Egypt, a Dent on African Democracy

Egypt is the cradle of civilisation. It plays host to the first university in the world, remaining as the centre of global academic excellence for ages. Cairo was already basking in the euphoria of intellectual distinction even when Europe was still groping and writhing under the pain of the dark ages. The Pharaohs’ Egypt was a perfect example of political stability, intellectual superiority, social cohesion and economic buoyancy.

Arguably, within the Middle East and North African countries, Egypt has provided, during and after colonialism, the most constructive neo-colonialism engagements that seek to completely liberate the region and its people from the vestiges of colonialism and neo-colonialism. These range from political domination to social enslavement, and from economic dependency to the intellectual dominion of the West.

It is not surprising, that despite the suppression of dissenting voices, the opposition in Egypt has refused to condescend to taking up arms, relapse into insurgency or resort to violence. From 2014 and the first quarter of 2015, particularly in Africa, the overall situation of global democracy is one of struggle under stern pressure. It came heavily under the jackboot of autocratic governments and the manipulations of anti-democratic elements.

Although, there were few bright spots and very encouraging developments in Tunisia and Nigeria where credible elections were conducted, the Libyan crisis virtually degenerated into civil war and Morocco regressed from being a hybrid regime to an authoritarian state. The worst case on the continent remains Egypt.

It has presented a carnival of reactions where the transmuted military regime distinguished itself by presiding over the most wide-ranging rollback of democratic rights and freedoms for decades. It is not an understatement that democracy on the continent weakened between 2013 and 2015. No country in the world has experienced more turbulence in recent years than the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) with Syria and Egypt representing the worst case in each side of the divide.

While the world callously looks away as Syria groans under a ravaging war, authoritarian trends become more entrenched and democratization slowly ground to a halt in Egypt, with the once heartening story of the North African country radically reversed. Observers had hoped that the Arab Spring, which began in late 2010, would usher in a period of political transformation but Egypt proved all the bookmakers wrong.

 

According to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy 2014, titled: Democracy and Its Discontents: arguably the most dramatic example of the regression to authoritarianism has been in Egypt, which has fallen to 138th in 2014 rankings (from 135th in 2013, and 109th in 2012). In 2014, Egypt saw their average scores in the Democracy Index decline falling to 3.16 from 3.27 in 2013, following a slump from 4.56 in 2012.

With the pull down of the administration of the long-standing president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, it was expected that democratisation process in the country had been launched, but regrettably, Egypt has seen its first-ever elected president, Mohammed Morsi, removed by the military in July 2013. Subsequently, thousands of opposition politicians, campaigners and journalists were hounded into prison, and a former army chief, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, elected as president in a wholly one-sided contest in 2014. Disappointingly, the hope of political transformation and democratisation got short-lived. It is quite obvious, therefore, that if Egypt is not checked, its political climate will further regress and eventually relapse to its pre-2011 authoritarian status.

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And with the Freedom and Justice Party as well as the mother organization, the Muslim Brotherhood now facing a rapid reversal of fortune, the country’s authoritarians are making a comeback as is especially evident in clampdowns on dissenting voices, reminding every student of history of the Egypt’s not too distant past.

Many had thought that nothing could be worse than the removal of Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected leader; but the unfolding events even after the coup in today’s Egypt is far deeper and more dangerous. The Centre of Civilisation is redefining authoritarianism by both institutionalizing the “deep state” and crystallizing military rule!

What is happening in Egypt is the closing of political space, the elimination of public dissent, and the removal of the paraphernalia of democracy. A country that considers peaceful protests as “a challenge to the state and its prestige” rewards ‘violators’ with seven years in prison and fines up to $1,500.

Thousands of supporters have been detained since the ouster of Morsi. The deaths of over 1,400 people and the subsequent imprisonment of thousands of activists and sympathisers recorded in August violent removal of the sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya should not be supported by any man who appreciates democracy. Also read  Ogbe, Aregbesola, Ooni flag off cashew plantation in Osun Hundreds of Morsi supporters have been sentenced to death in speed mass trials that even the United Nations described as ‘unprecedented in recent history’.

The United Nations human rights office and various NGOs expressed “deep alarm” after an Egyptian Minya Criminal Court sentenced 529 people to death in a single hearing on March 25, 2014! Sentenced supporters of Morsi will be executed for their alleged role in violence following his ousting in July 2013.

The judgment was condemned as a violation of international law. Following the coup, by May 2014, approximately 16,000 people (and as high as more than 40,000 by one independent count) mostly Freedom and Justice Party members or supporters, have been imprisoned, particularly after the Brotherhood was labeled as a terrorist organization by the post-coup interim Egyptian government.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director of Human Rights Watch posited that “The prosecution’s case was founded on the conjecture that Morsi was responsible simply because of his relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. Whatever political responsibility Morsi may have, the prosecution didn’t establish his criminal guilt in this case.”

 

A Human Rights Watch review of an 80-page summary of the prosecution’s case showed that the allegations against Morsi relied primarily on the testimony of Maj. Gen. Mohamed Zaki, the commander of the Republican Guard, a division of the army tasked with protecting the presidency. Zaki testified that there “must have been” an agreement between Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to disperse anti-government protesters by force but gave no evidence to support his hypothesis.

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The Dec. 5, 2012, clashes left at least ten people dead, seven believed to have been Morsi’s supporters, and 748 injured. Prosecutors failed to investigate anyone for killing or injuring any Morsi supporter during the December 2012 clashes. Of the ten people killed that day, only three were included in the prosecutors’ file, creating an appearance that the case was politically motivated against the Brotherhood, which the new government labeled a terrorist organization in December 2013.

Human rights reports averred that the first trial of Morsi was compromised by: due process violations, the appearance of bias and an absence of conclusive evidence. A review of the prosecution’s case file summary by Human Rights Watch found little evidence other than the testimony of military and police officers to support Morsi’s conviction for complicity in the ‘unlawful detention, torture, and intimidation of protesters carried out by top aides and supporters of Freedom and Justice Party’ when he was president in December 2012.

The question on the lip of every man and woman of goodwill is: why is the military transformed civilian government sparing no effort in stamping out opposition? Why the threatened war against the civil society organizations that have been the tributaries and the bulwark of the revolution which he now usurps?

The protesters of the Arab Spring requested democracy in a region that has been ruled by authoritarian regimes for decades. While the demand is clear, it may be less clear what kind of democracy the people demand. Indeed, there is no generally accepted concept of what makes a democracy. But what is certain is that just like Michael Meyer-Resende of Democracy Reporting International (DRI) puts it, ‘Democracy is not anything goes form of government,’ whereas today’s Egypt is degenerating into anything goes democracy.

 

In 2004, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that lays out seven ‘essential elements’ of democracy which includes separation and balance of power, Independence of the judiciary, a pluralistic system of political parties and organizations, respect for the rule of law, accountability and transparency, free, independent and pluralistic media and respect for human and political rights.

The report explores the implications of these seven elements in the hope of offering support to the debate in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries in the region, about what exactly, a democratic state should look like. If Egypt wishes to practice democracy, it must understand and practice it within the framework of Democracy Barometer. A new index of democracy asserts that democracy rests on three principles namely freedom, control and equality; and these components determine the very quality of democracy practiced in any country.

 

Ibrahim Ola Balogun

Social Commentator and Policy Analyst

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