CAIRO: To many Egyptians, juxtaposing the drawbacks of their nation with the advances of other nations is very tempting. I join the trend using three recent examples.
The first incident took place in the Islamic Republic of Iran whose parliament impeached Ali Kordan, the country’s interior minister and the strong ally of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Of the 247 Iranian lawmakers, 188 voted against Kordan after he had admitted he had a fake PhD degree from the University of Oxford.
Although the post-revolution political system in Iran is not exactly modeled along the lines of Western democracies, its political and legal structures are based on many of the underpinnings of democratic systems, such as holding free competitive elections on a regular basis, rotation of office and the accountability of officials.
In contrast, the sole function of Egypt’s parliament is to decorate its sham democracy and to enforce the legislation the regime fancies. Unsurprisingly, thus, the parliament has never impeached any minister during President Mubarak’s lengthy reign, corruption, incompetence and negligence notwithstanding.
Many in Egypt must have received the news from Tehran with a mixture of astonishment, admiration and bitterness. After all, their media has told them for decades that Iran is an evil, undemocratic, and un-modern regime, led by zealous Mullahs who are obsessed with the export of their vicious revolution.
In contrast to the Iranian minister who faked a university degree, Egypt’s Interior Minister, Habib El-Adly, oversaw the fabrication of all elections in Egypt since he took over in 1997. Even worse, he overlooked – if not supervised – the routinization of torture (to death in many cases) and the indiscriminate arrest of thousands of innocent Egyptians without – and that is the source of bitterness – being impeached or even questioned by the majority of people’s representatives.
Egypt’s rubber stamp parliament is apparently not worth much respect. That is why El-Adly never even bothered to attend any of the People Assembly’s sessions to respond to the inquiries of independent and opposition members, sending instead his assistants.
Secondly, the contrast between true democracy abroad and fake democracy at home was all too vivid this November. The month witnessed the US presidential elections, the climax of a vibrant, two-year political campaign that triggered an unprecedented level of political participation at the grassroots level. Intense media coverage showed millions around the globe how American people made change; they rejected the candidate who stood for the politics of the status quo and brought to the White House the young, energetic candidate who vowed change and instilled hope.
Concomitantly, the convening of the 5th annual conference of the National Democratic Party (NDP) in Egypt was at best met with apathy – at worst, with contempt. In closed conference rooms – and out of touch with reality – the elites of the NDP lectured on democracy, reform and citizenship rights, explaining the change they have introduced and the changes that still lie ahead. But people know that nothing has changed in Cairo, except perhaps for the ability of the authoritarian regime to shrewdly reproduce itself against all odds.
To many, the conclusion to be reached from this contrast is simple: democracies foster bottom-up change, authoritarian regimes do not, even if they proclaim otherwise.
The third example comes from Canada. A few months back, Canada’s Foreign Minister, Maxime Bernier, resigned after coming under fire because he had left classified documents at the residence of his girlfriend. Canada’s Prime Minister explained that “it’s a very serious mistake for any minister.
We must always accept responsibilities for the documents that are classified.
To Egyptians, it is quite revealing to know that the death and decaying of hundreds under the rockslide of Duweiqa, the drowning of 1,000 lives in the Red Sea, the routine beating of schoolchildren, the unavailability of bread are not really “serious mistakes; they are in the eyes of their regime less of crimes than petty negligence is to its Canadian counterpart. In Egypt, these fatalistic mistakes merit just a pale apology coupled with promises of imminent progress, that and nothing else. Resigning is unheard of because accountability – hence responsibility – is missing.
In Egypt, impeachment of senior officials is impossible, resignation unpracticed, and bottom-up channels of communication tightly blocked. As long as the politics of the status quo remain unchallenged, Egyptians will continue to compare and lament.
Nael M. Shama, PhD, is a political researcher and freelance writer based in Cairo.