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The difficult road to achieving national reconciliation in Egypt

Mohammed Ezz-Al-Arab considers the obstacles facing national reconciliation in Egypt, along with the experiences of other countries that have experienced deep political crisis

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Sunday 6 Jul 2014
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Clashes in Cairo (Photo:AFP)
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Iskhalyyat tahqeeq Al-Mosalaha Al-Watanyia fi Misr ba'ad Al-Thawarat (Problematics of Achieving National Reconciliation in Egypt after Revolutions) by Mohammed Ezz-Al-Arab, Alternatives Series — Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, Cairo, 2014. pp.44

Perhaps it is a bit early to raise the issue of national reconciliation while the Muslim Brotherhood and their political Islam allies are pursuing an escalation policy and refusing to participate in dialogue. On the other hand, the regime that the people overthrew in the January 25 Revolution is very much alive and is even gathering strength and marshalling its forces towards participating strongly in the upcoming legislative elections, without any talk of reconciliation and in total disregard for what happened during Mubarak's rule.

As for the "Alternatives" series, it is non-periodical published by Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies with the aim of "discussing and suggesting alternatives related to Egyptian politics and Egyptian foreign policy and national security in the Middle East," quoting the editorial statement covering the series.

If the time is early for raising the issue of reconciliation in itself, the writer of the study is accurate in choosing the title: "Problematics of Achieving National Reconciliation in Egypt after Revolutions." From the very first lines in his study he asserts that although three years have passed since the January 2011 revolution, and a year passed since 30 June 2013, when respectively revolutionary forces succeeded in overthrowing Hosni Mubarak's regime and terminating the then-ruling party's inheritance plans, and then toppling Mohamed Morsi's regime and spurring the downfall of Muslim Brotherhood rule, the intermediate phase between the demise of the old regime and building an alternative regime — the so-called "transitional stage" — remains greatly complicated. It isn't even one stage, but rather successive waves of transitional stages.

The writer meanwhile underlines that national reconciliation will yield worthwhile results only if it is accompanied by transitional justice. Reconciliation is achieved through special mechanisms of dialogue, trust building measures and establishing the foundations of reform and democratisation. The writer also identifies "approaches" for achieving transitional justice, which are fact-finding commissions, the filing of lawsuits, providing reparations, and trying to implement a culture of "accountability" instead one of "impunity." This in turn will provide a feeling of safety to large segments of society regarding the outlines of the new state. At the same time, it sends a warning signal to those thinking about committing abuses and infringements in the future.

A part of the study is devoted to a number of international experiences of national reconciliation. The majority of the world's countries that suffered from deep political cleavages only exited instability after internal conflicts reached a climax. Revisionist efforts relied on the principle of holding accountable those responsible for violations. However, prior experiences cannot always be exported and applied to other countries.

In this context, the study presents the experience of South Africa after the end of the apartheid regime and on establishing a new regime after Mandela's release and election as president, centred on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The author also tackles the National Reconciliation Commission in Ghana in 2002 and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Sierra Leone in 2000.

Among reconciliation experiences, the study also considers those in Latin America, including the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons in Argentina in 1982, the Truth and Justice Commission in Paraguay in 2003, the Fact-Finding Commission in El Salvador in 1991, the Historical Clarification Commission in Guatemala in 1994, and the Chilean National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation in 1988. The study also touches on the experience of Poland in 1989 and the Moroccan experience through establishing the Equity and Reconciliation Commission in 2004.

If it is true that it is not necessarily possible to transfer such experiences and apply them in Egypt, the study nonetheless suggests that in the Egyptian case a number of forms of reconciliation are needed: between prominent figures of the Mubarak regime and numerous groups of Egyptians, between the Muslim Brotherhood and large segments of society, and between businessmen linked to previous regimes and substantial parts of society. Moreover, there are other facets of reconciliation — between Muslims and Copts, or between the police and the people, or between civilians and the military — that deserve attention.

The study concludes with a number of suggestions to be presented to national reconciliation officials, to act as a guide. For instance, communications should be made with the International Centre for Transitional Justice, which works in more than 30 countries, to help in linking local needs with international experiences, and adopting an institutional and reformative path to be applied in all Egyptian state agencies. This should be done with the aim of approaching reconciliation in a transitional context, in a way that reformation is focused on key areas; namely, security, the judiciary and the state media.

Suggestions include the participation of all conflicting parties, without excluding any party, in dialogue. They also include conducting a dialogue between the Brotherhood youth and those refusing the escalating approach of the Muslim Brotherhood. Moreover, the public should be prepared for the ongoing reconciliation process, in order that the process gains the necessary support. This in turn relies on stemming the discourse of hatred, setting up a timetable of reconciliation stages and measures, and limiting the damage that the media can sometimes cause, especially satellite channels.

The study's suggestions are not only necessary, but also very useful in exiting the current impasse. However, the present climate stands in the way of raising it for public discussion.

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