Thursday, September 29, 2011

Will the Generals Ever Leave?

By William Fisher

Nearly two dozen of Egypt’s most respected human rights organizations charged yesterday that the changes made by country’s “temporary” military rulers are cosmetic and intended to paper over the “vast gulf” that separates those whose efforts won the revolution and those who are now charged with running the country.

It is believed to be the strongest attack yet made by the human rights community against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in Egypt.

In a statement issued yesterday the coalition of human rights groups said it
“decisively condemns the exploitation of the political crisis between the forces of the revolution and those managing the country’s affairs in the transitional period as an excuse to employ the same repressive tools and means that the regime of deposed president Hosni Mubarak used against its enemies and critics.”

The group added, The SCAF has been “foregoing dialogue, negotiations, and political solutions in favor of the old security approach. Such security solutions lead to violence, oppression, and an increasing use of repressive legislation against opponents, be they political activists, media workers, or civil society and rights activists.”

Regrettably, the undersigned organizations have noticed that the policies recently embraced by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the government that heeds its dictates have entailed increasing political tension and have strengthened the belief that a vast gulf separates, on one hand, Egyptians’ aspirations for democracy, an end to the legacies of an obsolete despotic regime, and a clean break with the practices and policies of that repressive regime, and, on the other, the tendencies of those administering the country’s affairs, who are clearly and gradually preserving the primary components of the deposed president’s regime while attempting to give it a facelift by sacrificing several old regime figures.”

“This,” they added, “is an insult to the thousands who sacrificed and died in a vicious battle to overthrow the entire regime, not for the sake of a few new faces.”

The groups were most forceful in their condemnation of SCAF Decree (93/2011), “which not only revived the application of the emergency law—which has officially been in force since the Mubarak era—but also expanded the scope of the law to exceed the limits guaranteed in 2010 by the deposed president, who vowed to apply the law only in the context of crimes of terrorism and drug-trafficking.”

The SCAF’s decision “allows the emergency law to be invoked for disturbances to national security and the public order and to confront acts of thuggery, assaults on the freedom to work, vandalism of facilities, the obstruction of transportation and roads, and the dissemination of false news and statements.”

The group added, “The expansive language of the decree permits a broad interpretation of such acts that will allow for the intimidation and harassment of persons involved in peaceful protests, demonstrations, and strikes. It also constitutes a direct threat to freedom of expression and a free media.”

The groups also focused their wrath on what they characterized as the broader picture. They said, “The use of the emergency law to stifle basic liberties and to repress actions by forces of the revolution cannot be viewed separately from the broad, escalating assault on civil society institutions and various media outlets.”

The groups said, “It should be noted that in the run-up to the 2010 elections, the most infamous in Egypt’s history, the Mubarak regime launched an all-out attack on various forms of media, several of the most prominent political talk shows, and human rights organizations and civil society, impeding their ability to monitor the elections and expose irregularities.”

They added, “The course pursued by those currently administering the country’s affairs differs little from the ways of the Mubarak regime. They have clung to an electoral system that has been nearly unanimously rejected by all political forces and human rights groups, although these forces have proposed alternative electoral laws that advocate elections based on unconditional, proportional lists, whether for parties, coalitions, or independents.”

As a result, they said, “The electoral system chosen by the SCAF and the flagrant deficiencies in districting have provoked the anger of various parties, who believe that these measures will only reinstate a parliament dominated by the same forces that controlled Mubarak-era parliaments through the use of money, narrow partisan interests, and religious sentiment.”

“Adhering to the same policies pursued by Mubarak and his dissolved party, those administering the country’s affairs have preceded the impending parliamentary elections with a hostile assault on the media that has involved suspending licenses for new satellite stations and closely monitoring the satellite media as a prelude to taking legal action against satellite channels that “ignite civil strife,” in the words of the Minister of Information.”

“Under the pretexts of alleged ‘media chaos’ and of examining satellite channels’ sources of funding, the campaign began by targeting 16 satellite channels. For example, the office of al-Jazeera Egypt was shut down and the station’s transmitter was confiscated on the grounds that the station had not received a broadcast license, although the station had applied for a license four months ago and had been broadcasting in the interim without government objection,” the groups said, adding:

In tandem with this attack on the media, the campaign against civil society associations, human rights organizations, and some political groups involved in the January 25 revolution was redoubled. After the ouster of Mubarak, these groups have been subject to the same baseless accusations used by the Mubarak regime against human rights defenders and the same allegations by which that regime sought to stoke popular hostility to the revolution and those involved in it.

Under Mubarak, the issues of external funding and foreign agendas were used to stigmatize political activists and impugn the patriotism of hundreds of thousands of people who gathered in Egypt’s public squares, as prelude to an attack by paid bands organized by the network of interests overseen by the ruling NDP and the police state apparatus at that time.

The groups say they “still hope that the SCAF will assume its responsibilities to achieve the democratic aims expressed by the Egyptian revolution, from which the SCAF derives its legitimacy in this transitional period. We emphasize that securing a safe transition to democracy requires those currently administering the country’s affairs to open up the public sphere to a democratic, equitable, institutional dialogue among all active parties in society, in order to reach a social consensus on the political system and the course it will take.”

The groups asked the SCAF to revoke its decision to activate and expand the emergency law, abolish the law criminalizing strikes and sit-ins, end the state of emergency, and suspend all exceptional trials, including trials of civilians in military courts, and all trials in the Emergency Supreme State Security Court.

In addition to urging the SCAF to end its campaign against NGOs, the group calls on the military men to reconsider the electoral system and electoral districting to be responsive to widespread demands for an unconditional, proportional list system in all seats in elections for the People’s Assembly and Shura Council; and release a time-bound agenda for the transitional period that includes specific dates for parliamentary and presidential elections and a referendum on the new constitution.

Some of the better known groups signing the statement include Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Arab Penal Reform Organization, Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, and Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination.

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