And Justice for All? | Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights

Interesting post by EIPR's Mohamed El-Shewy: 

Two noteworthy processes appear to be underway in Egypt, both of which have so far eluded the focus of most analyses and commentary on the country.  On the one hand, there has been discussion lately in the Shura Council (currently the country’s legislative body) of passing a “transitional justice law” that would supposedly result in the formation of a truth commission and “special courts,” to investigate government agencies, such as the Ministry of the Interior and the Central Bank. On the other hand, the government of Mohamed Morsi has been taking steps to “reconcile” with members of the Mubarak regime and businessmen associated with it—some of whom have fled the country or are serving sentences in prison. These two processes could potentially have a significant impact on the nature of Egypt’s political structure for some time to come.
The language used by the Shura Council on the “transitional justice law” has been one of necessity: to help Egypt “avoid many catastrophes and political instability”i. But it seems that lawmakers are repeating the chronic problem with transitional justice; the rush to pass such legislature based on the assumption that a transition has, already occurred. Since February 11, 2011 (the day Mubarak stepped down), this temptation has been there on the part of those interested in transitional justice, both internationally and domestically, to advocate for its application. As Egypt was now “in transition,” it followed that transitional justice was needed to safely guide the country to the stable, prosperous shores of democracy. Ezz el-din El-Koumi, one of the Shura Council members working on the law, stated in an interview that transitional justice would bring to an end the “reasons people have to protest.” This is an invariably short sighted way of approaching the issue.  
A major problem with transitional justice lies in the way it condenses long, complex histories of repression into a single moment of rupture, the transition. Thus, any violence or discontent that continues after the delineated time can be portrayed as disruptive to the democratization process. The recent and ongoing events in Egypt—particularly in the cities along the Suez Canal—and the continuing abuses committed by the security forces suggest that  “transition” (so neatly defined) is not a reality. It is erroneous to assume that mass political upheavals have fixed points in time; going from the large social movement of an “uprising” to the moment of political change of the  “revolution” to a period of “democratic transition”—which,  finally ends, in a democratic future.

 Read on for his suggestions.

What would you do if you ran Egypt?

I remember about 10 years ago, a journalist was interviewing my boss at the time, the publisher and activist Hisham Kassem, and I walked into the office. Spinning off what must have been his usual epic rants against the Mubarak regime, Hisham turned to me and said: what would you do if you were president of Egypt? I first answered that as I am not Egyptian I don't have an opinion, and when he persisted mumbled back something about addressing rural poverty and illiteracy or somesuch. To be honest I had no idea what to answer.

Ten years later and the task of addressing Egypt's problems is as daunting as ever, but I am better informed about it. Lately I have been moaning about how poorly thought out Egypt's post-Mubarak transition has been — not just because of human rights abuses and such, but conceptually. The recent news that the SCAF is pushing for a quick transition — a new constitution by April, presidential elections in June — is more evidence of this, whether it's on purpose and simply because of the lack of leadership the political class and SCAF have shown. And I have been asking myself, how would I go about it different, from right now (no need to cry over the milk spilt since 11 February 2011).

As much as I hate giving this kind of advice, still feel very poorly equipped to do so, and don't like, as a foreigner, giving Egyptians suggestions about what to do with their country, here's a rough outline how I'd proceed. Needness to say, I don't think things will develop this way.

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Marzouki on transitional justice

From an interview with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki (how many times I will I write these words with wonder before the effect wears off?) in Mediapart:

N'oubliez pas que je suis l'élève de Mandela: j'ai rencontré le leader sud-africain dans les années 1990 à Oslo, lors d'une réunion du comité Nobel; je suis allé deux fois en Afrique du Sud dans les années 1990. L'expérience sud-africaine avec les comités de réconciliation nous servira dans la mise en place de cette justice transitionnelle. D'ailleurs nous avons organisé ici, il y a à peine un mois, une réunion sur le thème de la justice transitionnelle; aujourd'hui des associations travaillent sur cette idée, le gouvernement a sa propre mission, et on va organiser cette justice transitionnelle, ouvrir les archives, former les juges, repérer ceux qui ont été coupables de très grands crimes et qui devront passer devant les tribunaux normaux, et faire passer les autres devant des tribunaux particuliers où ils devront demander pardon, ce qui leur sera accordé. Nous ne sommes pas du tout dans l'esprit d'une justice de vengeance, parce que cette révolution a été pacifique, démocratique et elle doit avoir une justice à son image.

My quick translation:

Don't forget I'm a student of Nelson Mandela: I met the South African leader in the 1990s in Oslo, during a meeting of the Nobel Committee; and went twice to South Africa in the 1990s. The South African experience of reconciliation committees will be useful to implement transitional justice. In fact we organized, just a month ago, a meeting on the theme of transitional justice. Today associations are working on this dea, the government has its own mission, and we will organize this transitional justice, open the archives, train judges, identify those who are guilty of great crimes and who will have to appear in front of normal tribunals, a right they will have. We are not at all in the logic of revenge, because this revolution was peaceful, democratic, and it must have a similar type of justice.

Finally, an Egyptian transition plan that makes sense

This idea has been around for a while, but finally some influential people are proposing something concrete:

A number of political forces and intellectuals have prepared a lengthy memorandum that includes a drastically reformed plan for the remainder of Egypt's transitional period.

Al-Masry Al-Youm has obtained a copy of the document, which the drafters said they will submit to the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) within days.

The memorandum suggests postponing parliamentary elections, and in their place forming a "national rescue cabinet," having Egyptians elect a constituent assembly to draft the new constitution, holding presidential elections and fully transferring power to a civilian government. After all this, the memorandum reads, parliamentary elections should be held in accordance with the laws set out in the new constitution.

Among those involved in drafting the memorandum were former President of the Democratic Front Party Osama al-Ghazaly Harb, presidential hopeful Mohamed ElBaradei, Coordinator of the National Association for Change Abdel Galil Mostafa, writer Alaa al-Aswany and journalist Sakina Fouad.

The planning of the current elections are an embarassment to Egypt, and they should be postponed to allow for better preparation (think that by some calculations if the participation is the same as the referendum voters will only get 1 minute each to cast their ballot). The only reason to hold parliamentary elections now is to cut short the part of the transition period that is directed by SCAF. This plan presents a reasonable compromise.

Such an initiative should have been put on the table a long time ago, and it will now be difficult to stop the campaigning that has started. I don't think it has much chance of succeeding, but the basic recipe — civilian control now, SCAF restricted to national security, and a constitution first so you can set up a proper system (and for instance get rid of the pointless Shura Council). The key will be convincing political forces, notably Islamist, that have banked on elections now to move the transition process as fast as possible.

Michael Hanna on transitional justice in Egypt

Michael Hanna has penned a great piece on the need for serious transitional justice in post-uprising Egypt, striking the right balance in doing so, and what might learned from experiences in other countries:

The Egyptian military would likely be much more comfortable with a discrete focus on the excesses of Egypt’s crony-capitalist economy and the violence associated with the repression of the January 25 uprising. The military has played a less pronounced political role in recent years, but a more probing initiative that sought to speak to the systematic crimes of the former regime and its predecessors would more directly implicate the military in light of its central role within Egypt’s authoritarian superstructure. This is particularly the case for earlier periods when Egypt could be described as a military state and society, and the military and its officer corps were implicated directly in day-to-day repression. As such, the military would be averse to broader efforts seeking to document state repression during the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat, in addition to the years of Mubarak’s rule. Demonstrating credibly the repression that has characterized the Egyptian state since the Free Officers’ Movement and the toppling of King Farouk in 1952, however, would have the benefits of reinforcing the imperative to break with the past and lending legitimacy to civilian efforts to limit military interference in governance.

Conversely, an aborted or truncated transitional justice process would likely have deleterious effects on Egyptian society and would divert the search for truth to unfortunate ends. Association with the former regime would provide fodder for the politics of demagoguery and character assassination, with no recourse to institutional checks or burden of proof. The questions that animate transitional justice efforts will not be resolved in the short term. Decisions in the coming months will perhaps complicate future options but will not necessarily foreclose all of them completely. The complex process that undergirds the push for truth and accountability will undoubtedly evolve over time. The struggle to define earlier eras will play a key part in the country’s political discourse, and it is likely that transitional justice efforts will mirror Egypt’s future political, social, and cultural evolution.

Read the whole thing at the Cairo Review of Global Affairs.

Human rights and Egypt's transition

One of the big questions for the future of Egypt is how to change the culture of police enforcement, security agencies and the army when it comes to accountability, respect of the rule of law, human rights practice and more generally attitudes towards public freedoms. It was always unrealistic to expect to change this overnight, and there are several problems to tackle — to start with: 

  • deeply ingrained institutional practices (sometimes codified in laws, regulations and procedures that have their origins in the days of British rule in Egypt, as well as the security state established by Nasser);  
  • the need for a shift away from a culture of entitlement, paternalism, sexism, and authoritarianism;
  • a structural adjustment to end a micro-economy of corruption that made police officers, for instance, resort to accepting bribes because their basic salaries are low and they were practically encouraged to be on the take to compensate. This of course benefited more senior officers who were engaged in more serious corruption (and were paid adequately) and shielded them from criticism, since everyone was on the take. 
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