Eight Simple Questions on Egypt’s Transition

The only way to combat the lack of popular demand for truth, or to fight acts of distortion and false consciousness typically associated with tyrannical regimes, waves of fascism, severe crises in stable democracies, or divergences on the path towards democracy, is to push citizens to gradually search for what has been hidden from them by the ruling elite, and the sociopolitical forces allied with them. Citizens must be incentivized to pose critical questions regarding the course of events and facts about the situation in the concerned state and society.

In Egypt today, with its lack of popular demand for freedom of information and the distortion and false consciousness, it is necessary to push groups of citizens (even if their numbers are limited) to search for what has been hidden from them in official discourse, whether by the state, its institutions and agencies, the political and societal forces participating in events following July 3, 2013, or the news outlets supporting them. It is necessary to raise awareness and create incentives for posing simple and direct questions on public and political affairs, to search for what has been kept hidden. For concerned citizens, I will present some examples of simple and direct questions currently circulating in the public sphere:

1.  After the clashes at the Republican Guard, the interim president announced the creation of a fact-finding committee. Where is this committee today and what is its fate?

2.  After the current formation of the National Council on Human Rights (NCHR), the Council announced that it would immediately begin the task of uncovering facts regarding everything that has happened since June 30 2013, including the dispersal of the Raba’a and al-Nahda sit-ins. Where are the Council’s reports on these events, and will they be presented before the public soon? And will the state, its agencies and institutions cooperate in helping uncover the facts?

3.  It appears that the fifty-member committee tasked with amending the constitution will retain the practice of military trials for civilians. They cite the need to guard against “new suspects” responsible for falsifying public consciousness regarding military trials, and the need to fight terrorism which has targeted the army, military facilities, and other critical components of national security. Are Egyptian laws (punishments and criminal procedures) as written not enough to hold accountable in a prompt and just manner any civilian involved in acts of terrorism, violence or attacks against state institutions, security facilities, the army or the military? Don’t current laws eliminate the justification for trying civilians militarily?

4.  Politics today has become an arena for exclusion and wrapping security measures with an air of legitimacy. Guarantees such as societal consensus, civil peace, transitional justice and negotiated solutions – all rational activities at the heart of political practice that seek the public interest in societies desiring a transition to democracy and an exit from catastrophic cycles of violence – are viewed unfavorably. Do official voices, which see no solution beyond security measures, and who see no means of dealing with new violators involved in the falsifying of consciousness other than through exclusion and exceptional measures, see any evidence pointing to the success of these solutions in achieving societal consensus and civil peace? The purveyors of false information and half truths who circulate examples like the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as evidence of the success of the security option should check their facts and discover that the solution to the Irish problem did not come until after the British government stopped meeting violence with violence, and began negotiations with those they had previously labeled terrorists.

5. A number of deaths and episodes of violence have occurred in protests and marches organized by the Muslim Brotherhood and the right wing religious groups allied with them. If the public has the complete right to know the identity of those using violence and threatening civil peace from within the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, and possesses unconditional certainty that they will be held legally accountable in a just and prompt manner, then isn’t it also their right to know if state security forces are involved in officially sanctioned violence in violation of rule of law, human rights and guarantee of freedoms? When a student dies in Nasr City, or a woman dies in the Delta, or more than thirty Egyptians are killed in a police transport vehicle, and as the number of casualties continues to increase steadily, don’t they have a right to ask about the extent to which security forces followed the law in terms of protecting people’s lives and physical safety? Isn’t it their right to question whether security forces sought or were prevented from undertaking internal investigations regarding the details of their own performance during episodes of violence, and whether or not such investigations included disciplinary procedures against those who were proved to have violated the law, as well as people’s rights and freedoms? If it can be proven that security forces violated the law, is it not their right to bring to the forefront the issue of political responsibility held by the interim president and the government for human rights violations?

6. In recent months, a number of members and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, Freedom and Justice Party and other right wing religious groups allied with them have been arrested, and the concerned judicial agencies (prosecutors) have begun conducting investigations against them. The simple questions to be asked here are factual in nature, having nothing to do with pre-assessments or the desire to intervene in the work of judicial agencies: how many people have been arrested? Were they given guarantees that they would legally be held accountable in a just and prompt manner? Do their relatives know their location and can they visit them periodically according to applicable laws? Has the NCHR or other non-governmental rights organizations requested to visit them to check on their status? If such requests were made, were they responded to and how were they dealt with?

7. Before June 30, 2013, many people, myself included, criticized the lack of political will to reform and modernize state agencies and institutions, while the Muslim Brotherhood greedily sought to assert its hegemony and control over all executive and administrative state bodies. Today, what are Hazem El-Beblawy’s government’s plans for reforming agencies and institutions? Has the government done anything more than simply hire still more Egyptians to work within these agencies and institutions, to add and create additional burdens on the state and public budget? Is it not legitimate to question the extent to which the government possesses the political will for reform, and subsequently, the nature of its alliances and network of interests, which seek to prevent it?

8. Returning to the issue of the constitution, while ignoring the disputed issues related to articles having to do with the army, rights, freedoms, or the issue of legitimacy, which is being dealt with in a special committee charged with amending the defective 2012 constitution, which I and others rejected despite the fact that a majority of people agreed upon it in the referendum, we note the weak levels of interest seen within society regarding the work of the fifty-member committee and the limited media coverage surrounding its sessions, compared to what was seen during the drafting of the 2012 constitution. Have members of the committee discussed this issue and searched for solutions, such as creating a website or the expanding circles of direct dialogue with political and societal forces? Can we interpret this lack of interest seen in society regarding the constitution to be the result of a state of general disgust and boredom harbored by citizens towards politics, which has increased in various groups and popular circles? Or was the topic of the constitution “researched to death” in 2011 and 2012, with a majority of Egyptians no longer able to follow new developments despite their utmost importance, and the seriousness of many controversial issues? Does the lack of interest seen within society regarding the constitution point to an increase in the reluctance of citizens to take part in public affairs, a fact which may be connected to a state of boredom and disgust with politics, or a loss of confidence in the means and procedures associated with referendums and elections, after their results turn out to be worthless?

These are some of the simple and direct questions, which are similar to a number of other possible questions, which may be posited to stimulate the demand for information and truth. Such questions may enable citizens to struggle against those who currently seek to distort or falsify the public consciousness, and hold onto a small measure of their demands for democracy. 

Amr Hamzawy joined the Department of Public Policy and Administration at the American University in Cairo in 2011, where he continues to serve today. He is a former member of parliament, former member of the National Salvation Front, and founder of the Freedom Egypt Party. 

This article originally appeared in Shorouk