Encroaching on freedom and creativity destroys the future

Nader Fergany , Saturday 30 Nov 2013

The progress of humanity is based on freedom and creativity. Any society or regime that encroaches on one of them is doomed to backwardness and recession. What about those who infringe on both?

This article is neither in solidarity with nor against satirical star Bassem Youssef or his famous show "El-Bernameg." It is rather about the suspending of the show as part and parcel of the efforts of the interim government to restrict freedoms during the current interim phase.

To clarify, when I say the 'government', I mean the interim presidency and the team it appointed, headed by Hazem El-Beblawi, as well as the committees it has formed to draft the constitution. I am directing my criticism at all of these agencies, who are responsible for executing the road map for the future following the second big wave of our people's great revolution.

I was dismayed when Ahmed Al-Meslemani, media advisor to the interim president, was evasive regarding the suspension of El-Bernameg, claiming that the decision was made by the satellite channel and the government had nothing to do with it. I blame this prominent media personality for his disregard of governmental responsibility, and his own responsibility as a media official in the presidential team. It is his responsibility to protect the freedoms of mass media, instead of defending the government with a sick, bureaucratic logic.

My standpoint is reinforced with the firm principle established in social and political sciences that humanity's progress is based upon the inseparability of freedom and creativity as its main engine, as the wings of progress. Hence, any society or regime that cuts one of these wings is doomed to backwardness and recession. What about those who cut away both wings? Creativity doesn't flourish except in a climate of total freedom. Thus, freedom is the mother of progress as well as its ultimate objective.

The danger of suspending the show is that it damages the freedom of expression and the value of creativity altogether, not to mention the infringement on a renowned Egyptian characteristic, namely sense of humour.

Self-censorship is more indicative of tyranny than formal censorship, because it results in a fiercer level of oppression. It demonstrates the pervasion of authority within one's psyche when a creator or head of mass media feels he has to impose restraints on himself. He who practises self-censorship in order to flatter those in power, is in fact harming freedom most, because he states flagrantly that there is no need for formal censorship, as terror has permeated the psyche.

In principle, I am against banning freedom of expression, which should be the last resort of freedom supporters and sound democratic rule. Unless a writer, announcer or photographer commits an illegal crime or the infringement of a code of ethics, he should be countered by another opinion and nothing more; that is, if we are keen on preserving freedom and sound democratic rule. May those who are most creative triumph, not the censor, whoever he is.

I wouldn't mind if the show was banned by a court verdict or by a decision taken by an independent council that regulates the performance of media through a code of ethics. Unfortunately, however, the government and the media community have been lax in agreeing on such a code and implementing it.

The interim government didn't stop at restricting freedom of expression, its violations of rights and freedoms continue. This shouldn't be the case, as it is an unelected government. The main mission of this government is to execute the road map, which culminated this revolutionary wave, in order to reach sound democratic rule.

I can't mention all the violations here due to space, so I'll restrict myself to highlighting the law regulating demonstrations, the law criminalising graffiti, and the banning of the right to sit-ins and peaceful strikes in the draft of the new constitution.

The current government's failure in its main mission or in any mission supporting the objectives of the people's revolution has become obvious to everyone. It seems it has chosen to use legislation to restrict rights and freedoms to cover up its failures and evade criticism, in an effort to abort the next wave of popular revolution, which it will inevitably face as long as the current circumstances continue.

We tell them they'll fail in this cunning pursuit, as their predecessors did before. Suppressing freedoms won't breed anything except more resistance and it may fuel violence. It seems that they understand this quite well, so they began to draft a law granting immunity to high officials.

The interim government committed a double error, when it imitated the Islamist right in promulgating laws restricting freedoms in the absence of a parliament, and neglected issuing long-awaited laws and decisions that would have contributed to improving the standard of living of the people, ignoring demands for justice and the conducting of fair inquiries into the long list of recent disasters.

Finally, it is unavoidable to mention the excesses of the police across all eras, which reveals a dire need for radical reform in the security sector with its civil and military facets. This sector's creed and behaviour should only include securing the safety of citizens and respecting their rights. This pivotal mission has been discarded by all governments after the revolution, as authorities have used the security sector to serve their own interests and tried to flatter them through avoiding reforms.

With all due respect to the sacrifices made by policemen confronting the despicable terrorism of the remnants of the Islamist right, it should be stated that the police have encroached on and violated citizens' rights during the rules of Mubarak, the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces), Mohammed Morsi and now the interim government.

It seems that the police compensate for their shortcomings by tightening the noose on terrorism, through the chaos in Egyptian streets and their failure to arrest those accused of masterminding terrorist acts. Leaders like Assem Abdel Maged and Tarek El-Zomor are still at large, while some policemen confront peaceful demonstrators by slapping and kicking them.

Despite all this, the security sector hasn't succeeded in protecting citizens' safety, evidenced in the grave breaches committed by the Islamist right before and after reaching power, and the utter silence of those in power over Israel's theft of Egyptian natural gas from within its maritime boundaries. At the same time, the government begs petroleum products from benevolent countries.

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