By Philip Whitfield
CAIRO: Rattled, the Muslim Brothers packed parliament to amend a law that would ban former regime figures from running after Omar Suleiman threw his hat into the ring. That’ll get tossed into the courts, unlikely to see the light of day again.
Suleiman is the Brothers’ nemesis. The intelligence chief rose to become Mubarak’s consigliere after foiling an Islamist ambush in Ethiopia in 1995. Against advice he insisted the president travel in an armored limo, escaping a hail of bullets unscathed.
A general amnesty for political crimes would stop the door revolving at Tora prison. That’s the way in South America. El Salvador and Brazil were famous for it. Others include Argentina, Chile, Ghana, Kenya and Morocco, the Philippines, South Korea and East Timor.
Canada and the US have amnesty laws in force. The UK’s stiff upper lip abhors amnesties. Syria’s butcher Assad says an amnesty is OK though his promises are shorter than a kanafeh piecrust.
In Argentina and Chile generals insist the price for ending military rule is full impunity for their crimes. Mandates are shaped to let them off. Another bone of contention is the relationship between truth commissions and the judiciary, who hate their prosecutorial rights being trampled.
How to reconcile Egypt’s bloodletters is a significant issue for the presidential debate. It’s better to know before voting how each candidate would treat adversaries. If Egypt is to be exposed to an African-style reign of revenge let’s be hearing it now. If the next president wants to embark with a flock of doves let’s be knowing it.
South Africa’s successful transition was underpinned by promoting national unity and reconciliation under the chairmanship of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Public hearings gave victims and perpetrators the opportunity to face each other.
Amnesty was granted to those who committed abuses during the apartheid era so long as the crimes were politically motivated and proportional and there was full disclosure.
There are critics. Some say raking over the coals resurfaces old grudges. People lie to be granted an amnesty, say others. Steve Biko’s family says the Truth and Reconciliation Commission robbed them of justice for their son. His police murderers got off scot-free.
What is clear, however, is that washing its dirty linen in public served South Africa well. South Africa is seen as more tolerant than before, encouraged to stage international events such as the World Cup. Foreign investment in South Africa has reached an all-time high. Their economic growth is envied; though crimes of violence are unabated.
Those issues will be paramount in Egypt in the months ahead. If, as seems probable, the Egyptian pound is devalued, Egypt will want masses of tourists to take advantage of lower prices for them. Manufacturers won’t want a stigma attached to a Made in Egypt label. Happy pricing, though, will not attract buyers if the sellers are ornery.
Young people are expressing a yearning for peace. An Egyptian journalist friend who keeps his ear close to the ground tells me the election might produce a result that reflects this changed attitude. He says the Muslim Brotherhood’s young have lost confidence in their elders, looking to support other candidates.
A point he’s making is Omar Suleiman’s name recognition. The world knows what he stands for. Supporting Suleiman would be a way to demonstrate their forgiveness and elect someone who can hold the hotheads in check.
Another influential member of the professional middle class agrees. Suleiman was born in abject poverty rising through the ranks on ability, he says. We need a strongman to take control, not a wishy-washy politician with unproven government experience.
US general Douglas MacArthur who commanded the allies in the Pacific theater against Japan in World War II, became the effective ruler of Japan from 1945 until 1951, applauded by the Japanese for transforming their society, politics and economics.
Norway has an outstanding record of facilitating peace and reconciliation. Promoting women’s inclusion in peace and security issues is a priority Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre told the Standing Committee on Women in Oslo in November last year. Women should have the same human rights as men in a democracy. Women’s inclusion leads to a more sustainable peace, he said.
Norway’s new strategic plan for women, peace and security in the next three years includes increasing women’s participation and influence in peace building and in peace negotiations — a missing ingredient in Egypt today.
The Center for Justice and Reconciliation in the Netherlands reflects the Dutch government’s ongoing involvement in supporting peace after conflict, particularly in Africa. Justice, they say, must include restorative justice that takes into account social justice, the rule of law and truth telling. The root causes of problems shouldn’t be brushed under the rug.
The state, civil society, victims, religious leaders, institutions and donor countries need to play significant roles working together and reinforcing each other, the Dutch believe. Like the Norwegians they emphasize women’s importance.
Can Egypt stomach advice from abroad? Yes, if it’s offered altruistically.
I believe it’s important to face up to the interdependence of today’s world. The political imbroglio is a natural outcrop of stifled aspirations by a shortsighted ruling clique.
Lesson One is to accept that. Lesson Two is to swap the slogan Egypt is Open for Business for Egypt Loves You. Egypt can’t expect much going cap in hand for loans and new investment unless it demonstrates publicly a willingness to embrace the human rights that are the hallmark of civilized countries.
Offering amnesty in the manner of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, promising to respect human rights and showing a welcoming face to the world are priorities.
Closing ranks, jailing opponents and enacting laws for the benefit of sections of society is a recipe for disaster.
No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism — Winston Churchill.
Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.