Old habits, it is said, die hard. This applies especially to the regime of president Husni of Egypt who seems to be continuing in the ways of the pharaohs of bygone days. Many people feel that in the stifling atmosphere of Mubarak’s Egypt, they might as well be living in pharaoh’s kingdom.
Despite claiming a massive mandate to rule - the ruling national democractic party (NDP) controls 416 out of 444 seats in parliament - Mubarak maintains a state of emergency. People often wonder what is the emergency about or against whom when virtually everyone in the country, according to the regime’s claims, supports it?
The state of emergency was imposed in October 1981 when his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, was gunned down at a military parade in Cairo. The constitution allows imposition of emergency for a period of only six months, but it has been regularly extended eversince.
Then there is Law number 93, passed in May 1995. Dubbed the ‘Press assassination Law’, it severely curtails freedom of the press. People are free to praise the president to their heart’s content but if they dare point out any failings of the regime, government ministers, bureaucrats or even their off-springs, they end up in jail.
On September 11, the London-based Saudi newspaper, Asharq al-Awsat, closed its Cairo offices after several years’ operations and having spent more than US$20 million. Its 60 employees including 18 journalists in Cairo were laid off. The reason? Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal, had sued the paper for defamation.
The newspaper had announced in May that Al-Jadida, a magazine owned by the Saudi Research and Marketing, the group which also owns Asharq al-Awsat, would publish an article implicating the Mubarak offsprings in a corruption affair. Under pressure, the story was withdrawn and on July 12, the paper even apologised for its ‘mistake’.
Three Egyptian journalists working for the paper who had unearthed the wrongdoing were sentenced to long prison terms. The Saudi publisher said that the paper was prevented from defending itself, a privilege granted even to common criminals and thieves. In fact, in Egypt, common criminals have greater rights than those who dare oppose the regime or unearth its malpractices.
Muhamed Afsur, one of the lawyers defending the paper, challenged the Cairo court’s jurisdiction saying that only a British court was competent to hear the case since the paper was registered in Britain. The Egyptian court would have none of this. The defence team boycotted the court proceedings and the paper decided to shut its offices in Cairo.
The president’s sons are not the only ones who enjoy such privileges. Interior minister Hasan al-Alfi, a retired general, threatened to sue Al-Shaab newspaper after it published documents about the minister’s involvement in corruption. An Egyptian bureaucrat, Abdel Wehab al-Habbak, currently serving a 10-year jail term on corruption charges, was intimately linked with Alfi. Even the minister’s son has threatened to sue the paper.
Beyond corruption lies the larger question of governance in Egypt. The political atmosphere is so stifling that there is no legitimate means of expressing dissent. Many political parties - including the docile Muslim Brotherhood - are banned. Parliamentary elections are always rigged. The October 1995 elections are a prime example. The Egyptian human rights organisation called upon the Inter-Parliamentary Organisation meeting in Geneva to investigate the level of rigging. The rights group demanded that Cairo be made to respect normal parliamentary procedures and laws.
Closely tied to the parliamentary elections is the question of electing the president. It is the Egyptian parliament that selects the president. Since his assumption of office in October 1981, Mubarak has been the only candidate. Anyone who dares to think of an alternative is immediately branded a subversive and thrown in jail. This leaves no room for peaceful political change.
The stifling political atmosphere is compounded by the incompetence of the State machinery. The Egyptian bureaucrat is notorious for his lethargy. According to one study, the typical Egyptian bureaucrat works for a grand total of 23 minutes per day!
There is much potential in Egypt. It has the most educated people in the Arab world. Scientifically, too, it is quite advanced yet its potential is frittered away by the regime’s policies. Those who want to change this and lessen the immense burden under which people live, are hounded and terrorised.
The Gamaa al-Islamiyya and Islamic Jihad which have battled the regime for years, have provided the kinds of services which the regime has failed to provide. The two groups recently offered a truce but the regime, true to its brutal nature, rejected the call. General Alfi said on September 6 that the regime was not interested in a dialogue.
A regime that does not care about the well-being of its people can hardly care about dialogue with those whom it has already declared as enemies.
Muslimedia: October 1-15, 1997