Making the Exception the Rule

The pillars of justice include ethical values, the ability of people to make a living, and rule of law as a framework for managing the relationships between citizens, society, and the state. They also include legislation as a public service, legislation that is continuously updated in the best interests of citizens, society and the state, and that responds to shortcomings, imbalances, and crises, both in the present and with a view to a better future. It is a citizen’s fundamental right to clearly understand the laws and legislation that 1) regulate his or her life in the public and private spheres; 2) specify the spaces, forms, and specifics of acceptable and unacceptable actions, in terms of relationships among citizens, or in terms of their dealings with authorities in general society, as well as with state institutions and agencies; 3) define punitive measures if a citizen becomes involved in unacceptable acts (which, as per the laws and legislation, are criminal acts), routes of expeditious litigation, and means for an unbiased defense.

Yet justice is lacking, rule of law has receded, and the legal mechanism has deviated from its true purpose. As a result, citizens are unable to understand articles in the law and surrounding legislation. Citizens are no longer able to clearly understand the nature of what is acceptable and legal, or what is unacceptable and criminal, nor are they able to understand possible penalties or guarantees to their day in court and defense. The citizen we speak of here is an average citizen with an active mind, one who can understand the laws and legislation, and who—in order to understand—can also count on the help of the legal establishment, as well as the skilled help of legal professionals (either paid or unpaid).

Today, an average citizen in Egypt faces the system of governance and authority, and its endless inclination to pass laws and legislation where the wording of articles and items is based on loose concepts and vague phrases. Such legislation uses obscure language to describe the nature of acceptable or unacceptable acts, and relies upon highly confusing spaces, forms, and specifics of offenses. This eliminates citizens’ ability to understand and comprehend the law, and consequently deprives them of guarantees to rights and freedoms, exposing them to a broad spectrum of punitive measures that constantly suppress, restrict, and threaten them if they do not submit to the ruling authority’s will.

The average citizen today is unable to protect his dignity, his rights, or his freedoms; he lives without justice, rule of law, civil peace, sustainable development, state-building, or a strong nation-state. He wakes up today in Egypt to read about a law on ‘terrorists and terrorist entities’ with articles and items that are filled with loose concepts and vague phrases. These have been approved and added to the list of Egyptian laws and legislation for some time now—including most recently, the amendment to Article 78 of the Egyptian Penal Code in fall 2014. This denies citizens their inherent right to rational understanding and comprehension, deprives them of other basic rights and freedoms, and plunges citizens, society, and the state into darkness when it comes to justice, rule of law, and the essence of the legal mechanism. In effect, it ‘makes the exception the rule,’ a saying that correctly captures the authoritarian style of lawmaking.

As average citizens, we are assailed with a daily onslaught of news about repeated violations—like the torture that claimed the life of young lawyer Kareem Hamdy Mohammed. We are besieged with news of harsh punishments handed down to citizens, men and women, for peacefully protesting or peacefully expressing their opinions—punishments that deprive them of their freedoms. We see how the system of governance and authority—and the elite that have allied themselves with it—uses and controls the media and the public sphere. It does so to deny violations in full and destroy rule of law, or to make light of them, shirking all moral, humanitarian, and societal commitments (in individual cases), or to justify them in the context of ‘the war on terrorism’ and endless conspiracy theories. After all this grief and anguish, we are faced with two choices: either we can retreat from the public sphere and isolate ourselves from issues of society and state to protect our right to life, our mental and physical well-being, and the safety of our families. Or, we can continue to peacefully oppose ‘making the exception the rule.’ We can continue to underscore the fact that preserving the nation-state, restoring civil peace, confronting terrorism, and achieving sustainable development are all intrinsically tied to justice, rule of law, and legislation that respects people’s rights and freedoms. 

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