"In its latest statement to the public opinion, the Syndicate of Journalists considered the sentences of imprisonment passed collectively against four editors in chief as a "declaration of war against freedom of expression", which is an eloquent expression describing the gravity of the sense of peril. However, as a matter of fact, the "war" is ongoing since more than a year and a half on a wider scale, and the latest verdict is not a declaration of war, rather than one of its rounds preceded by others, like shutting down 2 human rights NGOs, aborting the judges movement, crushing the political demonstrations,…etc. but if there is a "war declaration" it should be the last constitutional amendments".
The constitutional amendments endorsed through the public referendum held on March 26, 2007, constitute the peak of the political, security, media and legislative counter-attack against the limited political mobility, which has been taking place in Egypt during 2004-2005. The ruling system was forced, at that time, to, temporarily, retract from the adamant rejection of undertaking political reform, under the US and European pressures calling for reform within the framework of their anti-terrorist strategy. Such temporary retraction did not entail any compromises, on the part of the ruling system, of an institutional or legislative nature. It was confined, however, to a wide-scale political manoeuvre, which basically aims to ease down and mitigate the international pressures.
A Clever Manoeuvre
The maneuver ramified into three courses:
1- An implication that the ruling system has comprehended the message and that has it decided to actually embark on reform. This was represented in the initiative taken to amend Article 76 of the Constitution, organizing the Alexandria Conference on Reform, and permitting that conference to issue a proper document, insinuating, in the meantime, that the system will adopt this document at the national and regional levels before the Arab Summit. This manoeuvre has, indeed, succeeded in mitigating international and foreign pressures, causing a rift among those calling for political reform within the country, and dampening the enthusiasm and motivation of the others, a matter which will, eventually, mitigate local pressure, which is originally limited. Such local pressure has not effected any essential change in the process of choosing /electing the President of the Republic, which was clad in the form of elections, whereas it maintained in essence the nature of a referendum, similarly like other Arab countries that have started applying this pattern several years ago, such as Tunisia and Yemen.
2- The second track is the continuation of security oppression and suppression, yet in a calculated manner. As not all forms of peaceful collective movement have been aggressively and violently dealt with, except on meaningful political occasions, such as the referendum made on the initiative taken to amend Article 76,or the declaration made by President Mubarak of his intention to run for a fifth term of presidency. Excessive security suppression in specific occasions was more of a practical test of the coherence of the stance taken by the international community as regards the issue of reform in Egypt. It was noticed that the security-related decision taken on the day following such occasions, by continuing the aggressive oppression or refraining from, or mitigating it, is concretely and unmistakably related to the nature of the US and European reaction to the security behavior undertaken on the previous day.
3- The third track is manipulating the Islamists scarecrow, to cause a rift among those calling for reform both nationally and internationally. This was most apparent in the aftermath of the parliamentary elections conducted during the last three months of 2005. Accompanied by the increasing gains realized by the Muslim Brotherhood and the parliamentary seats secured by them in the first phase, and the first round of the second phase, and the entrenchment of the sense of concern experienced by some of those calling for reform nationally and internationally, the security grip started practicing its role without consideration, until it reached its peak in the third phase, without serious objection on the part of the international community.
If the year 2005 was the year of manoeuvre and containment of opponents and causing rift among them inside the country and abroad, the year 2006 has marked the year of unveiled oppression par excellence, in order to silence the political mobility, after neutralizing the international community, and the "national liberation" of the internal political mobility from the reins of foreign effects.
That year started earlier than its due time, as it started in December 2005, by the farce of the second round of the last phase of parliamentary elections, and the declaration made by the prosecutor general to keep the investigation conducted in the incidents of sexual harassment against the woman opposing the 25 May 2005 referendum, motivating the lawsuits filed against the figures of judiciary calling for reform, and sentencing Ayman Nour to imprisonment. The latest of these events was the atrocious massacre against the Sudanese refugees in one of the most significant squares of Greater Cairo, which was in its essence a message to Egyptians, conveyed by the blood and bodies of the Sudanese, signifying that the time of security tolerance with peaceful movement is over.
This message was well confirmed, as during 2006 no collective demonstration or movement was permitted in the streets. On the contrary, the Emergency Law was used for the first time since the declaration of the state of emergency a quarter of a century ago, in a collective manner against hundreds of demonstrators, who were arrested for their solidarity with the Judges Club as well as the judges condemning the process of rigging public elections.
During this year, the security grip exercised its role "free" of any international restriction. Before this year started, the Muslim Brotherhood members in Egypt have already gained 20% of the parliament seats. In the following month, their siblings in "Hammas" yielded the majority of votes in Palestine, and they constituted the government. This eventually caused the suspension of international calls for reform, which have actually started to subside gradually since the middle of 2005.
The year 2007 is the year of suppression by way of the Constitution, as the road has been paved from the international and security perspectives; i.e. "freeing" Egypt from the international interest in reform, and "freeing" the Egyptian street from the political mobility. However, before this year comes to its close, the campaign of legislative assault will have been started, and it will continue relentlessly during 2008. This campaign aims to translate a number of the worst constitutional amendments into new legislations and amendments to be introduced to the laws in force, topped, of course, by the anti-terrorism law. However, developments in the course of events might bring the amendments introduced to the NGOs Law and the Journalism Law as well as other laws to the forefront, a matter that guarantees lending more legislative protection to the acts of political, security and administrative oppression. These acts were likely to continue on a wider scale, but may be in a tone lower than the commotion of protest, after terrorizing independent press and human rights organizations, two of them have been, recently, shut down within a few weeks for the first time in Egypt.
How did the reformists help supporting the regime ?
The ruling system has known very well how to manage its battle in a clever and efficient manner, which is not manifest except in battles of destiny. Had political, economic and social development issues of Egypt been managed by only a tenth of this efficiency, the status in Egypt would have altered deciseively.
The ruling system"s mind was not deluded, as it has, from the very first moment, realized that the centre of weight in its battle does not reside in "Abdel-Khaleq Tharwat" street, or Cairo, or Egypt at large, but rather resides in Washington, Paris, London, Rome and Berlin. It has realized, early enough, that its safe exit from this life challenge will depend on its ability to convince these capitals of reviewing their stance as regards the issue of reform. It has also managed to make use of the contradictions within each capital, and between each capital and the other. It has also mastered the art of "authoring" democratic initiatives and marketing them internationally, and employing the regional developments in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Iran to serve this goal. In the meantime, it has shown generosity and persistence in offering security and strategic services on every international table, where the political reform is raised, as rightly stated in the "Newsweek".
The system was acting by the mentality of a chess player, with his feet in Cairo, but his eyes fixed on the chess board of the whole world, moving the king, the queen and the remaining major chess pieces in the international arena, and suffices with the "pawns" to play in Abdel-Khaleq Tharwat street with the reformists, who were and are still being trained to play the naive " Noughts and Crosses "!
In fact the mentality of the reform forces has besieged itself in Abdel-Khaleq Tharwat street before it was besieged by the security "pawns", and it has not, seriously, sought to form an international, or regional, or even Egyptian civil coalition, although the stage was completely set for that. Some of the figures of this mentality were busy supporting the most prominent figures of despotism in the Arab world, from Bashaar to Al-Bashir, passing by the martyr Saddam Hussein! They were busy reproducing the security and media discourse for the Arab governments against the civil society organizations. Reform groups believed their image reflected over satellite channels to be true, after they have, already, realized media "victories". Nevertheless, on the ground, the battle ended in a crushing defeat for the reformists, a political defeat, before being a security defeat.
While the ruling system was stressing, in its political and media discourse, the coherence of the ruling elite, and widening its social base, reform groups were swayed by media victories, whereas these groups have drastically failed to expand their social base, and attract the public and the social spectra that they have targeted by their slogans, stances and demonstrations. On the contrary, these groups have contributed to the expansion of social base of the ruling system, as expressed by Dr. Mohammad Al-Sayed Sa`eed, in a conference organized by the CIHRS to evaluate the movements of change in 2007, which came out of the commotion of the "battle" of change more powerful. In that battle it has gained - or has been joined through the reformists by- panicked social strata and categories, either by the reason of slogans that drive toward chaos and the unknown, or toward political goals that have not been comprehended by a people that is still brushing long political sleep away from its eyebrows after a coma that lasted for half of a century; slogans such as those calling for civil riot and the million demonstrations which topple the ruling system in a happy evening! This might have been also due to the abrupt political emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the apprehensions raised by this development as regards the Copts and certain parties of reform between the Secularists, Leftists and Liberals.
While the reformists failed to introduce themselves to the local and international parties as a convincing alternative for the current ruling system, the ruling system succeeded in convincing local and international basic parties that it is the most capable to realize their interests, or at least to save them the damage entailed by any other alternative. The ruling system succeeded, in this context, to free the political arena, by way of political manoeuvering, security oppression and finally imprisoning Ayman Nour, from any other true alternatives, save for the Muslim Brotherhood, as it has discovered a major interest in their existence by its side, as the exclusive/scaring alternative. In this case, most likely there is no choice. If the ruling system has failed to convince the local and international parties that it is the solution, undoubtedly, it managed to convince them that it is the only and exclusive and irreplaceable safety valve.
The Brotherhood Imbalance
The ruling system received assistance from the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood did not stand up to this historical moment, as they failed to infer the logical conclusions from it, after they had let the trance of the parliamentary victory to sway their heads. The Brotherhood should have worked toward producing a new political discourse and platform, which addresses the deep obsessions and apprehensions entertained by the political and informed elite regarding the project of the religious state; and their stance as regards the freedom of thinking, belief and literary and artistic creativity, and the enjoyment by non-Muslim Egyptian citizens of the rights of full-fledged citizenship. They have rather helped, through a number of the stances, statements and reactions undertaken by them, to deep-root and confirm these apprehensions, even amidst the sector of the intellectuals who have, always, defended the right of the Muslim Brotherhood to political recognition. On the other hand, the Brotherhood have never, at any moment, offered the political opposition parties and groups to be an equivalent partner within the framework of coalition with them, and they gave them the role of the "silent actors", exactly as presupposed by the ruling system.
Therefore, paving the way toward oppression using the Constitution was not only a culmination of the international retraction, the Machiavellian ruling system, the aggression of the security systems, but it was also a result of the supplementary role played by basic parties in the reform forces toward creating a conducive environment.
It is remarkable in this context that among the most prominent figures that have politically supported the constitutional amendments, from without the ruling elite, or who have refrained from taking any serious position to criticize it, were Copts, Secularists, Liberals and Leftists.
The goals of this ongoing constitutional and legislative process do not stop short at settling the account with the parties of the limited and rapid political movement which took place during the years 2004-2005, they rather aim to obstruct the path which creates the probability for its re-emanation anew in any form whatsoever, especially in case of occurrence of any new variations in the international community, to reinstate the issue of community reform in the Arab World on its agenda.
The enforcement of the constitutional, legislative and political pillars of the current ruling system persistently stress that it is going through a transitory period, the starting point of which is known to all parties, whereas the timing and method of its end is unknown! taking into account all the probabilities of bringing the secret and restrained conflict within the ruling elite out to the public, or of an open conflict between parties having a common desire to keep all other local and international parties in the audience position, especially the Egyptian people.
In the balance of history, the latest constitutional amendments are considered as the greatest constitutional set-back in Egypt"s modern history, or at least since the coup d"etat of July Revolution against the constitution of the liberal era, through its preliminary constitutional declarations, leading to the declaration of its first constitution in 1956, and then having buried, in this context, the draft constitution of 1954, which was drafted by a committee formed by the July Revolution Commanding Council itself.
The constitutional amendments endorsed last March constitute an aggression and assault against the relative and limited development achieved by Al-Sadat"s 1971 constitution, especially in its third part which addresses rights and freedoms, and constitutionalizes the police-like nature of the state, whose corner stone has been laid down since the very early years of the July system, followed by the continuous applicability of the state of emergency for a number of decades. These amendments vest exceptional absolute powers upon security bodies, not only at the expense of public freedoms and human rights, but also it impairs the principle of the rule of law and independence of judiciary, and lends constitutional protection to the actual assault on them in our daily reality.
The amendments also waste what remains of the marginal role played by the judiciary to minimize the outrageous phenomenon of rigging public elections, to let the door wide-open before such practices without any restrictions, as observed and monitored by the various parties in the first public elections conducted after these amendments, the Shura council elections.
The amendments did not respond to the claims of those calling for rectifying the aggression performed by the late President Sadat against the 71 Constitution in Articles 2 and 77, through a doubtful "constitutional" deal, which brought about in a single basket an amendment that permits the President"s absolute right to a life-term of ruling, and an amendment that makes the principles of the Islamic Shari`a the main source of legislation.
A Declaration of War against Islamists and the Civil State too..
No doubt that the amendment of the fifth Article of the Constitution, prohibiting the formation of parties having a religious background, marks a declaration of war against Islamists in general, and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, notwithstanding the fact that the NDP and other parties could, theoretically, come under the same prohibition, not to mention also that the provision of the second articles stating that the State is Moslem, and that the principles of that religion are the main source of legislation, totally abridges all traces of such amendments, and renders it theoretical and totally restricted to parties having a non-Islamic religious background.
This amendments aimed to unsheathe constitutional swords within a cheap political competition between the ruling NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood to monopolize the employment of Islam in politics, and on the public itself, even if one of the victims of this competition is the ethical and spiritual position of Islam or religions in general, which must remain away from the Machiavellian nature of political competition.
Although the announced goals of this amendments and the other relevant amendment in Article One which glues the word "citizenship" to the Constitution, is to attach high value to equality among citizens, notwithstanding their religious belief, these amendments have resulted and will result into practices aiming to realize goals, and stress political inputs which are totally to the contrary to the announced goals, exactly like most of the constitutional amendments.
The amendment which closes the door of forming a political party before the Islamists, does not close the door of the party only, but also the door of comprehending and containing a deeply rooted political trend in the society, i.e. it closes the door of politics and again opens, in the meantime, the door widely before the security grip. This has actually taken place during the few months following the endorsement and enforcement of the amendments. However the door closed in the face of the political comprehension and containment of the Islamists, is not, on the other hand, opened before the security grip alone, but also in front of the likely transformation of a sector of Islamists to the way of political violence and terrorism, so long as the gates to legislative peaceful participation is shut in their faces.
This political competition which is expected to become more ferocious between the ruling system and its party on the one hand and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other, going in tandem with the security blows, does not bring about any harbingers of good news to those who believed the promises of citizenship and the civility of the state, and the intellectual openness transcending the Islamists" religious shutting-off.
Within the framework of this cheap competition, which will become fiercer after the amendments and security blows, on the ground and the people themselves, it will become impossible for the ruling system and its party to embark on adopting any stances or policies or practices that might be predicated by the Muslim Brotherhood to prove to the public opinion that the ruling system"s belief in Islam is less than theirs. The most prominent victim of this cheap Machiavellian competition are the "velvet" goals promised by the constitutional amendments, namely citizenship and the civility of the state, which will bring about the Copts, secularists, leftists and liberals to join the long queue of the victims of these amendments, topped by human rights and the independence of judiciary.
That is why it was no coincidence that the government General Egyptian Book Authority has, recently, taken the initiative of confiscating the "Ibdaa`" magazine, because it had published a poem that could be used by the Muslim Brotherhood to prove the system"s disrespect of Islam! Or lest the government, and not the Muslim Brotherhood, should challenge a court verdict endorsing the conversion of Christian citizens to their religion after declaring their Islam! Or lest the government should become an accomplice in the process of forcing Coptic children to convert to Islam, and considering them to have failed in the subject of Islamic religion! Or fabricating security, media and criminal cases, to prove that the ruling system and its party constitute the first and foremost guard of Islam against Christian citizens, or Muslims who entertain different Islamic view points, as was the case with the "Quranists" who have been categorized as a danger threatening the "State security"! Or lest the government, and not the Muslim Brotherhood, should challenge a court ruling permitting the Bahaa’is to mention their religion in the ID, although they were permitted to do so before! In all those cases the Muslim Brotherhood kept silent because this is an implementation of their own agenda.
The foregoing practices are not the most dangerous stabs to "citizenship" and the citizens. The slay of citizenship, a word which remains hanging in space, is manifest in its most impertinent forms, when the Constitution provides in the amendment of Article 179 for the permission and protection of wasting the minimum and simplest citizen"s rights, namely the citizen"s right to personal safety and security, and his/her right not to be arrested arbitrarily, the inviolability of his/her house and private possessions, and his/her right to resort to his/her natural judge.
The constitutional amendments do not constitute a war against the Islamists, exclusively, but also against the principle of citizenship and citizens themselves.
It is hard to predict the life-time of these amendments; however, the life of these amendments is closely related to the life-time of the current political system. Unlike what the tailors of the philosophy of these amendments have thought, namely that these amendments will reinforce the pillars of stability of the current system, they will instill more chaos and instability in the pillars of the system.
No political system has ever been able to maintain its pillars or the rules of the political game, after a civil war comes to an end; and the constitutional amendments are but a declared civil war, even if it remains "political".