Shuffling Cabinets: Reproducing Authoritarian Traditions

As Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s new cabinet is a few days into its role, it is clear that no explanation will be offered by officials, whether from the interim president, the prime minister, or others, for the former cabinet’s resignation. This, together with media coverage of the resignation, has been reminiscent of a pre-January 2011 revolution Egypt. 

Official statements did not explain the reasons behind the cabinet’s resignation, the reasons for replacing the prime minister, or for the fact that what occurred went beyond the limited cabinet shuffle that governing circles had promoted during the past few weeks. The statements did not provide Egyptian citizens with the knowledge necessary to evaluate the resignation or to set expectations related to the new cabinet.  In this disdain for the citizens’ right to know, there is a blatant authoritarian essence that mirrors the traditions and practices related to changing cabinets under former president Hosni Mubarak.

Official statements and media coverage focused on economic and social issues, and on ways of dealing with the escalating protests, as well as the challenges of terrorism and violence. This is an exact imitation of a Mubarak-era cabinet shuffle—promoted through talk of a need to stimulate the economy and move it forward, and of security threats and what must be done to face them. The governing circles in 2014 and the media that supports them have reverted to the same tactics, while failing to point out the dangerous setbacks that have occurred during the past months in terms of rule of law, human rights, freedoms, and the path towards building democracy.

Public opinion has seen numerous catastrophic examples that demonstrate the dangerous setbacks suffered in these domains since July 2013.  The public has seen the imprisonment of Loay Kahwagi, Omar Hazek, Islam Hassanein, and Nasser Abou al-Magd after their participation in a protest in Alexandria in December 2013, and the imprisonment of citizens for peacefully expressing their opinions and campaigning against the new constitution, before the January 2014 referendum. It has seen the imprisonment of those participating in peaceful gatherings rejecting the return of the security state and demanding the exclusion of the military institution from politics. Public opinion has also seen successive reports on the practice of torture and the violation of human dignity in police departments and prisons, and the constraint of voices that defend democracy and freedom. It has seen the many extraordinary measures that crossed over into collective punishment of everyone belonging to or supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and has seen the passage of oppressive laws, such as the 2013 protest law.

This same silence and disregard applies to the issues of transitional justice and commitment to the rule of law in the framework of confronting terrorism and violence. Their absence led to the continuation of an “evasion of accountability” on the part of official bodies implicated in violations and in overstepping the law. This is in addition to the dominance of the “security solution” at the expense of a wise and comprehensive approach combining security tools that abide by the law when confronting those who take up arms against the state, and with political and societal tools to enable peaceful forces and trends to participate constructively in building a nation that includes everyone.

In remaining silent on all of this and ignoring it in the interest of focusing on economic and social priorities and security challenges is reminiscent also of attitudes during the Mubarak era. It is the same disdain of the citizen’s right to know. The biggest losers in all this remain Egypt’s honorable citizens and the process of building democracy. Tomorrow there will be a new margin for democracy in Egypt.

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. 

Image: Photo: Egypt Cabinet