Wednesday, June 19, 2013

On the Question of Civil War in Egypt

There won't be a civil war. 

Muslim Brotherhood members aren't trained to fight with weaponry on a mass scale. They're ordinary people who can be overly zealous or violent at times, like most other Egyptian citizens. But even if they pick up arms, who will the Muslim Brotherhood fight? They're not fighting Christians or Shiaa or any specific group, they're fighting the people, most of them anyway. 

Any fight the Brotherhood chooses will be the state against people, it can't be classified as a civil war. Also if ever the Muslim Brotherhood supporters pick up arms, it means the military is allowing it, which means that it's still state sponsored violence not a civil war. However such a scenario is highly unlikely because the army will not allow the state's monopoly on organized armed violence to escape it nor will the police for that matter. Furthermore the real indication of a civil war would be splits in the army which are highly unlikely considering the nature of the military. 

So those warning of a civil war, please think.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Why Morsi is No Longer President

Muslim Brotherhood supporters have lectured everyone about protecting ‘legitimacy’, but what legitimacy are they talking about? Is it of the state? Is it of the institutions? Or is it Morsi?

The Shura council which continues to issue contentious laws has been declared illegitimate by the constitutional court. The constituent assembly was illegitimately protected by Morsi with a constitutional declaration that was not backed by a popular referendum.  The constitution itself has a weak mandate with a very weak showing and a not even two thirds of a yes vote that was required inside the assembly itself overshadowed with grave irregularities, instability and at times tampering.

We’re left with  Morsi, the ‘legitimate’ president whose hairline victory his opponent with the weakest possible mandate of under 52 per cent.  But even if we were to acknowledge the legitimacy of such a process can we still consider Morsi a legitimate president today?

Here are a few reasons why Morsi lost his legitimacy.

Breech of contract
There is a difference between performing poorly in a job and breeching a contract. The presidency’s mandate is to serve the people not a specific group. When law is used as a tool for oppression, when activists are kidnapped and tortured to death, when prisons are used to eliminate opposition rather than harbour convicted criminals, it becomes a breech of contract.  There are numerous promises made by the president which he broke. The easiest to point to are the 100 days promises, a representative constituent assembly and a consensus constitution. All these promises have been broken.

Minority Rights
Minority rights are an indication of how successful a democracy is. Under Morsi, minorities have been even more marginalized and discriminated against. Instead of going into details about how Shia’a, women and Copts are being side-lined, we can see clearly where Morsi went wrong. In April 2013, Egyptian police attacked and aided an attack on the Coptic Cathedral of St. Mark. This was a state sponsored attack, and no one was held to account. It was a deviation from the democratic mandate colossal enough to depose any ruler.

Impunity and Police Brutality
Police brutality ignited mass public protests in 25 January 2011. Yet under Morsi, the police continues to act with impunity and is arguably even more brutal than before. Failing to address this, Morsi becomes an extension to a regime that has already been deligitimized by the people.

Manipulating Judiciary
Instead of cleansing the judiciary, Morsi has tried to manipulate and abuse it by appointing a lying minister of justice and a biased public prosecutor.  The minister of justice lied about a forensic report and the public prosecutor asked innocents to be locked up without a formal charge.

Undemocratic Rule
Ikhwan supporters brag about the will of the people bringing Morsi to power, yet that will is completely ignored by the president. None of the people’s demands have been met or listened to effectively. This complete disregard for input provided by many of the people who elected Morsi and even those who did not is reason enough for people to decide to give the responsibility to someone else. Furthermore, in absence of a parliament, no decisions are taken with participation from any other party. There is no power sharing and what’s worse no indication that there is a will to change that.

New Constitution
A new constitution should change the conditions under which a president was elected. There are new inputs which may change people’s decision about who they want as president based on the newly drawn role. The president’s job description changed therefore annulling his election.

Guidance Bureau
Since Morsi does not take any of the decisions on his own anyway, he is not the person people elected and therefore when people do not get who they elected, it is enough of a reason to put in place someone else that they choose.

Alienating Everyone
Numerous factions of society have been alienated by Morsi’s policies. These include farmers, workers, judges, doctors and even the police. When policemen committed to protecting the regime chant ‘Down with the General Guide’s rule’, this is an indication of deeply rooted sentiments that cannot be ignored.

On its own, lying once to the people is enough of a reason to remove any president from power. Morsi was caught lying beyond any reasonable doubt. This is not only about promises he broke like his 100 day campaign promises, nor about policy shifts like his position on the emergency law which he changed. This is also about lying to the people before the elections in order  to get elected. Before being elected, Morsi lied about working in NASA as a consultant, then lied again denying he ever said it.  He lied to the Egyptian people in a public statement claiming that the prosecution had obtained confessions of protesters being funded by opposition. Lies about the history of a presidential candidate delegitimizes him once they've been uncovered, and they have.

(Note: Although I’ve offered 9 reasons why Morsi is no longer president, I resisted calling the article ‘9 Reasons Why Morsi is No Longer President’ I must confess I have a slight distaste for such titles stemming from their repetition yet I also  find them alluring and would probably read something which had such a title)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

He Who is Without a State

The Question of Violence: Context is Everything
It is important to note a fact, forgotten even among many human rights defenders: Every human rights violation is the responsibility of the state. The state is accountable for every crime, even if the abuse happens between civilians. Some may be tempted to contest this rule of responsibility. But in the world of human rights, the state has a duty to protect its citizens against any human rights abuses.
Now that the condemnation part is out of the way, perhaps it’s best to try to understand what is really happening in Egypt, without needlessly trying to blame the violence on the victims. Here I mean both Muslim Brotherhood’s supporters and the protesters. Both have been pitted against one another through policy.
But having established that the state, or the Brotherhood Guidance Bureau, is fully blamed for the unfortunate violent events that are taking place across Egypt, it is still important to understand why instead of who.
The true nature of what’s happening is cause and effect. Justice became unattainable and people are sick of mere promises. The police and the judiciary are complicit with an oppressive regime which does not heed to calls for justice.
It no longer pays to ask the state to enforce justice. They are the perpetrators and there is no one to hold them accountable.
People are finding their own form of justice which, while flawed, may be less flawed than the injustice served by the state. We need to think about the situation rationally, practically and without preconceived notions about the state.
To understand the situation in Egypt, one must not assume the existence of a state. One cannot assume that those in uniform have more legitimacy than other citizens. Therefore the talk of state laws, legitimacy and institutions has little value.
The question of violence
It is important to understand what happened before quickly condemning it. The easiest thing is to condemn violence, but before that, it’s important to understand what lead to it. The use of violence is legitimate when the state uses it as a means to provide justice in society. Violence needs to be just; it needs to be justified. Citizens’ violence in self-defence should not be condemned. Therefore, the context does matter.
The trouble is that people have assumed for so long that violence committed by individuals is not legitimate. But what if it is justified? What if it defends your life? What if it defends a loved one’s life? What if it defends your future? What if it defends your rights?
The assumption that the state has the legitimate right to violence, even if this state is illegitimate and unjust, is a flawed assumption. As soon as the state diverges from justice, the legitimacy of violence gets muddled up.
The police are uniformed thugs. The trouble is that they inflict pain and violence on command without having a vested interest.
Looking at violence from the side of the people, we see they have a direct interest in committing acts of violence. They are not doing it to subdue others, and not to steal what is not theirs. Their violence comes from a sense of injustice as they find nobody to turn to when the uniformed thugs and the politicians take away their rights.
Furthermore the violence is not directed primarily towards individuals but towards buildings that symbolize oppression. It is only when people get in the way that violence is directed at them.
In a sense, we can think of the individuals who block protesters’ path as similar to the police and Central Security Forces, who attempted to stop people from reaching Tahrir Square on 28 January 2011. If we take it a step further, we can see that the individuals being attacked by protesters also associate themselves with the country’s presidency and main political party.
They are just like the former ruling National Democratic Party thugs, but paid in lies, religious rhetoric and promises of paradise.
You may condemn a man being murdered for the violence he inflicts on his murderer. You may pretend to be fair about it and condemn both sides, or even ask for all sides to exercise restraint. In the end, a distanced condemnation does not change reality.
A great part of condemnation relates to countrymen killing one another. This presumes that the police and thugs during the 18 days were not Egyptians.
But if we make the argument that it was justified to have attacked them as representatives of the regime, does it not then follow that Muslim Brotherhood supporters acting in place of CSF troops are representatives of the regime?
When a citizen joins an oppressive police force, and goes so far as to shoot rounds of shotgun pellets at protesters, he is not acting in self-defence. His act is one of aggression.
Some say that a civil war is about to erupt between the Islamists and the seculars. It is my assessment that a war has already begun even if not called a war.
It’s the war of truth against lies, it’s the war of freedom in the face of oppression. It started with the Hosni Mubarak regime and is continuing after his fall with those who wish to extend that form of rule.
It is a war that starts with ideas, spills into control of public space and freedoms and then moves to controlling individual behaviour through fear and oppressive laws. What we see now is popular resistance to a regime which is very much used to employing civilian clothed militias alongside its uniformed police to do its dirty work.
This is not a fight between civilians, this is a fight between civilians experiencing injustice and other citizens with no direct vested interest standing up to them to prevent them from gaining their rights, much like the police.
What state?
The state is diminishing. As long as justice diminishes, the state will keep diminishing.
The state’s role is to rule through consensus. This can occur through fear or through justice. The more injustice prevails, the more the legitimacy of the state is compromised.
When someone cannot trust the fairness of a decision, he may still uphold it because it can be enforced on him. But when enough people do not trust it, force will not succeed. Decisions and laws lose their value if they cannot be upheld for the most part without the use of force.
It is those in power who are responsible for the deterioration of the state because they are responsible for the deterioration of justice. As the state becomes weaker, the legitimacy of using violence becomes weaker.
People have come to be in a perpetual state of resistance. The more time passes, the more people will feel they are without a state. The police, the politicians and their supporters will turn into criminals in their eyes, and their removal will be justified.
An individual who feels there is no state will only trust himself and his comrades. When confronted with the symbols of oppression face to face, it is not difficult to guess which citizen or protester will cast the first stone.
First published in print in Egypt Independent, republished online in Counerpunch on 27 May 2013.