Delayed Justice

Tahrir - HH.jpg

Last October, in one of the most high profile cases involving protester deaths, the court acquitted all defendants accused of their involvement in the so-called “Battle of the Camels.” In the days that followed, the Muslim Brotherhood launched an attack on members of the judiciary associated with the former regime. The Public Prosecutor, held responsible for the acquittals, bore the brunt of the attacks. A mere month later, President Mohamed Morsi issued his constitutional declaration; dismissing former public prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud and appointing Talaat Abdallah in his place.

About 6 months later, on May 8, 2013, the public prosecution appealed the Battle of the Camels verdict, only to have it rejected by the Court of Cassation. This decision brought down the curtain on one of the most prominent cases deliberated in Egypt’s post-revolution courts. Where was the Public Prosecutor throughout this period? Where is this new evidence that reveals the offenders and helps to uncover the truth, bringing justice to the victims and achieving transitional justice?

Since Dr. Mohammed Morsi won the presidency, the Muslim Brotherhood has persisted in its attacks on the judiciary, and has held the judges responsible for the subsequent acquittals in the cases of killing protesters. They demanded that the judicial institution is cleansed of those they describe as felul – remnants and followers of Mubarak’s regime and enemies of the revolution.

In this context, we have seen the Brotherhood attacking the judiciary throughout the past months, culminating in a battle over the Judicial Authority Law (JAL) that the Shura Council was on the verge of passing. This would have forcibly resigned thousands judges in a new attack on the judiciary. While the pressure temporarily relented, with Morsi promising not to adopt the law without judicial approval, the landscape has once again become muddied by the Shura Council’s insistence to push forward with a discussion of the law. 

In its first few days, the new regime announced the appointment of a presidential advisor for transitional justice – former presidential candidate Mohamed Selim al-Awa. Nothing was said, however, about a specific platform for implementing transitional justice. Instead, the government embarked on a series of reconciliations with the former regime’s businessmen. Given the choice between justice and accountability, the government has leaned toward reaching settlements to corruption cases, justified by its potentially positive effect on Egypt’s ailing economy.

On the flip side, no plan to uncover past violations was announced, nor any measures considered to provide for reparations, to ensure justice for victims, and hold violators of human rights accountable . Likewise, no real guarantees were set forth to prevent punishments from being dropped or guarantees to prevent repeat violations. Eventually, the president’s advisor for transitional justice resigned from his post, with nothing achieved. Even when the president announced the formation of a fact-finding committee, the time period investigated by the committee was limited to between January 25, 2011 and June 30, 2012. In other words, it only covered up until the point the president took office. This in turn indicates that there is no real political will to apply transitional justice in Egypt.

Applying the mechanisms of transitional justice requires the formation of a committee to investigate the truth of violations that occurred, not only during the revolution and SCAF-led transition, but in the decades before it and the months that followed it. Instead, when the president received the report from the fact-finding committee, he did not announce its results or his plan to deal with its findings, and its fate remained unknown. Even now the victims and human rights organizations are unaware of the substance of the report, aside from a few alleged leaks published by The Guardian regarding army involvement in human rights violations.

In contrast to its attacks on the judicial institution, the Brotherhood demonstrated tolerance with the Interior Ministry, a tolerance that could even be described as complacency. Early on, the Brotherhood showed flexibility and support towards the Interior Ministry— when the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) had a majority in the now-dissolved People’s Assembly, before Morsi won the presidential elections— and this has helped it to fend off demands for its re-structuring, reform and cleansing by the revolutionary and democratic forces, and human rights organizations.

Recently, Morsi described his vision for Ministry of Interior reform to the Spanish News Agency. This vision, in summary, involves the Interior Ministry taking on the task of cleansing itself. The recent limited cabinet reshuffle did not include the interior minister, during whose short term dozens of people were killed by police, and whose torture machine returned once again to record a new list of victims. The ruling regime’s political will seeks to preserve the Interior Ministry and protect it from reform or cleansing so that it can carry out its former role of preserving the security and interests of the ruling party.

The current political situation in Egypt makes it impossible to achieve transitional justice, justice for victims, to uncover the truth or hold offenders accountable. The current regime seeks to inherit Mubarak’s legacy in the hopes that it stays in power and has shown no notable interest in protecting human rights. This was embodied in Morsi’s 100-day plan, lacking any real commitment to human rights, in addition accusations levied against the ruling party for human rights violations at the walls of the presidential palace last December. It is also responsible for the persistence of keeping a Public Prosecutor in his position, despite doubts harbored by the majority of the political forces regarding his independence from the executive authority, the return of violations by the police, and the passing of a new, oppressive constitution that does not guarantee respect for human rights. Meanwhile, at a time when human rights organizations are a principle partner in applying transitional justice, they are being targeted by the current regime with a new NGO law that violates international standards for the freedom to form organizations.

Thus all the foundations needed to apply transitional justice are unavailable in the current political context in Egypt. Simply put, this is because Egypt has yet to go through a democratic transformation. The deadlines for realizing justice, retribution and uncovering the truth have been delayed indefinitely.

Ragab Saad is a researcher and Managing Editor of "Rowaq Arabi" Journal at Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS).

Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy

Image: Tahrir%20-%20HH.jpg