June 22, 2006 Special Dispatch No. 1191

Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim on Mubarak's Attempt to Stifle Egypt's Civil Society

June 22, 2006
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 1191

In a June 16, 2006 op-ed in the Lebanese Daily Star, Egyptian human rights activist and chairman of the Ibn Khaldun Center in Cairo Dr. Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim criticized Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's ongoing attempt to stifle democracy through the government's continued implementation of its Emergency Law. In his article, Ibrahim asserts that President Hosni Mubarak is now waging internal war against Egypt's judges, the Sinai Bedouins, and the Copt citizens of Egypt.

The following are excerpts from S'ad Al-Din Ibrahim's op-ed in The Daily Star, in the original English: [1]

"Cairo Remains Restless… Government Fears Another Outpouring of Support for Democracy"

"The decision recently by President Hosni Mubarak's government to try two senior judges for blowing the whistle on vote rigging in last autumn's parliamentary elections rocked Egypt. Massive crowds gathered to support the judges - and caught Mubarak's regime completely unawares.

"Mubarak's government quickly backtracked. Judge Mahmoud Makki was acquitted and Judge Hisham al-Bastawisy, who suffered a heart attack during the affair, was merely reprimanded. Yet Cairo remains restless, and the government fears another outpouring of support for democracy, as the judges have called for renewed nationwide demonstrations."

"Now, the Judges are Insisting on Their Independence, by Themselves"

"Egyptian judges have a longstanding tradition of discretion and propriety. But they feel abused by government efforts to sugarcoat the manipulation of election after election by claiming that judges supervise the voting. What makes their struggle loom so large for a normally quiescent Egyptian public is partly the fact that nearly all 9,000 judges are standing fast in solidarity. Their representative body, the Judges Club, has long pushed for a new law to restore judicial independence. Now the judges are insisting on their independence by themselves.

"The Mubarak regime is adamantly opposed, and resorts to extra-judicial means, such as emergency courts and national security and military courts, which do not observe international standards. Contrary to his campaign promises during his run for a fifth term as president, Mubarak has requested (and his rubber-stamp Parliament has granted) a two-year extension of the Emergency Law by which Egypt has been ruled throughout his presidency."

"Only 350,000 Serve in the Military, While the Internal Security Police Recently Hit the One-Million Mark"

"It is to this law, above all, that the judges and Egypt's civil society object. The Emergency Law has been in force since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in October 1981, and Mubarak claims that he needs another extension to combat terrorism. But, according to a recent human rights report, despite the Emergency Law, 89 people were killed and 236 wounded in terrorist attacks in Egypt during the previous 12 months. In neighboring Israel, which is still in the midst of a struggle with the Palestinians, only 18 were killed and 25 wounded in similar attacks during the same period. Yet Israelis do not live under an Emergency Law.

"Consider, moreover, that at the height of the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1973, Egypt's armed forces had one million troops. Now, only 350,000 serve in the military, while the internal security police recently hit the one-million mark.

Mubarak's First Internal War: The Judges

"Mubarak's first internal war was with Islamic militants during his early years in power, but he now finds himself caught up in three other domestic wars. The battle with the judges incited enough popular unrest to warrant Mubarak's deployment of thousands of black-uniformed security forces in the heart of Cairo. This deployment, which lasted for weeks, is already longer than the combined duration of the last two wars with Israel.

Mubarak's Second Internal War: The Sinai Bedouin

"Another domestic war, with the Egyptian Bedouin of Sinai, broke out two years ago. Taking their cue from their Palestinian neighbors, if not from Al-Qaeda, alienated young Bedouin apparently decided to rebel against their treatment as third-class citizens. All around them, but especially in the ebullient resorts of southern Sinai, billions are spent on roads, airports, and beaches; sizeable parcels of land are allocated generously to rich Egyptians from the Nile Valley and to foreigners, but not to Sinai natives.

"Indeed, Sinai Bedouin have the right to use but not own land, because a lethargic, occasionally corrupt bureaucracy still deems the Sinai a military zone and its natives' loyalty questionable. Two years ago, on the anniversary of the October 1973 war, young Sinai militants bombed the Taba Hilton. In July 2005, on another national holiday, they hit three tourist spots not far from the Mubarak family compound in Sharm Al-Sheikh. These symbolic as well as lethal warnings to a family that has grown Pharaonic in its style and power have gone unheeded.

Mubarak's Third Internal War: Christian Copts' Citizenship Rights

"The third recent war, this one over Christian Coptic citizenship rights, has been brewing for years. Copts are the original Egyptians, and they were the majority population until the 10th century. As Egypt was Arabized and Islamized, the Copts became a minority in their original homeland.

"In Mubarak's Egypt, citizens' equality, while stipulated in the Constitution, is not respected or observed, especially with regard to the construction and protection of Coptic churches. Last November, when Muslim zealots attacked a Coptic church in Alexandria, several Copts were wounded. Six months later a fanatic targeted three churches during Sunday services, killing a few worshippers and injuring many. Copts marched in the streets of Alexandria for the next three days, protesting the security authorities' leniency toward the culprits and the scapegoating of their community. There was even suspicion of an official hand in the attacks, in order to justify extending the Emergency Law.

"Hosni Mubarak's domestic wars are fuelled by Egypt's excluded, who are increasingly in rebellion against a regime that has long outlived its legitimate mandate. The battle with the judges may well prove to be Mubarak's Achilles' heel. Justice is a central value for Egyptians, and its absence is at the core of all protests. There could have been no more compelling evidence of this than the unprecedented numbers of people who rallied peacefully in solidarity with the judges."

[1] The Daily Star (Lebanon), June 16, 2006.

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