you to be realistic and transparent when talking to the people you work for, the country is facing many difficulties and challenges, your job is to tackle them without adding any to the list yourself. Know that any impediment to the free exercise of our political and civil rights will be faced with vigorous protest and any attempt on your behalf to stand in the way of the Egyptian people's liberty will cost you dearly. 

Mr. President, you have been warned. 

An Egyptian citizen.

Friday, 25 May 2012

The Myth of "The Revolutionary Candidate"

Many revolutionaries blamed Hamdeen Sabbahi for taking his chances and nominating himself for the presidency and thus supposedly stealing away AbulFotouh's votes. These people saw that all revolutionaries had to unite behind one 'revolutionary candidate' to face the 'felool'. A similar fate awaited Khaled Ali, although in light of the small amount of votes he got, his running for office didn't affect the final results much as opposed to Hamdeen Sabbahi.

In any case, this post is not written to argue about who is more worthy for the title of "the revolutionary candidate", but rather to argue against the concept itself. Yes, the people stood together and screamed "the people want the downfall of the regime" and "bread, freedom, social justice". Yes, right after the fall of  Mubarak, many decried the terrible polarization that occurred between people who formerly stood hand in hand to revolt against a dictator even unto death. The truth, however - and this shouldn't be considered as  something negative per se - is that the revolutionaries are different individuals with different ideologies.

Lessons we will soon forget

As the final results of the first round of Egypt's presidential elections are revealed, some tendencies in the voting behavior & thinking of Egyptians become clear. As usual, we will not take that into account & will not try to learn from our mistakes in order to rectify what has gone wrong, but here are my two cents:

Most importantly, candidates with a clear program and who've spoken without vagueness about their goals and ideology, seem to be scoring much better. Morsy was the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, a vote for him was a vote for the "Renaissance" project, which didn't really belong to him, but to the Muslim Brotherhood as a whole (some would argue to the Islamists in general). An Islamist who wishes for a greater role for religion in the state and who has said that clearly, Morsy has succeeded, together with the organizational force and weight of the Brotherhood to take the majority of the votes.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012


كتبت هذا المقال و انا اتابع الأحداث الأخيرة فى العباسية و اتحسّر على حال بلدى مثل الكثيرين و لم انشره آنذاك، لكن يبدو لى ان الآن وقت مناسب لنشره.

كل ما اراه فى الآونة الأخيرة هو تخوين و مزايدة و شتائم بذيئة و حقد و عدم ثقة و اتسآل - بعيداً عن المشهد السياسى - كيف سنحيا نحن المصريون معاً فى هذا البلد؟ كيف سنجعل من مصرنا الجنة المنشودة و نحن نفرح لمصائب اهلنا و نشمت فى ما يلاقيه البعض فى بلادنا من مشاكل و احزان؟ لماذا نحاول انقاذ وطن اصبح من سماته كراهية اهله بعضهم البعض، لماذا نناضل و نكافح؟ الم نقل ان كل شئ نفعله هو من اجل المواطن المصرى؟ كيف نقول اننا نحارب من اجل كرامة و عزة هذا المواطن و نحن نشتمه بأقذر الألفاظ؟ كيف نغنى اغانى حب فى الوطن و نحن نبغض اهله و اصحابه؟

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The War of Words in Egypt

It is well-known how the usage of certain words can change a message completely, how a text which appears to be objective or neutral can implicitly hold a very biased tone revealed in the choice of words the author makes. Speaking about ‘terrorists’ is not like speaking about ‘freedom fighters’, ‘resistance’ for instance, but both are often used to describe the same group of people and help reveal the position of the author on the subject at hand. ‘Protesters’, ‘activists’ or ‘thugs’ and ‘rioters’? Clearly those who are being protested against would prefer the latter two descriptions, thereby already discrediting protestors without having to add any pejorative adjectives to those words. Similarly, a worrying trend is noticeable in Egypt where ‘opposition’ is now for instance sometimes interchangeably used with ‘islamophobia’.