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The security state has returned to Egypt

January 27, 2014 at 11:07 am

It was reported in Al-Sabah newspaper that 575 soldiers who worked for Mubarak’s security state and were dismissed during the revolution, have been reinstated. I then read of a young man named Alaa Hawari from Sohag, who was protesting about the shortage of gas barrels for stoves and found himself arrested and thrown into one of the central security camps. I did not dismiss this story as an everyday news item because a recent human rights report said that twelve thousand young people, mostly poor men, have been sentenced to prison terms by military courts. Astonishingly, four young girls have been arrested in Ismailia after they were seen carrying a balloon with the Rabaa Al-Adawiyya four-finger sign on it.

I was also amazed to read that 21 secondary school girls were arrested for staging a peaceful demonstration on the corniche in Alexandria; with indecent haste, the prosecutor ordered their arrest for 15 days in Damanhur Prison. When I began to speak to others of what I had read, I was reminded that there are currently 76 girls and women in custody in addition to 120 boys and 13,000 affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood.

These events have coincided with the cancellation of Bassem Yousef’s political satire TV show, which appears to have been too much for the security state to handle in the midst of the republic’s hysteria. Not to mention that a Kung Fu world champion was stopped from representing Egypt in an international competition because he held up the now famous four-finger Rabaa sign, while an Ahly Club footballer was convicted of committing a “common crime” for the same act.

I must also mention that many of the letters that I have received lately are anonymous; the senders fear arrest or worse. One respectable university professor who came to my home would not speak of the current situation before removing the SIM card from her mobile phone. She told me that she viewed this as a necessary action in light of the current atmosphere in Egypt.

Are such stories exaggerated? I do not know, but I find that they echo a sense of apprehension and fear that we felt after the January 25 Revolution, which we believed liberated us from the oppression and suffering we had gone through for decades. After the revolution, we could demonstrate freely and the Bassem Yousef Show was born as a symbol of that time.

I cannot deny the fact that I was fearful when the Ministry of the Interior announced its new project to combat terrorism. Twenty-two international human rights organisations are against the project and while the National Council for Human Rights, an organisation appointed by the government, was not among them it agreed with the statement they issued on the project that its disadvantages include the fact that the terminology used by the ministry is vague, which means that punishments could be imposed outside the legitimate framework. The project defines terrorism as a “serious breach of public order… endangering the safety and interests of the community; preventing the authorities from taking necessary action; endangering the rights of the community and putting them at risk; and preventing educational institutions from continuing their work.”

The project ultimately defines “terrorism” as anything that restricts or harms communication, the gathering of information, or the financial systems of the national economy. In this way, the project does not truly seek to combat terrorism but to restrict the freedom and work of various political and social movements in civil society.

The Ministry of the Interior project intentionally expanded its definition of terrorist organisations to target peaceful political opposition and human rights organisations. Article 13 of the project punishes any individual who takes on a leadership position in an organisation, party or movement that calls for disabling the constitution in any way or threatens national unity. This measure will prevent anyone from advocating constitutional reforms or rejecting the concept of religious discrimination. Many individuals who campaign in favour of minority rights will be discouraged from doing so out of fear that they will be accused of terrorism.

One of the more unusual aspects of the programme is that it considers the implementation of an act of terrorism and the intention to carry out an act of terrorism as one crime punishable to the same degree even if no act was actually carried out. This makes us call into question the fate of an individual who agreed with another person to carry out an act of terrorism but changed his mind at the last moment. Under the new law, a person’s intention to carry out a terrorist act means that the act of terrorism actually took place. Does that mean that a person will be punished for terrorism even if he does not commit an act? It looks as if that will be the case.

Among the many ways that justice has been breached in this attempt to create equality before the law, the project’s 40th article states that many measures to combat terrorism will be embodied by various organisations that will be integrated into the executive branch (particularly the Ministry of Justice). This step will undoubtedly increase the partiality of judges and investigators in issues pertaining to the law. In this way, the extremely vague definitions of terrorism will lead to a series of improbable outcomes and make it impossible to predict the capabilities of the authorities, investigators and judges working for the law and whether or not those convicted will be subject to a free and fair trial.

If we were in an era of defective decision-making, perhaps we would be more reluctant to revoke laws and change them. We would have thought to ourselves that the government made a mistake, but what we are facing is much bigger than this. We need to process the laws fully that the authorities are threatening us with in their attempt to convince us that these are the policies of the new era. We must address our sense of fear for the sake of the January 25th Revolution, the revolution for which cost the Egyptians paid a heavy price and whose constitution was written in Egyptian blood.

These words are not my own. They are a summary of a statement issued on October 27th by the Arabic Network for Information on Human Rights, called “Justice in the 100 days of the judge’s rule: laws and unjust double standards”. This report makes mention of the numerous laws and decisions that have infringed on basic rights in the recent period and it also addresses how the law has compromised the idea of a free and fair trial. This is clearly evident in the abundant use of police brutality we have witnessed as of late, which reminds us of a not so distant but very dark past.

In regards to unfair legislation and anti-freedom decisions, the report made reference to the following:

  • The extension of pre-trial detention so that an amendment can be made in the criminal procedure, which stated that any person awaiting trial or death row cannot be detained for more than two years prior to his trial (Hosni Mubarak benefited greatly from this law). The amendment allowed for any suspect to be detained for a period of 45 days subject to renewal. In this way, the temporary detention of any suspect could be extended in such a way that would allow for the authorities to keep him in jail for a long period without providing any evidence that the individual is truly guilty of the crime for which they are being punished.
  • The Anti-Terrorism Act, which I have already referred to, was deemed by the report as an attempt to thwart the efforts of the revolution and use any justification necessary to police the state once again.
  • A law that prohibits the right to peaceful demonstrations, as defined by international standards of freedom. The authorities are given the right to limit any peaceful demonstrations and, subsequently, arrest protestors. The Interior Ministry also has the right to end any peaceful demonstration or provide specific times for their occurrence, therefore putting strict limitations on demonstrations and ending them altogether, etc.
  • The Emergency Law, which has been extended for a period of two months after the attempted assassination of the current Minister of the Interior. This extension was set to expire on November 14th and it is a tactic that has been used by security forces for over thirty years in their unsuccessful attempts to combat terrorism.
  • The decision to place several judicial officers in a number of positions in government institutions. This is a dangerous tactic designed to limit workers’ participation in political movements. It also bypasses the judiciary’s attempt to block a police presence in universities.
  • The decision to hold investigations and trials inside a prison. This not only infringes on prisoner rights but it is an assault on the independence of the judiciary because the majority of decisions would be made inside the Ministry of the Interior’s headquarters (which seems to be the only visible party in such situations).
  • The law protecting national symbols, which was intended to allow action to be taken against individuals who refused to salute the flag. In reality, it seeks to exonerate senior officials in the face of criticism.
  • The drafting of a law that would criminalise the act of drawing graffiti on a wall as a form of political protest, especially during campaign periods. Violators will face up to four years imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 Egyptian pounds. However, the uproar surrounding this decision has led many to call on the Minister of Administrative Development to stop drafting a law exclusively for this purpose and place it under an existing law that would consider it an environmental violation.

The core observation on all of these laws and procedures is that they embody the authorities’ attempts to bully us and restrict our freedoms. These decisions allow them to tighten their grip on society in a way that echoes the Mubarak regime and the words of Minister of the Interior Habib Al-Adly, who warned us of the end of the January 25th Revolution. When we look back we can see that there were many signs pointing to a counter-revolution. I am sure that Mr Adly thinks that I am happy to prove his point.

There is legitimate fear over our present and our future and it is necessary for us to fight in defence of our dream. I would even argue that this is our duty par excellence at the current moment. The security state is the nightmare that currently occupies our spaces and remembers what I said in the first few lines, that a few important officials wish to increase our sense of fear and anxiety. They are rejoicing in the sense of mass hysteria experienced in the republic and it is our duty to stop this chaos in the coming weeks, God Willing.

This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Jazeera net on 12 November, 2013

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