Egypt: What follows the assassination of the General Prosecutor?

Abdallah El-Sennawi
Friday 3 Jul 2015

The assassination of the General Prosecutor is a seismic event that will cast a long shadow for some time on Egyptian political life

As a bomb exploded in the heart of the motorcade of the country’s top prosecutor Hisham Barakat, a new page turned in the battle between the state and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).

Although investigations have not yet discovered the perpetrators who plotted and carried out the attacks, accusations have been levelled at the MB. In fact, some of the group's affiliates were quick to confirm these suspicions by gloating and cheering for terror.

In terms of political impact, the assassination is a definitive and final declaration of boycotting any notion of "reconciliation", and an open escalation in confrontations. Essentially, the MB lost any possibility of correcting its status or gaining any sympathy. It also lost all claims to being peaceful or any other democratic value.

From a historical perspective, the assassination undermines any "injustice" claimed by the MB and sheds doubt that the group will have a future on the political map.

In the 1940s, the assassination of Justice Ahmed Al-Khazindar by the group’s secret apparatus was like an earthquake in Egyptian society. The group's founding father Hassan Al-Banna attempted to distance himself from the assassination, but the spilled blood of Al-Khazindar continued to pursue the group for decades.

It is certain that the spilled blood of Barakat will also follow his murderers in public memory and in history. Whatever criticism is levelled at the justice system, taking aim at its senior figures are crimes of historic proportion that are unforgiveable, and their political outcome carries the gravest consequences for the culprits.

The context of the assassination of the general prosecutor is a harbinger of a likely wave of assassinations of other judicial, political and media figures. Killing a figure as prominent as the general prosecutor is an extremely negative indicator that reveals serious security failures. It was no surprise that the General Prosecutor was targeted -- there had already been several attempts on his life and his name was known to be on top of the assassination lists. The timing was not a surprise, either. There were many signals of potential terrorist attacks to coincide with the second anniversary of 30 June.

Admitting security negligence, holding those responsible accountable and plugging the holes is serious action to control terrorism and terrorist groups. Open confrontation means there is no absolute security that prevents all terrorist attacks, but grave security negligence is another matter altogether. This type of confrontation dictates that it will last a long time and cannot be handled through a hysterical media that is being closely watched by the world.

It is also unacceptable and unreasonable anywhere in the world to disparage human rights, public freedoms and a state of law as if they were obstacles that prevent a firm crackdown on terrorism. Such talk harms the image of the country as if it has become a jungle and that the state has lost control of the situation.

What Egypt needs most today in its state of shock is to take control of itself and seriously ponder the next steps that need to be taken, with the resolve of someone who knows their goals and the rationale of someone who understands the facts around them.

The hasty call for declaring a state of emergency is an early defeat in the war on terrorism, whereby the state appears panicked. A panicked state that is hysterical is not a strong state that decides and controls its policies.

There is a quintessential difference between resolve and loss of control. The former means there is a mostly coherent strategy in the war on terrorism, and strict security measures that address shortcomings, anticipate surprise, alert intelligence agencies, and public and political support and sympathy. The latter leads to mayhem in the security structure which undermines its cohesiveness and grass root support, and pushes it into political exposure. In a nutshell: disregard for the state of law hurts the war effort against terrorism.

Despite sweeping and justified anger, the state should not manage its affairs through hysterics and calls to trample on legal fundamentals. The difference between the state and bandits is that the former is committed to rules and the latter respects none. Even extraordinary measures are regulated by the constitution.

In other words, Egypt will lose its battle against terrorism the moment it tramples on the law. Trampling on the law means an open invitation to violate the dignity of people without charges, and expand security abuses against average citizens. This diminishes public support for the security apparatus at a critical moment in the war on terrorism. Yes, resolve is necessary but recklessness is a crime. This is a political matter primarily, before being a security one.

In proportion to progress by the state in reforming the justice system, both judicial and security branches, it will gain important ground in the war on terrorism. In proportion to the state becoming a model of justice and freedom, it will win the war in the hearts of the people before the battle on the ground.

Counsellor Hisham Barakat is a man of the law and avenging his life should only be done by the law. Any reckless talk tarnishes the image of a country whose prosecutor general was assassinated using explosives that terrorised an entire neighbourhood. Bad lawyers lose just causes.

We sometimes wonder in surprise, "Why doesn't the world sympathise with us?" The assassination of the general prosecutor is a crime that is unjustifiable except by the deranged. Nonetheless, we did not quite win this just cause or know how to present it to contemporary humanity.

In the same way, we lost the battle over image on 30 June -- which was unquestionably legitimate and an expression of the will of the people, and prevented the country from a slipping into a civil war and apocalyptic mayhem.

The assassination of the General Prosecutor is new evidence of the wisdom of 30 June, when millions of Egyptians poured into squares, streets and alleys. The absence of an inspiring model hinders the urgent task.

What Egypt needs as it heals its wounds and turns a new page in its war on terrorism, is to become a model that inspires not an obnoxious hysterical one.

The goal is to rehabilitate "hijacked June" and its goals of building a modern democratic civil state. We should also admit that the masses at the forefront of the scene at the time are almost absent altogether today. The absence of the average citizen is the worst harvest of a people's revolution that could never have succeeded without them.

Violating their rights weakens the state's immune system, causing it to lose its grass root foundation at a difficult time in the war on terrorism after the assassination of the General Prosecutor.


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