The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

In Translation: Wael Kandil on the Emergency Law

I’m happy to announce a new regular feature on this site. Every week, we will select an article from the Arabic press, translate it and bring it to you with a short analytical introduction. The idea is to give readers an idea of the debate in the Arabic papers over issues of the day, and provide some wider context. We’ve done some of this in the past, but generally do the translation of more than a few lines ourselves — we’re simply too busy. What we’ll be doing here is bringing you full-length, unabridged articles — so we needed outside help.

Translation for this feature will be provided courtesy of Industry Arabic, a  full-service translation company founded by two longtime Arabist readers, which specializes in English-Arabic-French technical, legal, and engineering translation management services.

For the first item in the series, we’re looking at the debate over the Emergency Law in Egypt. Since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) began to make increased use of the Emergency Law after September 9 protests (at the Israeli embassy and several ministry of interior facilities). This was controversial in itself, but a legal debate soon emerged: it was generally understood that the Emergency Law would lapse at the end of September, according to the Constitutional Declaration approved in March that states it will last six months. Several scholars have confirmed this interpretation, but the SCAF now counters that since Mubarak and the previous parliament had extended the Emergency Law till May 2012, it would be effective until then.

What this debate illustrates is that, as a result of the poor planning and slap-dash legal structure set up since the March referendum, the very constitutional legitimacy of the current setup is starting to be under attack. And with it, the transition — and the SCAF’s legitimacy. I selected the piece below, by prominent left-leaning commentator Wael Kandil (who is also the managing editor of al-Shorouk, a private broadsheet daily newspaper), because it illustrates the situation with sarcasm and looks at the broader implications.

Constitutional Declaration… Rest In Peace!

By Wael Qandil, al-Shorouk, 22 September 2011

A couple of days ago, I wrote here an article entitled “The Military Violates the Constitutional Declaration” by extending the state of emergency without first seeking the approval of the Egyptian people through a referendum. Article 59 of the Constitutional Declaration stresses that, in all cases, the state of emergency may not be extended for more than six months unless if approved by a referendum.

On the evening of that same day, Tariq Al-Bishri, the constitutional scholar and advisor, confirmed such a fact during an interview, live on al-Jazeera TV. Newspapers and editorials took up the opinion of Mr al-Bishri, who was the chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, assigned by the Military Council to amend some articles of the 1971 Constitution, and which ultimately produced a new Constitutional Declaration comprising more than 60 articles.

So… the Military Council violated the Constitutional Declaration, something confirmed by the chairman of the committee in charge of drafting it. Since this was not the first case of infringement and violation, one should understand that this Declaration no longer enjoys the status of holiness which they publicly promote in order to counter whoever comes forward to present an opinion or a point of view on the state of disorientation and confusion through which Egypt is passing since the announcement of that frequently violated and abused referendum.

After such uneasy months, which saw the Constitutional Declaration turn into an old rotten piece of cloth, it is no crime or shame to stand up and hold the government accountable for its actions during this period, on the basis of the articles and applications of the Declaration. This will reveal with clarity how insolently it was treated by the very persons tasked with its protection and application.

Once this is done, there would be no qualms at all in trying to remedy what went wrong, and address the existing gaps and flaws as these were proven by time and successive events. On this occasion, I recall having recently read a certain number of statements and assurances confirming the drafting of general governmental principles, which would acquire public consensus and become the basis for the country’s new permanent constitution, seen as providing a guarantee of the civil status and democratic nature of the State, as well as ensuring the conservation and respect for the principle of citizenship.

A raucous societal debate followed on this issue and concluded that the government, represented by its Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Ali al-Selmi, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, represented by a number of its members, have confirmed that these principles or regulations will be drafted and adopted, either in the form of a new Constitutional Declaration, or by way of an agreement among political parties and powers. Let us not forget that the majority of the parties have declared their support for these principles, although they differed over the meaning of terms such as “civil society” or “democracy”.

How remarkable that, after long days of intense debate on this subject, it seems that no one is any longer referring to or talking about such principles. I wonder what had happened to them and why were they at the center of such a heated discussion. More importantly, why are they now silenced and discarded?

The truth is that we are practically living in an era of “pasteurized politics”. Issues and debates are brought to the surface and heated up to boiling point before they are suddenly sunk down and buried in a thick layer of cold silence. Other issues are then raised and made the point of furious discord between various groups before they are surprisingly withdrawn and hushed. A vicious, never-ending circle of fictitious battles!

All of this is going on while they insist that the Constitutional Declaration is the ultimate path and road map to pursue, while reality says that the Declaration is now confined to history, leaving us the only choice of praying for it and wishing it would… rest in peace.

Surely we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return.1

Translation provided by IndustryArabic

Quran, Sura Al-Baqara, Verse 156. A traditional saying when hearing of someone’s death. ↩