Sunday, December 1, 2013

As Egypt crushes protest, democracy becomes a dirty word

November 29, 2013 


Less than two years after Tahrir Square, the vast majority of Egyptians want nothing more than a return to law and order While all eyes were on Iran earlier this week, and the interim deal limiting its controversial nuclear program, another Middle East nation, Egypt, was launching its own controversial program to blow up most every public protest in the country.
Law 107 of 2013 was signed and issued on Sunday by Egypt's army-appointed interim president Adly Mansour. Entitled: The Right to Public Meetings, Processions and Peaceful Demonstrations, it is, in reality, anything but the right to demonstrate.
In a manner reminiscent of the more brutish days of Hosni Mubarak's regime, the law gives police on the scene the power to determine what constitutes a security threat or other infraction and the right to forcibly disperse a demonstration if "any criminal act emanates from the participants, or if the assembly diverges from peaceful expression."
While four months of martial law was lifted earlier this month, Law 107 has taken its place. And the authorities wasted no time putting it to use.
On Tuesday a relatively small, peaceful protest of some 200 men and women stood outside the gates of the country's Shura Council, a kind of senate, in which a committee of 50 people is drafting a new constitution. The demonstrators were there to protest what was reported to be a clause in the document that would give military courts the power to try civilians in several circumstances. Such courts are the antithesis of civilian rule.
With little warning, dozens of specially-trained riot police attacked the people with water cannons, tear gas and batons, arresting and detaining several men and women.
Police allege that the protesters broke the law by blocking the road outside the Shura Council, even though that road has been closed by huge concrete blocks put in place by the security forces themselves.
They also claim that protesters threw rocks and bricks at the police, thus eliciting the police use of force. Human Rights Watch staff at the scene said they saw no such violence by the demonstrators; video tapes confirm that report.
"What we saw was police treating the new assembly law as a carte blanche to attack protesters," said Joe Stork, HRW's deputy Middle East and North Africa director, "all too familiar to Egyptians after years of police impunity."
While several men remained in custody overnight, a number of female protesters were releasedTuesday night without charge. Fourteen of these women were driven to a highway 30 km from the protest site and dropped off on the side of the road, on the edge of the desert. Several reported they were beaten, dragged by their hair and sexually assaulted.
Since Tuesday's attack on protesters, efforts to mount demonstrations against the assembly law have been broken up at every turn. On Thursday, a leading human rights activist who has called for demonstrations was arrested at his home.
A shocking court decision also on Thursday drove home the point of just how serious the army-backed authorities are about cracking down on all protests. Twenty-one young women, convicted of participating in an early-morning protest last month in Alexandria, were sentenced to lengthy terms in prison. The 14 who were between the ages of 18 and 22 were sentenced to 11 years and one month in penitentiary; the 7 who were aged 15-17 were sentenced to a juvenile facility until their 18th birthdays, at which point their cases are to be reviewed.
All appear to have done no more than to march in protest against the continued detention of deposed president Mohammed Morsi, a leader of the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, and to carry signs showing four fingers, the symbol of the bloody attack on Morsi supporters in August in which security forces killed hundreds of protesters.
It is quite true – and perfectly understandable – that the vast majority of Egyptians want nothing more than a return to law and order in their country. I have heard them plead for normalcy, for safety and mostly for a return of tourism and to business as usual so they can feed their families and educate their children.
Democracy has become a dirty word for many Egyptians who blame it for the chaos and upheaval that has gripped the country since February, 2011, when the army responded to public protests, removing Hosni Mubarak from office and organizing the first democratic elections.
Ironically, the very military leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who called earlier this year for Egyptians to take to the streets in great numbers to protest against the elected president, Mr. Morsi, is now making sure there will be no more protests, peaceful or otherwise.
As if that wasn't enough, the draft constitution that is nearing completion reportedly ensures greater powers for the military. According to a text published Thursday in the semi-official Al Ahram newspaper, the military leadership itself must approve the civilian government's choice of defence minister.
This is not the kind of country Egyptians envisioned in 2011 when they welcomed the end of military rule, but it probably is the kind they're willing to settle for today.

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