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The ‘democracy’ that was

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Managing editor Rana Allam

Rana Allam

“Egypt needs to revert back to the democratic path,” is a common line thrown in our faces from every Tom, Dick and Harry across the world.  Egypt’s leaders diplomatically respond with the roadmap of election, constitution drafting and the rest of the plan they have in mind.

Being on the ground, dealing day-to-day with that so-called democracy, we find that line hard to swallow.

Here are some facts about the Morsi & Bros. democracy:

First thing Morsi did after becoming president was try to annul a court order that had dissolved the parliament deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Constitutional Court, which had comprised of over 70% Islamist representatives because of the unfairness of the elections law.

When he failed to bring back his parliament, he issued a “constitutional declaration”, which exempted his decisions from judicial oversight. It also granted immunity to the constituent assembly (charged with drafting the constitution) and the Shura Council from any court ruling. Very democratic, eh?

At some point, the Supreme Constitutional Court was under siege by Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters, who prevented the judges from entering the courthouse, and threatened them so that they wouldn’t rule against the assembly and the Shura Council, even though they were already immune thanks to the “democratically elected” president.

The 100-person constituent assembly was chosen by the dissolved parliament, so it was widely expected that the court would dissolve it as well. Naturally, it was mostly made up of Islamists; most non-Islamist members resigned one after the other during the course of the drafting process. Those who resigned early cited “exclusion” while some remained only to be faced with Morsi’s November decree, and then decided to resign.

The draft constitution took months of discussions without consensus until 15 non-Islamist members resigned, and then overnight (literally) it was ready to be presented to the president who approved it on the spot. Over 70 of the 85 people who drafted the constitution were Islamists, not counting the five members from Al Azhar.

A constitution was then presented to the people of Egypt for a Yes or No vote. So basically people voted not on the articles in the document, but on those who drafted it: it was ‘Yes to religion’ or ‘No to religion’ in all the campaigns leading up to the referendum. At the voting stations, 700 violations were reported, including absence of judges, campaigning outside the stations, using religion, directing voters, and banning Christians from voting.

Meanwhile, the Shura Council was tasked with legislation. This council’s job was never legislation, it was intended as a “consultative” body; Shura, in Arabic, means consulting. Egyptians never knew why it existed and several calls were made during SCAF rule to not have it.

The Shura Council was voted in by 7% of the voting power in Egypt, and it was (guess what?)made up of Islamists. They attempted to pass two very controversial laws that were a shame to any democracy; the protest law and the civil society/ non-governmental organisations law. It also discussed laws allowing the marrying off of little girls once they reach puberty,  legalising female genital mutilation, and depriving women from the right to file for divorce against their husbands (Khula). The democratically-elected president didn’t have a problem with any of that; in fact it was him that gave Shura this power.

Of course, protests gripped the country. As per the International Development Centre (IDC), protests during Morsi’s rule amounted to 419 in one year. And the deaths and the torture and the detentions followed.

The El Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence recorded 359 torture cases between Morsi’s election in June 2012 and the publication of the centre’s report in June this year.  Just for relativity’s sake, according to an EOHR report about torture, the last decade of Mubarak’s rule witnessed 357 incidents of torture. The Muslim Brotherhood gave us 10 years of Mubarak’s torture in only one year.

Amnesty International reported 12 dead in the first six months of Morsi’s rule during protests. But that concerned no one. The only times Morsi spoke of the protests, it was with the language of exclusion: infidels, traitors, conspirers. Advocates for democracy and justice became criminals, and rounding up activists was the norm.

The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights put the number of detainees to 3462 in his one year as president, while the Front to Defend Egyptian Protesters said it was 4808, but Mr Morsi continuously denied detaining protesters, calling those detained “criminals” instead.

Then there were 92 victims killed in political protests up until June 2013, as per Wiki Thawra, a website dedicated to documenting the Egyptian revolution.

Human rights and freedom advocates were accused of charges like “insulting the president”. Of these groups, 21 issued a statement, only eight months into Morsi’s rule that said: “More cases were filed against journalists for insulting the president than all other leaders combined in the past 100 years”. Cases were sometimes filed by the president’s office and most defendants were opposition figures, either political activists or media practitioners. The presidency also filed reports against at least eight news outlets.

Contempt of religion cases were also high during Morsi’s “democratic” rule;  16 cases were filed in the first six months of 2013 alone, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). One of the cases was against two Coptic boys, aged nine and 10.

Democracy doesn’t begin and end in the voting booth. Forget the “revert back to democracy” rhetoric, and stick to Ashton’s latest on Egypt: “Democracy is not just about an election, it’s about the guarantee of elections to come, and it’s about every single thing that we take for granted as institutions that help support our democracy.”

About the author

Rana Allam

Rana Allam

Rana Allam is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily News Egypt. Follow her on Twitter at @Run_Rana or email at [email protected]

  • Camille Twal

    Wish it was in Arabic so that more people would read it.

  • Reda Sobky

    I think what they mean is the manifestations of democracy such as elections and protection of minority rights which i think is good advice. Although we know what there was, was phony, as you prove in your piece, now it is time to act to translate the will of the people into a representative structure so that well meaning people abroad can support it. The fact that many foreigners were duped by the failed structure is not surprising because they played the game of assembling the manifestations of the occurrence while the occurrence itself is not happening, very well, like a conjurer they gave the look of democracy but the people saw through it and the rest is history.

    • Tettodoro

      I think you might want to take into account the fact that we foreigners have some experience with the working of democracy – both its strengths and weaknesses – and far from being “duped” understood that calling on the military to overthrow a government because its not following your agenda is the road to political disaster.

  • Kelley Christian

    Wonderful article

  • Arnvid Aakre

    Rana, just working on an article around this topic for norwegian readers. Had collected some of the material, but you make it so easy for me (-:
    But seriously, this is so important to have in the setup you provided – I do hope the swedish foreign minister Bildt would read it as well. He should be ashamed, very ashamed for the biased blasting to the egyptian ambassador in Sweden.

    Yes, as Camille said here, this should be accessable to all egyptians, but trust me – this is much needed abroad as well. Unfortunately Carl Bildt is not alone in his arrogance and ignorance.

    • Tettodoro

      I guess Bildt just doesn’t count on calling in the Swedish army next time he loses an election.

      • Arnvid Aakre

        He, he – let’s not hope so. But you never know, it’s a rapid changing world (-:

  • AzzaSedky

    I totally agree. If this is the democracy the world wants to shove down our throats, “Maybe Egyptians don’t care for democracy after all” http://azzasedky.typepad.com/egypt/2013/07/maybe-egyptians-dont-care-for-democracy-after-all.html

    • Tettodoro

      That, of course, is entirely your right: but then why did you bother to overthrow Mubarak?

  • Pingback: The ‘democracy’ that was - TalkAfrika.com

  • Micah Shapiro

    ummm, parliament was dissolved based on a technicality, and it was not the reason mostly Islamists won. I found it’s destruction by the Supreme Court to be very un-Democratic and politically motivated, but I guess some try to justify it simply because Islamists won. THey would have won with or without the technicality.

    • Adam Mahmoud

      Parliament was mostly islamist BECAUSE of the elections law. This is not a technicality..this is an unfair law that resulted in islamists winning, the independent candidates were not given their fair chance and the Lists system was unfair to joint members

      • Tahir

        Whem Mubarik won election under this law it was right. Now this law is faulty. You are quite late to expose it

      • Tettodoro

        This is nonsense.With the votes received by the two Islamist lists they would have won whatever adjustments were made to the electoral system. And its not an unusual system – basically the same as that in Libya.

  • Abdul Barik

    basically the “islamists” won so it can’t be democracy. whereas forcing beblawi and elbaradei onto people through tanks is fine, because they are not “islamists”. yet another hypocrite.

    • Adam Mahmoud

      There was no mention in the article of beblawi and elbaradei. The writer is talking about morsi democracy not what is happening now. Why the insult?

      • Abdul Barik

        whats left unsaid is indication of the the thoughts behind the article. if you criticise morsi democracy as being undemocratic, but remain completely silent about the military junta imposed interim government, then yes you are a hypocrite

      • Abdul Barik

        the article complains about hassle of news and media during morsi tme – no mention of complete closure of media by the junta except for the media that has shamelessly returned to it mubarak era praising of the system and calling all opposition terrorists. Hypocrisy

  • Perfectionatic

    Thanks Rana for a wonderfully lucid and well written article.

  • sam enslow

    When will Egyptians take responsibility for their actions and solve a few of the problems that lead to the revolution of 25 January? It seems Egyptians do not want to do anything but find some “other” to blame for their problems.. It is all talk and complain with little “do”.
    I have yet heard a politician in Egypt actually talk with the people of Egypt. No one offers a plan of action for Egypt, goals and steps to reach them. Perhaps Egyptians just want another dictator so they can complain about how bad he treats them.

  • Tahir

    Can american Supreme court dissolve American Senate or House of representative. Egypt Supreme Court is the remnant of of old authoritarian regimes. If Mubarik NDP would have won that elections whether the supreme court have declare it null and void. Not at all. You are siding with Army who lost war from Israel in 1973. You are with that old institutions who did nothing for Egyptian people from last several decade and still trying to maintain the status quo to hold power by illegal means. This state within state is crumbling now. It is trying to push Egypt into past. Democracy originate from ballot and end in ballot. The ballot can not be held under the shadow of bullet as Al-Sisi is trying to hold. The coming few week will prove that Sisi would request for safe exit because he committed treason by overthrowing the legitimate government and abrogating the duly ratified constitution by the Egyptian people. Constitution is made and amended by people and their elected parliament and not a hand picked committee by the coup conspirators,

  • Sam Boulis

    Sorry for joining the party so late, allow me to begin by saying Tahir is wrong in his comment, first of all, you should compare apple to apple and not to oranges, Egypt has lived under dictatorship governments since Gamal Abde-Nasser when he removed the king through a(coup). Egypt has been run by the military since 1952, A democracy can not be created with words. the Egyptian people don’t care about democracy, so it is unfair to compare Egypt to the United states because we have a constitution that was ratified by the people in real, unlike the Egyptian one that was created by the Islamists and was ratified be Islamists without the approval of the Egyptian voters. The supreme court will never attempt to dissolve congress and you are crazy to even think it.

    • Tettodoro

      Its not correct to say that the constitution wasn’t ratified by the Egyptian people – it received a large majority in a referrendum. There was a large absention rate – if you were to assume that all those who abstained were against the constitution (unlikely) then the figure would be closer to 50:50, but its hard to count votes that aren’t cast. Not a good way to adopt a constitution – but not blatantly undemocratic. Moreover Morsi on several occassions offered to discuss amendments to the constitution – an offer the opposition did not take advantage of.

  • Tettodoro

    This is typical of the sort of narrative that the “liberal”
    opposition has constructed to justify their abysmal failure to build an
    effective democratic opposition to the Morsi administration. It ignores
    the fact that Morsi’s presidential decree was enacted to block
    interference by Courts controlled by Mubarak regime appointees in the
    democratic process. And conventiently passes over the fact that Morsi
    withdrew the most controversial parts of the decree after mass protests.
    The victory of the FJP in the Assembly elections (where they did not
    have a majority) was due to the fact that they received the most votes.
    As the author admits, the predominance of Islamists in the constitution
    writing process was due to the fact that the non-Islamist members chose
    to withdraw.There was plenty of scope for the opposition to
    organise democratically against the Morsi regime, and Assembly elections
    were only months away. But instead the opposition decided to hand power
    on a plate to the military and destroy Egypt’s hope of democracy in the
    process. Rana’s concern over the prevalence of torture under Morsi’s
    is well founded. But how does handing power over to the torturers going
    to address that?


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