Nine years after the Arab Spring, the legacy of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s ousted dictator, has been strengthened by his successor in the presidential palace of Cairo. Saturday’s enhancement of powers by the incumbent, Abdel-Fateh el- Sisi, comes through another cache of amendments to the prevalent emergency that has already granted additional powers to him and security agencies.
In tangible terms, therefore, it strengthens the position of the man at the helm of a beleaguered country as well as the praxis of governance in the wider canvas. Not many in Egypt are likely to be convinced with the raison d’etre that has been proffered for public consumption ~ “the additional powers are needed to combat the coronavirus outbreak”.
This is intrinsically a medical issue, and there can be no contrived link between a public health catastrophe and an ambitious former Field Marshal, who had assumed power through a bloody coup against the Muslim Brotherhood and now seeks to strengthen a historically omnipotent dictatorship. Only five of the 18 amendments are said to be related to public health ~ at best a figleaf to beef up the power of the State.
The assessment of the Human Rights Watch is cause for alarm ~ the new powers can be used whenever a State of Emergency is declared. Suffice it to register that the authority of the State will increase beyond measure, almost reminiscent of the power wielded by Mubarak. More basically, the government in Cairo has used the global pandemic to further abuse, and not reform, Egypt’s repressive Emergency law.
The nub of the matter must be that democracy has been the loser in Egypt, as it has in large parts of the Arab world. And this tragically has been the thread that runs through the dictatorships of President Mubarak to President Sisi to President Assad via the heady upheaval at Cairo’s Tahrir Square in February 2011. The new amendments envisage expanded powers to ban public and private meetings, protests, celebrations and other forms of assembly.
Indeed, protests have been banned since 2013, when Sisi assumed authority; since then, the government has waged an unprecedented crackdown on dissent. The changes effected in the Emergency law will allow military prosecutors to investigate incidents.
The country’s civilian prosecutor will take the final decision on whether to bring matters to trial. Resorting to “national security and public order” as a specious justification mirrors the security paradigm that governs Sisi’s Egypt. The measures are sufficiently sweeping.
Egypt has halted international travel, shut educational institutions, mosques, churches and archaeological sites, notably the famed Giza pyramids. The increased authority of Sisi surpasses all and everything. He has institutionalised repressive dictatorship in parallel to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.