Egypt: The government of protests by permit

Nader Fergani , Friday 13 Dec 2013

The serious shortcomings of the current government may prompt the masses to launch a third wave of the great revolution of the Egyptian people

It’s an odd thing about the interim government, and I don’t just mean Beblawi’s cabinet. It is unfair to blame the cabinet and prime minister, despite their appalling performance and lack of revolutionary drive. The interim president and now the judiciary are also to blame here.

Not only is the interim government slow moving and hesitant in taking decisions to make the map for the future a success — which it was entrusted to do — and has earned a reputation of trembling steps, but after procrastinating and hesitating when it decided to muster some courage it made the mistake of arrogant overreaction that came too late. Thus it moved from quivering to sclerosis.

It is no wonder that the interim government has little popular support. Opinion polls show that public support for this cabinet in November was no more than 25 percent, which is a drop from 37 percent only one month earlier. While this is a shocking drop, it is also lower than popular support for the government of the so-called Islamist right shortly before the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi, which stood at 30 percent.

The government has serious shortcomings on several levels regarding the demands of the people’s revolution. In short, this government is inviting the masses to launch the third massive wave of the great revolution of the people, to come out against it and voice their disappointment in this second transitional phase.

To coincide with issuing a law putting limitations on demonstrations, this cabinet — which cares more about its image abroad than it does at home — hired a firm to improve its image in the US in return for hefty sums of money, while shamelessly withholding the basic needs of the people at home. The cabinet was criticised by the UN’s human rights commissioner, the UN secretary general and Amnesty International after issuing a law regulating the right to protest, as it claimed, while in fact it restricted this right.

The government resorted to this ruse after it failed to contain reactions of the Islamist right wing after the overthrow of its fascist rule by being too complacent in exacting retribution against the heads of the serpent, of whom the most dangerous are at large. It also failed to reconcile and contain misguided or hired “Islamist” youth, who have continued in a way that is both admirable but also surprising because of the government’s failure to contain them.

Since the government was not able to bring them into line, it decided to take revenge on the rest. There was no need for this law. Many believe the penal code was effective enough and did not need to be supplemented, guaranteeing the freedom to demonstrate by giving notice without the requirement of authorisation from the Ministry of Interior. The cabinet lied in claiming that the law does not restrict the right to protest.

There is no doubt that by stipulating authorisation at least seven business days prior to a meeting, march or protest, the law restricts the right to protest. Article 7 of the law bans some action that makes it in violation of the right to protest, such as sit-ins, including the right to go on strike, which is permitted under the International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights. The law bans this and made it punishable, using ambiguous and very general terms that give broad discretionary powers to the security apparatus, which I fear remains stern at the expense of citizen rights.

Ironically, the cabinet did not realise that almost on the same day another body of the interim regime, the 50-Member Committee, approved a constitutional statute guarding the right to protest by only giving notice. Thus, the cabinet issued a protest law that contradicts the draft constitution that protects the right to protest by giving notice and does not require a permit, which means the law will become unconstitutional as soon as the draft constitution is ratified.

Naturally, these blatant lies do not fool anyone, whether at home or overseas. The government has angered sectors in society who are in the revolution camp as well as their nemesis, the so-called Islamist right, and I believe justly so. By sternly applying this deformed law, the interior inistry has contributed to tarnishing the image of the cabinet. There is no victory or comfort in claims by the government when security agencies launch a war against protestors from across the political spectrum, up and down the country, jailing and injuring young protestors. They are all Egyptians and their freedom and blood is sacred. Overseas, the government received criticism from several capitals and international human rights organisations.

All these developments have increased rebuke of the government from accusing it of trembling and hesitating, to being plain foolish. As the saying goes, “For every malaise there is a cure, except folly which has contaminated its healer.”

Not only did the government violate the freedom to protest, but the judiciary has also committed another violation. A judge in Alexandria sentenced 14 young women to 11 years in prison and seven minors to a home for juveniles for an unspecified period of time for being members of what is known as the “Seven AM” group. The ruling seems exceptionally harsh, which contradicts one of the basic principles in human rights charters that ban cruel and demeaning punishment, especially since the draft constitution guarantees observation of these treaties and rights. At the same time, our heritage promotes “mercy over justice.”

To begin with, the judge added the prison terms for each charge against the girls: six years for “gathering;” four years for “thuggery;” one month for “damage of property;” one year and a LE500 fine for “possession of an assault weapon against citizens.” Custom has it that the penalty for the most serious charge supplants other penalties.

It is hard to believe these girls committed all they are charged with. According to their lawyer, the evidence submitted to the court was flimsy and witness accounts are contradictory. We hope the interior ministry has not once again reverted to fabricating charges against anyone unfortunate enough to be in its crosshairs. There are many question marks surrounding the verdict.

More importantly, everyone should understand that long jail sentences do not guarantee rehabilitation, but are more likely to train and create terrorists. All the hardened terrorists that Egypt has suffered under graduated from its prisons. It is important to be stern with leaders and instigators, but not with the misguided youth who are used as cannon fodder. It should be noted that all five instigators in the case of these girls are at large; it is rumoured that the head of the serpent, Assem Abdel-Maged, is living in luxury in Doha.

In this manner, the heads escape punishment while the wretched misguided followers suffer the worst revenge. Such is justice under this interim government. The duty of the Ministry of Transitional Justice and the entire government is to guarantee that the innocent do not drown in the guilt of rogues. When will this principle be established in Egypt? And will the interim government absolve itself by adopting this principle and protecting it? Perhaps then only the masses will not take to the streets to overthrow it also.

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