These are dark times to be a person of principles. The hope of the Arab Spring and the Orange Revolution have given way to a nightmare of civil war, brutality, and militarism. The cause? Entrenched power is stronger than the democratic sentiments of people who long to be free.
This is part 1 of a series on the topic. Today’s focus: Egypt.
Entrenched Power in Egypt
I was happy when Hosni Mubarak was ousted from his position as Egypt’s President-For-Life. I love Egypt and I want the best for its people. I once lived in Egypt for a year, and the absolute power of the country’s military police was only slightly less shocking than the appalling and ubiquitous poverty of the people. Reform was obviously necessary.
I was less thrilled about the way the reform was carried out. The military coup may have been the only way to get Mubarak to step down; but that the army promptly took power for itself did not sit right.
The army then presided over a hastily rewritten constitution so they could hand over power to an elected government. This problematic document essentially set the country up for failure. The clauses the military cared about most, had to do with enshrining the army’s power in the new constitution. The clauses they did not care about, and wrote sloppily as a result, had to do with the actual workings of a democratic government.
More insidiously, although Mubarak himself was removed from office, the government he had personally appointed remained in place throughout the transition. This included Egypt’s entire judicial branch.
So Mubarak’s hand-picked judges launched a campaign of systematically disqualifying, not just the best candidates, but almost all of the candidates, from the running in the new Presidential election. The few that were allowed to run for office were not democratic reformers: they were insiders with connections.
Nobody was surprised when Ahmed Mursi won. The Muslim Brotherhood was organized, and none of the other parties were. When two weak candidates split the vote against a candidate with an organized party, obviously the organization will win.
And let’s be clear: the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate group. They’ve spent decades running soup kitchens. They are nothing like the Taliban. The Muslim Brotherhood expressed beliefs that resonated with the majority of the Egyptian people, and they won the election fairly.
But once in office, Mursi did what all Executive branches throughout history have tended to do: he went about consolidating his power. And suddenly the slipshod, sloppy, tossed-together-between-tea-breaks, poorly considered Constitution that Egypt had recently ratified, started to look kind of ill-advised.
But when protests arose, rather than press for Constitutional reform through legal channels, the military just went in and ousted the legitimate, democratically elected President. They installed a General in the seat of power. And they outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood.
That’s when things started to get ugly.
You know what happens when a majority of your country’s population votes for a party, and then you make that party illegal? Yeah, bad things, is what.
Tens of thousands of peaceful protesters have been jailed. Now I hear that hundreds of people have been sentenced to death, as a group, in a trial that makes a mockery of the the idea of legal justice and the rule of law. Reports are emerging of horrible police brutality against detainees: beatings, torture, electrocution, sexual assault, and deaths.
This is not democracy. This is not what Tahrir Square was all about. This is the fear that leads to totalitarianism. And when the military’s General Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi is formally installed as President (as seems certain), the country will be worse off than it was under Mubarak.
The power in Egypt belongs to the military, not the people. The military put Mubarak in power, and the military ousted him 30 years later. Now the military has put al-Sisi in power. Upcoming elections are just for show.
Egypt is not a democracy. Egypt is a military dictatorship.
Egypt might descend into civil war, because military dictatorship is unacceptable to a free people.
If Egypt does NOT descend into civil war, it will be at a horrific human cost, with terrible consequences for basic rights and human decency. I would argue that the current interim government has already contravened the Geneva Convention’s article concerning collective punishment; but we live in a world that does not care.
The world only cares about entrenched power. The world is not interested in the principles of democracy.