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The illusion of change

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 …

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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  • MouhandHassan

    sad but true , and i think its going to get worse unless people ……

  • sam enslow

    This article reflects what I hear in coffee shops everyday. I have never been anyplace where the government and media were so out of touch with “the people” they claim to serve.
    If the media would concern itself with addressing Egypt’s problems and use its vast resources to educate the people about them, Egypt would have made great progress. But Egyptian media seem to believe the statements of third rate US politicians in praise of General Sisi are far more important (while all the time saying the US should not comment on Egypt’s affairs). They want to deal with image – not reality.
    Perhaps the worst is Nile TV International. Its programs often discuss what some American or Western power said in scathing terms. They seem to believe the US became as rich and powerful as it is by being totally stupid (sometimes I believe this). They appear to have no understanding of US politics and no realization that the philosophy of America is pragmatism, something works or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t work, change it. Change is welcome in America as are new challenges. Egyptians love traditions and MAAT, tranquility. While insulting the US and West in general, they promote tourism to Egypt as though the people of those countries cannot be insulted by the lies and half truths expressed in the rest of Nile International’s programing. Their real complaint is over money. They want foreign money, so they believe insulting the countries they seek it from will help their cause.
    Nile TV and other media outlets always brag about the 13 billion in aid Egypt will get from Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia. This, I guess, is why they are never bothered by Saudi support of the Salafi parties. But to show a difference, JP Morgan Chase just paid that amount as a fine to the US government, and it only mildly affected profits for the year. Most US Fortune 500 companies have revenues greater or as great as Saudi Arabia. I mention this because Egypt has close relationships with the US, but it fails to take advantage of them. Every third rate dictator claims to stand up to America. Get serious. Work with and doors open. Egypt needs to be willing to learn. America doesn’t react well to threats and insults.
    This is not off topic. The changes not happening in reality in Egypt are affecting its ability to attract large scale foreign investments which would provide good jobs and training to Egyptians. What company would want to bring its staffs to Egypt to endure that lifestyle endured by most Egyptians especially when there are no signs that the government of Egypt is serious about improving things? Why would talented Egyptians want to remain and build a better Egypt when they see all roads to progress are blocked. Why would foreigners invest in Egypt when Egyptians will not?

  • AK

    Great article Ms. Allam. Change will ultimately happen, with the infusion of the new generations.

  • Ahmed Bata

    I think most people are aware of the issues you mentioned. The stability they were voting for was in regards to the brotherhood. All of Egypt’s problems form a small pile, compared to the spectre of political Islam. You think there are injustices in our police state? Look outside our borders and compare them to the atrocities commited by theocratic governments. We have settled this issue at least, even if the body of political islam in egypt is still seizing in it’s death throes. Next on the list for revolutionaries is human rights I’m sure. But we have bought time by taking religious parties out of the running. There will be no syria, Libya, algeria, mali, car, lebanon, or iraq here.

  • James Hart

    I am yet to find a paper half as decent as this one! Excellent journalism. Truly. Hats off, Ms. Allam, and please keep up the great work.

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