Book Review: El-Bishri misreads the political scene

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Wednesday 8 Apr 2015

Tariq El-Bishri, in what appears a final word on Egyptian post-revolution politics, sadly loses in his most recent book the impartiality that earlier he was known for

Book Cover
Book Cover

Thawrat 25 Yanayer wa Al-Sira'a hawl Al-Sulta (The 25th January Revolution and the Conflict over Power) by Tariq El-Bishri, El-Basheer for Culture and Sciences Publishing, Cairo, 2014. pp. 215

Many writers and analysts agree that Judge Tariq El-Bishri, historian and dignified member of the judiciary, played a very significant role in shaping the political scene after the 2011 revolution, or since he was selected by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to head the constitutional amendments committee. The referendum that followed in March 2011 sparked serious division, to the extent that it was described by one Salafist leader as the "battle of the boxes", while analysts described it as aborting the revolution by legal means.

It is worth mentioning that El-Bishri has produced two founding works in their fields, namely, The History of the Political Movement in Egypt, 1945-1952 and Muslims and Copts in the Framework of National Community. Although he has written a number of books after the revolution, they didn't rise to the levels of neutrality, accuracy and impartiality of his previous work. As for his intellectual and doctrinal attachment to the Muslim Brotherhood, El-Bishri hasn't denied it, but to the cost of his well-known impartiality, whether as a judge or as a historian.

His latest work, titled The 25th January Revolution and the Conflict over Power, which was published late last year, can be considered his "last word" in a sense, for he has written neither books nor newspaper articles as he used to do, even after 30 June 2013. El-Bishri, in this new book, hasn't just published his articles and commentaries; he has even published a number of newspaper interviews conducted with him by Al-Shorouk newspaper and some internet sites, as if he intended to record his last words before History.

Perhaps the first remark is that El-Bishri is reading the political scene in an erroneous way, where he sees, in the first chapter "Egypt after the Revolution", that the conflict after Hosni Mubarak's downfall crystallised in three political forces; the state apparatus and the army as its nucleus; the Islamist current with the Muslim Brotherhood as its nucleus; and the liberal current with the media as its nucleus.

What is astonishing is that he considers the Muslim Brotherhood as a "democratic force" that came to the fore through free popular elections, while ignoring these elections' very nature, whether legislative or presidential. The Muslim Brotherhood relied on courting religious feelings and presenting themselves to voters as owning the keys to paradise, along with depending on bribes in kind to voters. When they won in the presidential elections they committed not just mistakes but sins and assaulted democracy and freedoms in an unprecedented way. Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi issued a flagrant constitutional declaration in November 2012 through which he immunised all his decisions and the laws he issued, dismissing the public prosecutor and ruling alone, except for the input of the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau, which was his only point of reference.

El-Bishri ignores these facts although he has commented in the next chapters on the constitutional declaration. It is true that he refused it and considered it null and void. However, his opinion was confined to the declaration only, not whether it signified tyranny and an aggression on freedoms. The same goes to his commentary on Morsi's dismissal of the public prosecutor and his appointing a new one that was pliant in Morsi's hand.  

As for the millions who went to the streets on 30 June 2013 to overthrow Morsi, El-Bishri doesn't care about that at all. He treats with extreme disregard those members of political forces that demanded the Muslim Brotherhood president conduct a referendum on whether he should continue in power, or call early presidential elections and spare the country violence, division and infighting. El-Bishri asserts that at the same time when 30 June demanded the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood, there was a sit-in in Rabaa Al-Adawiya insisting the Muslim Brotherhood continue to rule. He doesn't appear to care about the huge difference in numbers between one and the other. 

El-Bishri bases his viewpoint on the assumption or claim that the Muslim Brotherhood are "the only democratic force in the political arena," and on the election results. But the former president won by a very narrow margin, with a sizeable section of voters supporting him due to hatred of his challenger, General Ahmed Shafiq, who hailed directly from the Mubarak regime. In spite of this, El-Bishri, otherwise a great historian, seems unacquainted with the historical documents of the Muslim Brotherhood since its foundation, which not only abolish political parties but even abolish politics as a whole.

El-Bishri refused at this juncture any measure except resort to the constitution (ie the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood continues for another four years with no call for fresh elections). But this constitution was a farce, including the formation of the constitutional committee that drafted or discussed its articles and voted on it. Tens withdrew from the drafting committee in protest at Muslim Brotherhood tyranny and its insistence on "tailoring" the constitution's articles to its liking.

Finally, it is a sad matter that a competent and trustworthy historian and judge known for his strict sense of justice stoops to this level of justification, truth-evading, and circumvention.

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