Creating new perspectives since 2009

In Egypt and democratic countries

January 27, 2014 at 11:21 am

A state is a political and lawful unit that consists of three components and three main branches and powers. The components of the state are territory, the people and the government. At certain times, a state will be recognised after it has been established without having any prior foundations, as was the case with Israel. At other times, a state will gain recognition after it has been carved out of another state, like Southern Sudan, or even Kosovo, which used to be part of former Yugoslavia before it was divided into several independent states, the most prominent of them being Serbia. In fact, Kosovo was not initially annexed as an independent state but remained part of Serbia for quite some time after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. Recognition is also often required for governments that are created as a result of a coup or in the event of a civil war or revolution.

This happened in Rwanda in 1994 when the National Rwandan Front gained victory over the Hutu government. Once the Tutsis gained control of the government, it was necessary to recognize that a change had occurred in the country, on both the governmental and popular levels.

The state has three branches: legislative, executive and judicial. The press has long been called the “fourth estate”, especially if we are to discuss certain things that would otherwise be impossible to achieve in a non-democratic country. Journalists often believe sincerely that they are an authority in the face of other authorities. In non-democratic countries, the media is the mouthpiece of the head of state and any individual who dares to be otherwise will often find themselves find thrown into prison and banned from writing. The executive branch in these countries is often dominated by the security sector, which plays the role of society’s guardian, or an officer imposing the “wellbeing” of the nation against any free democratic voice wanting to “disrupt” the public order.

In a democratic state, there are limits for a state and its powers; however, these are often determined by the constitution, which dictates the types and limits of powers and who has the right to practice them. The parliament is designed to execute legislative powers and to control the government, whereas the government appears in front of its people and the world as the ruling power. Thus, in order to ensure justice, the various levels of the judiciary dominate many of the executive branch’s decisions. The government is committed to the belief that the judiciary carries out its decisions with the best of intentions. The opposite is true in non-democratic countries.

The term ‘state’ is frequently used in Egypt but one cannot use this term while simultaneously waging a war against the state. There needs to be respect for the state’s orders and intentions. People have been overusing the term ‘state’, yet it has increased the sovereignty of certain high-level entities. In the Mubarak era, the term state was used to refer to the presidency of the republic, including sovereign and non-sovereign bodies in addition to the security sector, which remains under the control of the presidency and carries out its orders. All of these sovereign bodies act as if they are the worthiest to govern the state, as if there is confusion about all other powers and institutions.

During the rule of the military council, which is the dominant authority in all state affairs in Egypt, even during the presidency of Dr Mohamed Morsi, there was constant reference to the idea of ‘higher sovereignty’. The use of this term has lessened after Morsi’s period in office because it is understood that the military council, rather than a presidency with the support of the military, constitutes the new transitional government since the July coup.

In third world countries, the state is understood as a product of the will of its leader, who is either an indifferent king or a president who obtained power by rigging the election and ignoring the will of the voters. Authority is usually concentrated within the symbols of the state’s power, including state employees, soldiers and any officials who act out the power of the state because they are working on the direct orders of the state leader. There is no objection, in these states, to great constitutions that magnify and glorify the will and sovereignty of the people. It is also no surprise that the state emphasises the greatness of the law even though it has nothing to do with the reality of the state. What remains the most important factor of all is that no individual objects to the state, not because it represents the law, but because any objection to the state is considered to be treasonous. An objection to the law is also thought of as a challenge to the leader and an attempt to undermine his authority. It may even be considered as a deviation from the pledge of allegiance. Perhaps it is for this reason that many foreigners in third world countries respect the law; however, first world citizens who face charges in third world countries for violations of the law, such as drug trafficking or murder, often have less severe punishments, or amnesty in some cases, as an attempt to avoid a diplomatic crisis with the offender’s country. The main reason for this is that people from the first world do not trust the legal processes in the third world.

Historically in Egypt, the idea of the state is usually linked directly to the leader because Egyptian leaders have often been god-like beings and kings and any deviation from the leader’s will is viewed as a deviation from the will of God. Paganism in the government and the diligence of Islamic scholars under the Sultan both have a long history in Egypt. In many ways, I believe that we are still suffering from this today because we are unable to disengage religion and politics in a way that grants religion its proper place and respect while also preventing the leader and the governed from finding any excuse to justify tyranny. This is essential in Muslim and Arab countries that have yet to experience the ‘modern state’. The main reason that explains the trend sweeping the region is primarily that there is confusion between the idea of a modern civil state and how to implement it. A state is by definition ‘civil’ but the government cannot be categorised in this way if power is limited to the clergy, as is the case in the Iranian constitution, or if power is given to the military, as was the case in Egypt in 1952. A government that is ruled by the clergy or the military is by definition a ‘civil’ state; however, it cannot be defined as democratic even if there are signs of a democratic environment. Thus, it is often viewed that the state must be classified as a civil state with a democratic political system as opposed to a democratic country. Yet, a country is defined as authoritarian or democratic based on the nature of its political system.

Thus, a military official cannot become a democratic leader because a democratic leader is selected by way of a democratic process and the leader’s power is also exercised in accordance with the same system, which is always stronger than the leader. A military leader comes to power through oppression and repression and that is the danger that I see in Egypt now; it does not have a democratic system. One cannot simply mention democracy in the constitution when the constitution does not reflect reality. Yet, regardless of this fact, there needs to be types of democratic organisations and institutions. If a democratic system is stabilised, the system will be able to prevail over any leader, whether civilian or military.

In reality, Egypt is only a state on paper. The military’s and police hatred for the idea of the state has pushed people towards two alternatives: the Mubarak regime, which filled the place of a state, or a military leader who takes away all privileges and freedom in exchange for national security and power. This has been the reality of Egypt since 1952 and it will continue to be the case as long as the conflict with Israel continues, because Israel is an army disguised as a state.

The military, the police and national security embody the idea of the state in Egypt. Thus, any criticism of their behaviour or relationship with the state is met with a wave of discontent from the people. It is believed that one cannot have law at the expense of security, which has yet to find its balance since its fall on January 25th and its ‘revival’ in June. Any use of legal violence is in accordance with the law.

In democratic countries, though, the military and the police are not viewed as the supreme law because, generally, it is the constitution that dictates the distribution of power within a state. The constitution is revered by everyone as a contract between the people and the ruler and it is under this contract that the police ensure internal security and the military ensure security against outside forces. If at any point the police practice violence outside the framework of the law, they are viewed in the same manner as a gang formed in the absence of the law. This then brings into question the legality of force used by the police and their actions are viewed subsequently as illegal aggression against civilians and their rights. On the other hand, the army of a democratic country is rarely used internally, except in the event of a natural disaster.

The army and the police are two institutions of power in a state governed by the will of the people and the constitution, which must be protected from any abuses of power. As it turns out, Egypt is undergoing an extraordinary and extremely dangerous time in every aspect. We must work together to establish a state with a legitimate constitution; to enable citizens to protect this constitution, and we must bring the army and the police back within the framework of the law. We must also work together to ensure the independence of the judiciary and revive the honesty of the media, which has become an unfortunate extension of those in power and the supremacy of sovereignty.

The first reform must be made within society because it is society that acts as the vessel from which the government is created. Society speaks on behalf of the constitution and it is the true entity which polices the state in the broader sense. Thus, the deterioration of society brings about the worst political consequences and causes chaos. The police in turn are transformed into a tool for the corrupt to rule, with no one to supervise them. Furthermore, Israel’s adamant decision to oppose any democratic project in Egypt has rendered the army a mere faction in a political process; this was done in order to distract it from its true purpose, which is to confront Israel, or other external threats to Egyptian sovereignty, should the need arise.

Much to Israel’s pleasure, Egypt today is in the perfect environment to come out of this situation more or less dead politically. It is up to the Egyptian people to abandon arguments and political infighting in order to build a modern and democratic state so that the state can come out of this struggle as a prime example for others in this dark time. In the long-term, Egypt cannot be dependent on others and subject to their plots.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.