The fear for democracy in Egypt is now justified and I would even argue that we need to remind ourselves of the warning signs; this is now an obligation. Let me explain why.
On Wednesday June 4th, 2014, the members of the Faculty of Orthopaedic Medicine at Ain Shams University (a total of about 120 physicians) gathered to elect a new department head after the presidency of Dr Abdul Mohsen Arafa came to an end. As they were waiting for the votes to be counted they received a message stating that the meeting was cancelled by order of the Supreme Council of Universities. The same thing happened in Alexandria where they were informed that the council would need to review the question of reappointment once again.
The right to select university leaders is one of the main rights that university professors fought for and achieved after the January 25th Revolution; they were able to change the law to grant universities the right to hold their own elections. However, the current minister of higher education, who was previously elected as the head of a faculty of engineering, stated recently that he prefers to go back to a system where university leaders are appointed rather than elected. This was seen by many as hitting university independence and, more importantly, as a measure that is incompatible with the law that was amended.
It is no secret that this step was taken upon the recommendation of the security sector, which seeks to nationalise the universities in an attempt to extend its own influence. It is also common knowledge that the government considered cancelling the presence of university security guards due to the role they played in the struggle between professors and other national movements. Yet, after some thought, security guards were placed on as well as off campus.
Moreover, this decision was matched by the implementation of restrictive measures that targeted student activists in their final semesters in university. In most cases, not only were these students prevented from writing their exams or entering their faculty departments, but many were also driven out of university towns. These measures affected hundreds of students who were involved in numerous protests. In one instance, the police killed one of them while he was on the campus of the Cairo Faculty of Engineering.
In an effort to break up the meeting of orthopaedic doctors at Ain Shams, interim President Adli Mansour issued seven new laws aimed at nationalising the university. This means that he issued a new law every 7 minutes for an hour prior to his leaving office, according to information posted on the Masr Al-Arabiyah website.
One of the above-mentioned laws deals with nationalising campus mosques and prohibiting religious activities and lessons from taking place on a college campus outside Al-Azhar University, as it has permission from the ministry. It is common knowledge that such declarations are not made without the approval of the national security agency.
One of the laws issued by Mansour prior to his departure that shocked the Egyptian public related directly to the House of Representatives. Dr Ahmed Abed-Rabbo, a professor of political science, described this law as “the nationalisation of political life”.
I am more than satisfied with analysing this law based on the assessment that was published by Tahrir (Liberation) newspaper on 9 June: “The issuance of these new laws confirms that the hawks [of the previous regime] are still alive and well in the political kitchen and any hope for reform and change or the dream for a new beginning is nothing more than a naïve mirage in the mind of our nation’s dreamers. A quick reading of the first five articles of these laws proves that Egypt is on the verge of nationalising the entire political game and policy will once again be a tool in the regime’s hands.”
The article also stated: “The law was left open for community dialogue for about ten days prior to its official issuance. Not surprisingly, no dialogue actually took place and although many political parties objected to this law, their opinions were not even taken into consideration in the end. The final version of the law that was issued was far worse than the preliminary draft.”
Among the observations that were made by Abed-Rabbo was the realisation that the law favours the regime to a drastic degree. Originally, 80 per cent of parliamentary seats were left open but with this new law, only 20 per cent of the original seats were left vacant. What this represents is a frightening return to Mubarak-style electoral politics, which favours political networks and marginalises political parties. These factors prevent the true implementation of policy and make it nothing more than a tool that can be used by the regime. Moreover, it weakens parliament greatly in the face of the executive branch. Generally speaking, it weakens parliament in the face of power itself.
Dr Abed-Rabbo concluded his analysis by saying: “Egypt cannot continue under such chaotic conditions (resulting from the coup) nor can the hegemonic hawks of the old regime continue to roam around and dominate the political scene. If this continues, we will lose our only opportunity to implement true change at such a critical time.”
According to a survey conducted by the Bio Statistic Centre in Egypt, 54 per cent of people in Egypt supported the establishment of a stable government while 44 per cent saw differently. This poll placed the spotlight on yet another aspect of this problem. One cannot deny that (according to the poll) the majority of people are in favour of the measures that are being carried out, which calls into question the limits imposed by this questionnaire.
No one can deny that many have grown tired from the events that have occurred in the three years following the revolution. Many people have suffered economically from the violence and the consequences resulting from the protests not to mention the sense of fear that was born out of terrorist operations. This fear has been exacerbated by the numerous conspiracy theories about the events that are allegedly occurring both at home and abroad and, as such, many people want to find a solution to this problem no matter what the cost.
Thus, it is not strange that many would prefer a strong and stable government, which does not necessarily have to be a democracy. In fact, one of the factors that the Bio Statistic Centre pointed to in its research was that there is a decline in support in Egypt for a democratic government. The centre noted that 59 per cent of Egyptians still believe that a democratic government is the best option for Egypt in May 2014 whereas that number was 66 per cent last year and over 71 per cent following the revolution in 2011.
Scholars working for the centre stated that many Egyptians believe it is important to live in a country that follows the fundamental components of democracy, but the statistics reveal that popular support for the core aspects of democracy such as freedom of expression, freedom of the press and free elections, has declined significantly in 2014.
If this analysis is true then that means that we must take the following points into consideration: although the government is engaging in many non-democratic actions, from preventing demonstrations to nationalising universities, it is able to achieve all of this because the majority of the Egyptian public is willing to accept this outcome in the hope that it will lead to stability.
One thing that confirms the validity of the above statement is that we hear many people praising the Mubarak era for its stability. They praise the Mubarak era but ignore the fact that the country experienced much regression during his 30-year rule, especially in terms of poor services, cooperation with Israel and reducing Egypt’s role internationally.
No wonder that all the talk in Egypt focuses primarily on questions of economic stability as do the main priorities of the current political agenda. The debate on public freedoms is deferred constantly and indefinitely on both the domestic and international levels. This not only relaxes and pleases the current regime but also the Gulf countries that have invested a great deal in the regime. These states are concerned with matters of economic advancement as opposed to economic reforms.
Our obsession with keeping up with the Egyptian scene will continue for quite a while. However, despite all of this, I am unable to hide the context of all of these things we are dealing with. Through my modest reading on dictatorial systems I learnt that fascism came to prominence in Italy as a result of circumstances very similar to the ones we are dealing with now; after the First World War Italy was facing an economic and political crisis. The people looked for a powerful leader who would bring them out of the economic crisis while also protecting them from the impending dangers of communism.
This atmosphere is what allowed Mussolini to rise to power in 1922; he was appreciated greatly by the masses who saw him as the embodiment of a saviour, one who would rule the country by employing the power of the army and the firm grip of authority.
There are many warning signs in Egyptian society today that warn us about repeating the Mussolini experience and anything that may resemble it. The sound of these warnings rang louder and clearer when I read in a newspaper on 9 June that we have elected a new president, one who many view as a saviour able to restore our state’s glory using the army and with a firm grip on authority. Sound familiar? These statements are reminiscent of Mussolini’s rise to power during Italy’s confrontation with communism.
I know that making assumptions is considered a sin in the Holy Qur’an but what I am seeing and what I fear will happen are even bigger sins and even more criminal. I would rather be the one who commits the first sin and is then correct about what is going on.
Translated from Al Jazeera net 10 June 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.