The illusion of change

Rana Allam
6 Min Read
Rana Allam
Managing editor Rana Allam
Rana Allam

A new era has begun in Egypt: an era of stability and security, of safety and justice, of rights and freedoms, of women’s rights, children’s rights and rights for the disabled. An era of democracy has suddenly befallen on us on the eve of the landslide success of a Yes vote to a new progressive constitution.

This is what you’d learn if you watch too much Egyptian TV or read Egyptian newspapers, anyway.

It is of course quite curious that many people actually believe this nonsense, and not simply because the constitution is flawed or has contradicting articles (e.g. freedom of religion is granted, yet only for the three Abrahamic religions). Articles in the constitution are not the point of discussion here… because honestly, what difference does it make?

Egypt already has good laws set in place: we have laws against torture, inhumane treatment, sexual harassment, carrying arms, destroying churches, beating women, discrimination – you name it. We have criminal laws that cover it all. We are signatories to almost every international human rights, women’s rights, anti-discrimination agreement that exists, and have been since the Mubarak era.

What do laws matter if you also have a law enforcement body that breaks them, twists them to its benefit, and wields absolute immunity? What does it matter when you have laws, but the judiciary is politicised, untouchable, and performs selective justice?

On the ground, this is what we have; those who demonstrated on the streets with Al-Sisi banners went in peace, those who protested against the Protest Law got jailed. Those who campaigned for a Yes vote on the referendum in front of the polling stations were left alone, while those who campaigned for a No vote were detained, sometimes even beaten up.

In the media, for example, we have no idea whether we would be under legal scrutiny if we interviewed an MB figure; some editors and journalists are questioned, some are not.

It all “depends”… and this is not justice; this is a farce!

But let’s put politics aside, and see to our daily lives.

They say, “We want stability, that is why we voted Yes. We are fed up with the protests that hinder our work and block the streets.” How exactly will passing a constitution achieve that? There is already a very strict and oppressive Protest Law in place, and yet the protests didn’t stop… why would the constitution be able to do that? If anything, according to the constitution, the Protest Law is unconstitutional!

Will the new constitution make the traffic better if the interior ministry does nothing to improve the horrid status of Egyptian streets?

Does it really mean anything that we have constitutional articles guarding the rights of women? Will this stop sexual harassment and assault against women if the police don’t interfere and the judiciary doesn’t care? The police and the judiciary are fine with the fact that women cannot carry any sort of self defence tool with them– even with the rise in crime against women. Do you expect them to suddenly move to protect them?

Does an article banning child labour matter when the police treat street children as if they were criminals, and when the detention facilities are filled with under-18 kids?

Does it matter when the constitution says that the state is responsible for providing housing, medical treatment, and education?  Without law enforcement, will the constitution be able to distribute whatever money is allocated for these to the correct people? As just one example, rich government employees are the ones benefitting from fully paid medical treatment provided by the government, while the poor die on the doorsteps of state hospitals.

Will any of that change just because Egyptians said Yes to the constitution?

I think not!

The only thing that happened is that the army was handed a reinforced mandate to rule the country, be it in the forefront or behind the scenes, while the Brotherhood was handed another rejection. That’s it; repetition and no change!

Again – and I say this for the umpteenth time – there will be no stability, no security, no progress, unless state institutions, especially the police and the judiciary, get their act together and possess a will to change from within. Nothing will change unless our rulers, whoever they may be, stop their false promises of democracy and justice, and start practicing them.

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