What Do Egyptians Deserve from their Democracy?

By Rouba al-Fattal on October 29, 2012

Egyptian human rights activists recently criticized the human rights situation in the country after the first 100 days of President's Mohamed Morsi rule. The most prominent of these criticisms focused on the attempts of the new regime, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) that Morsi belongs to, to reproduce the ‘state of emergency’ which the Egyptians suffered from during Mubarak’s era.

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies recently stated that human rights issues are still outside Morsi’s scope of interest despite the legislative and executive powers which he enjoys even more than his predecessor. They also added that the absence of human rights issues from the President's plan as well as from his political practices for the first hundred days allowed many human rights violations and abuses to continue.

A report titled “Negative Indicators on the Future of Human Rights and Limited Responses”, which was issued on 15 October by The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, revealed how the current President lacks a clear vision concerning human rights issues, and how he did not take advantage of the initiatives put forward to address these problems and deal with them. According to the report, the limited positive steps towards these issues came either in response to popular pressure or to avoid serious embarrassments, and did not reflect a thoughtful and comprehensive plan to improve the human rights situation in Egypt.

The report also criticized attempts by the Ministry of Interior to propose laws that would further restrict the rights and freedoms by expanding the authorities granted to the police to suppress the citizens. The report as well expressed fears about the increasing rate of infringement cases against freedom of belief and expression under the guise of ‘defamation of religions’.

The biggest problems with regard to human rights that were witnessed during the first hundred days of Morsi’s presidency are threefold. The first is the lack of an independent judiciary from the executive branch, which was evident when President Morsi decided to dismiss the Supreme Constitutional Court ruling and dissolved the People's Assembly. The second is his dismissal of the Attorney General in violation of the Judicial Authority Law. The third is the harassment and violent assaults committed by the Freedom and Justice Party – which has the strongest links to the MB and a support of Morsi – against liberal and leftist protesters in Cairo who were demanding more actions from the President.

The Complaints Department of the National Council for Human Rights also stated in its last report on the torture issue that during the month of September alone fourteen cases were reported, a number which was described by the President of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, Hafez Abu Saada, as higher than the numbers disclosed before the revolution during President Mubarak’s era. Add to that, more than twenty five Egyptian human rights organizations are holding a joint conference which will tackle police reforms. These reforms have been seen less as a rehabilitation program and more as a restructuring step, intended to extend the executive arm and quill protesters.

All these human rights violations are taking place while Egyptian’s are still struggling with a deteriorating security, plunging economy and disputes over the country’s future. But if there is truth in Edward Albee’s words, “Remember one thing about democracy. We can have anything we want and at the same time, we always end up with exactly what we deserve”, does that mean this is what the Egyptians deserve from their democracy? I sure hope not. 

Dr. Al-Fattal is the founder and president of the Canada-Arab Forum

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