Monday, 24 June 2013

The Death of a Country

You hear the mob approaching, slogans against your religion are being shouted out as the masses wielding their sticks and daggers get closer and closer. You look out the window, you might get a chance to run, but it's too late, they've spotted you and their cheers get louder. They enter into your house and drag you out. You feel the first blow on your head, the rest of your body has been subjected to beatings from different directions since the very second they laid eyes on you. You try to speak "I didn't do anything, I'm innocent." But the chants of the crowd drown out your voice as you fall to the ground. You struggle to get up and your eyes meet the eyes of one of the aggressors. In that second, that moment of time, your eyes attempt to plead for mercy. 

The blows on your head and body keep coming and you look into his eyes. You see death, you see hopelessness and cruelty. You think to yourself "I'm Egyptian" but you have nothing in common with those Egyptians, they see you as an enemy, a threat to be exterminated. They have been hearing from politicians, sympathizers of the ruling party, that you are an agent for foreign powers. You think "I am a Muslim", but they've been told by the sheikh in the nearby mosque that you insult the Prophet and that you deserve to die, you're not one of them. The TV preacher told them that you'd burn in hell. Chants of "Allah Akbar" surround you as your teeth get smashed in by a large wooden stick. You taste your blood as you fall to the ground again. This time your eyes look up and meet the eyes of another assailant. You plead, thinking "I am a human being", but there is no humanity left in them. They have become like wild animals, their savagery fueled by the smell of your blood. 

You are on the ground now, choking on your blood, unable to breathe, pain has overtaken your entire body. You can no longer see, maybe it's for the best, you can no longer gaze in front of you to see yet another one of your killers reveling in cruelty, reveling in your pain.

Everything has gone dark, you can still feel the blows to your body, the cuts from the sharp knives, but it is as if you've left your body and are looking upon it from afar. You hear the chants, one woman was ululating in joy. And then silence comes over you, the only audible thing is your feeble heartbeat... it stopped. 

Hassan Shehata, the Shia cleric who was brutally murdered by a mob.

You are no longer. All that remains of you is a memory to those who loved you and a curse from the mouths of those who killed you, damning you to hell. Your countrymen - but is it even really your country? - have always known you were in danger. They too have been listening to the sheikhs proclaiming you as enemies of religion, a danger to society, a threat to all that is godly. They have done nothing. They haven't condemned them sufficiently, they never worried enough about you, they were never disturbed by the amount of hatred that was spreading in all corners of society. They haven't done anything to help you, to fight them. And they will not. Until one day they feel the first blow and fall to the ground and taste their blood as they gasp for air. They have lost their sight already...

Disclaimer: Egypt has been plagued with sectarianism for a long time. It has infiltrated all corners of society. Warnings are ignored and the danger is underestimated. This account was based on this (graphic) video documenting the lynching of 4 Shia men in Egypt. 

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

National Embarrassment

Yesterday, the Egyptian president invited a few people with highly questionable intellectual abilities to attend one of his famous 'national dialogue' meetings about the highly sensitive issue of the Ethiopian dam. This warranted a quickly written, angry rant on my part. Although the issue is one pertaining to international law, global politics and Egypt's water and energy supplies, the attendees included people who lack any expertise in the aforementioned areas, among whom religious preachers and clergy members. For of course, as it has become the norm in Egyptian politics, one must always include a sheikh and a priest in every so-called national dialogue lest on think that Egypt has some sort of sectarian issue. After all, no matter how many churches are burnt down, no matter how many villagers are killed or displaced in sectarian fights, the image of the priest hugging the sheikh, their beards gracefully touching, is what makes everything ok in the end. Even better is when members of the three Christian denominations are invited, the more the merrier, national unity has never been truer.

But of course, the church representatives are there for a different reason as well, namely because one of the plans, in an attempt at so-called soft diplomacy, is to send Egyptian church representatives to pressure the Ethiopians to do Egypt's bidding. The Coptic and Ethiopian churches have strong historical and spiritual bonds and this, of course, means that Ethiopia would relinquish its own national interests in order not to upset the Pope.. at least that's how Egyptian 'intelligentsia' see it. I will no longer comment on this for there is still so much to say.

Now, I admit I haven't watched the entire meeting, partly because of how perplexed I was. After all, this is the first 'secret meeting' I've heard of that got aired on live television. Oh, I forgot to mention, the organizer, one of the president's female advisers (Oh yes, FEMALE, look at how modern and open the Muslim Brotherhood is!) apparently forgot to mention to the guests that their words would be brought to the living rooms of millions of viewers. So there they sat, surrounded by enormous TV-camera's talking about their secret plots, unaware of the embarrassment they were bringing to themselves and others.

Only later on during the meeting, when someone literally said "I swear that all that is said here will remain secret" before sharing his own fool-proof plan, did it occur to the president's clearly highly capable female adviser to point out that the meeting was being televised.. live. But it's not a big deal really, everyone is allowed some mistakes, except that the Muslim Brotherhood administration has been making use of that allowance quite a lot ever since they came to power.

The second reason I didn't watch the entire meeting is a personal problem. In Egypt, when people are angry and frustrated, they like to express that in an animated way by pointing out how their blood is boiling or how their gallbladder is about to burst. Out of concern for my internal organs and general health, I couldn't watch the whole thing. However, what I did see was the incompetence and ignorance that has typified the Egyptian 'elite' for the past years.

I am not going to write down what was said during those meetings, I am sure international media will take care of that, indulging you with the ingenious plots our beloved public figures came up with. There are just a few points I'd like to highlight.

Dear Egypt, you are not the smart kid in class. You see, Egyptians* have the tendency to see themselves as the masters of the universe, the Egyptian child is the smartest child in the world and all Arab people should be thankful to Egypt because without us teaching them everything they know, they would have been left prey to ignorance and despair. Africans must just look to Egypt with silent admiration, hoping to learn something from this great nation.

The funny thing is that one of the attendees pointed out that Egyptians do tend to look down on Africans and that this should be remedied. His suggestion was that a group of Egyptians should go to Ethiopia and ask them, in what undoubtedly would be a very humble tone, "What can we do for you?"

Instead of arrogantly asking about what you can do for those 'poor, underdeveloped countries' (as opposed to yourself, a country with a booming economy), dear Egypt, how about you do yourself a favor and spit out the 'elite' which has caused you nothing but embarrassment? Dismissing those who have been consistent only in being wrong while being oblivious to the amount of damage they caused with their faulty political analysis, is the first step to recovery. A humble realization of our strengths, but mostly also our weaknesses, is the way forward for our arrogance and our delusions have served us little. So instead of asking what you can teach others, dear Egypt, teach your own elite a lesson!

*Please spare me any mention of how I am generalizing. Yes, I should hope my readers realize that I wasn't speaking about every single one of Egypt's 90 something million people. 

Sunday, 2 June 2013

The Last Summer of Reason

Exactly 20 years ago today, Algerian secularist writer and journalist Tahar Djaout was assassinated. He was an outspoken critic of Islamists and a proponent of secularism.

Today, the danger of those who would stifle freedom of conscience and freedom of speech is still very much apparent. People who dare to dissent, to voice their disagreement and use their pen as a weapon in the war of ideas are often in danger, their lives and their freedoms under threat. Let us never forget those who died because they wouldn't let threats stop them from speaking. Let us always remember those who wouldn't let darkness overshadow their light of reason. Let us keep the memory alive of those who bravely fought with the pen, even when the ink was their own blood.

I took the liberty of translating an excerpt from Tahar Djaout's book "The Last Summer of Reason". It was published after his death.

"He could easily have managed to lead a peaceful existence in this life, and, who knows, maybe also in the next. The warmth of the herd gives one safety, reinforces certainty and arms one against the iron hold of doubt. The herd shows you the way: it offers the illusion of the right path which leads you to paradise in a loud and uncivilized manner. The sheep which distances itself from the herd instantaneously becomes scabby. It is flooded with snarls and growls, with images of damnation, the rhetoric of curses which dogma mobilizes to punish intelligence and to distract from her questions.

The present brings with it much sadness. Piety has become the norm for greatness. Faith: a gravel desert with a fading face. He wanders between that desert of faith and the paradise of the books. The books, his old friends, filled with the invigorating power of dreams and intelligence together!

Now, at this moment, they have burned all his books in a cleansing fire. They recognize the danger of the words, all the words they can never tame or extinguish."

May he rest in peace.

English Summary of Constitutional Court Decision

Today, Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court issued its decision regarding the constitutionality of the law which regulated the election of the Shura Council, Egypt's Upper House. This is the English summary of the ruling as it was published on Al Ahram newspaper.

1. Article 2.1 of the 2011 version of the Law nr. 120 of 1980 is unconstitutional.
2. Article 8.1 of that same law (as amended by the law nr. 109 of 2011) is also unconstitutional. This article gave both independents (not belonging to any party) and party members the right to run for seats reserved for individual voting (as opposed to electoral lists).
3. Article 24 of the same law is unconstitutional for providing that art. 9 bis a of the Law nr. 308 of 1972 re. the People's Assembly applies to the Shura Council as well.
4. This verdict is not to be implemented until a new Lower House is elected as article 230 of the Constitution stipulates.

The verdict is based on the controversial article 5 (which I mentioned in my article about the Dissolution of Egypt's Lower House a year ago) of the law nr. 120 of 2011 which stipulated that to run for the third of seats reserved for individual voting, the candidate had to be independent, thus not belonging to any political party. That article was later cancelled by law nr. 123 of 2011.

Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court

The Court clarified that its judgement is based on the old constitution, being the Constitutional Declaration which was issued on the 30th of March 2011 and amended by the declaration of 25 September 2011, as the new constitution isn't retroactively applicable. The old constitution being the one which was valid when the disputed articles were promulgated. The new constitution of 2012, in fact, goes in against the disputed law nr. 20 of 1980 because it states in article 231 that both independents and party members are allowed to run for all seats in parliament.

The Court continued saying that art. 38 of the Constitutional Declaration of 2011 which was applicable during the parliamentary elections stated that the electoral system would combine a system of electoral lists for two thirds and an individual system for the remaining third. The principle of equality and non-discrimination would suggest that this means that if only party members were allowed to run for the two thirds reserved for electoral lists, then independents should have been exclusively allowed to run for the remaining third of parliamentary seats. The system which allowed party members to run for all seats available while independents could only run for one third was deemed discriminatory and contrary to the principle of equal opportunity.

Therefore, the aforementioned parts of articles 2, 8 and 24 of the Law nr. 120 of 1980 were deemed unconstitutional by the Court.

The Court then mentions that since the people are sovereign and since they have voted upon the new constitution, it became the highest law in the land. This, regardless of whether that constitution fulfilled all aspirations or failed to do so in some aspects.

Therefore, the Court reconfirmed that, even though the unconstitutionality of the aforementioned articles leads to the invalidity of the Shura Council, the effects of that invalidity have been halted by the new constitution of December 2012. Article 230 of the new constitution specifies that the Shura Council takes over legislative powers until a new Lower House is elected at which point the legislative powers are transferred to the latter. A new Shura Council is to be elected within 6 months of the date of the first meeting of the new Lower House.

So the Shura Council remains the holder of legislative powers as article 230 of the constitution stipulates. After a new Lower House is elected, the effects of this verdict can take their course.

PS: You can read my analysis of the Court's Dissolution of Parliament last year here

Edit: emphasis added in bold for ease of reading