The 2011 protests in Tahir Square, was just the tipping point of a political transformation taking place in Egypt as news surfaces about the deposed former president Mohamed Morsi. Morsi, angered many Egyptians when he tried to rush a referendum on a new constitution, which some feel would expand his executive power while curtailing rights for women and religious minorities. In the end approximately a third of Egyptians actually voted on the new constitution.
Criticism of Morsi increased when reports surfaced that Morsi supporters, attacked protesters. The protesters were bounded and held on the pavement, as the pro-Morsi forces tried to elicit confessions from the protesters.
Moreover some fear that Morsi will try to impose an Islamic agenda on the rest of Egypt
Morsi's record on human rights is worthy of criticism but it pales in comparison to his predecessor. Hosni Mubarak, as stipulated in the 1971 constitution, was in charge of the Supreme Council of the Police (SRC). The police are within the department of the Minster of Interior (MOI), which expanded from 124,000 employees in 1951 to 800,000 in 2006.
Under Mubarak's leadership, the police have engaged in numerous human rights violations including arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention, and torture. Moreover, many suspects, guilty or innocent, didn't have access to any legal resources to defend themselves. Many suspected militants were not able to file an appeal to challenge the charges brought against them.
For example, In June 1994, four defendants were executed a month after their trial. Many suspects were denied access to civilian courts and instead had to go through a military trial. In one case, a group of Egyptians were arrested under the pretense that they were trying to establish an Islamic state. In reality, they were campaigning for the parliamentary elections. As a result, the defense lawyers for the accused decided to withdraw from the trial because of insufficient evidence.
According to a report ("The Politics of Security Sector Reform in Egypt") from the United States Institute of Peace, The State Security Investigative Services, also within the MOI, engaged in a lot of questionable activities, included election rigging, surveillance of political dissidents, and intimidating political opponents. During the 2011 protests, Some have accused the security apparatus of the government of dressing up as hoodlums to attack anti-Mubarak protesters.
Of course the public's anger against the Egyptian police is not shaped from the 2011 protests in Tahir Square alone. In 2002, a 20-year-old Egyptian man was killed and 260 students were injured as police opened fire on a group of anti-Israeli protesters. In 2005, Abdel-Halim Qandil, editor-in-chief of a Al-Arabia, a newspaper centered on the politics of Egyptian nationalist leader Gamel Abdel Nasser, was beaten and left half naked by the Egyptian police.
In the mid-90s approximately 47,000 Egyptians were arrested because they were associated with militant Islamists. Many family members and friends of suspected militants were subjected to torture unless the suspected militant turned himself in. Torturing methods included, beatings, electric shocks, burning with cigarettes, hanging prisoners by their ankles or wrists, which resulted in the Egyptian Bar Association, and human rights organizations, petitioning the Public Prosecutors Office, to take immediate action. Most of the complaints were ignored. This issue was exemplified in the 1995 Amnesty International report Egypt:Death in Custody.
The main source for many of these human rights violations stems from the emergency law enacted shortly after Mubarak became the president. The law, expanded police powers, and curtailed civil liberties. Human rights organizations have issued reports criticizing the law. According to one estimate close to 30,000 political dissidents were detained because of the law. No wonder the World Justice Project ranked Egypt 73 and 89 out of 97 countries in regard to civil justice and the protection of fundamental rights.
This law even became a political tool, as it prevented many members of the Muslim Brotherhood from gaining seats during the parliamentary elections. In the end only 1 out of 150 MB candidates qualified to run for office.
However, to be fair, Morsi also angered many Egyptians when he imposed emergency laws in Jan. 2013.
Notwithstanding, Mubarak used several tactics to ensure a political monopoly. In the 90s Mubarak enacted electoral law 206, which gerrymandered districts in favor of the National Democratic Party (NPD.) Political opportunists seamed to expand in 2005 when Mubarak tried to amend article 76 of the constitution, which would allow more candidates to run for the presidency. However, the fact that the law would require the candidate to get support from 250 local or national elected officials, comprised mostly of members from the National Democratic Party, made it nearly impossible for the opposition to win. The end result increased the NDP's political capital from 75 percent to 95 percent of parliamentary seats.
This political environment made it nearly impossible for the Muslim Brotherhood or any other opposition party to usurp the Mubarak regime in an election.
Some politicians are eager to blame Obama for the events that unfolded in Egypt and suggesting that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the U.S. political system. Even the Muslim Brotherhood realizes these accusations are a joke.
It would be interesting to see how many of these critics would respond if Bush were still in office. In his book, Decision Points, Bush criticizes Mubarak for imprisoning political dissidents and bloggers following the 2005 parliamentary elections. The Bush administration played a key role in securing the release of opposition leader Ayman Nour. Moreover, during the elections, Bush provided funding for six independent organizations to advance democracy in Egypt. It's possible that money would have ended up in the coffers of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Some in the media have equated the money given to Egypt as stipulated in the peace treaty with Israel, as supporting terrorist because the Muslim Brotherhood won the elections. The truth is that the Muslim Brotherhood has been around since the 1920s as a response to colonialism and rapid urbanization, and has re-appeared during Anwar Sadat's rule, as a non-violent political movement. The Muslim Brotherhood gained popularity in Egypt because of the privatization of mosques which expanded the capacity for political disagreements without governmental censorship, and because of its ability to meet the educational and health needs of many Egyptians.
This doesn't mean that Egypt is devoid of radical Islamic groups that are devoted to using violence to advance its agenda, what it means is that there should be a distinction made between the different Islamic groups within Egypt. For example, the Al Jama'a Islamiya organization, has killed Coptic Christians, and tourists. On May 4 1991, the group targeted and attacked numerous Coptic Christians were attacked in Manshiet Nasser in Upper Egypt. Moreover, the Christians' rights to practice their religion was severally curtailed.
"All commercial transactions by Christians, including the sale of property, had to be approved by the organization, and Christians were forced to pay a tax (jiza) to the Group for each transaction. Christian residents were prohibited from public celebration of religious rituals and social events, such as weddings. They were also forbidden to play religious tapes in their homes if the sound carried outdoors. Repairs to the village church were not allowed to continue,"
Approximately twenty violent attacks against Coptic Christians was carried out from 1982 to 1991, however the number increased dramatically from 1992 and 1993 to 53 attacks. As alarming as this information is, its important to realize that the Muslim Brotherhood has not been linked to any of these attacks. In fact, even Al-Qaeda has criticized the Muslim Brotherhood for being too soft. However, recent footage of the chaos in Egypt shows that the supports of the Muslim Brotherhood are just as ready to use violence as their opponents.
Of course, no discussion of Egyptian politics would be complete without mentioning the military. In some ways the military is looked at as an apolitical benevolent institution, that is only concerned with protecting the interest of the Egyptian people. However, its a little more complicated. In 2011, the military presented the Al-Semi document, which contained several guarantees to minorities and women, however the document also prevented any public scrutiny of the military's budget. One Egyptian said that Egyptian journalist were prohibited from reporting on the military. Even minor details such as the change in the style of military uniforms couldn't be published without consent from the Supreme Council of Armed Forces.
Morsi realized the power of the military when he refused to prosecute military officials for killing protesters, during the highly volatile events that took place at Tahir Square even though a fact-finding mission accused military officials of human rights violations. In October, 2011 tensions between the military and protesters resulted in 27 dead and 4,000 injured citizens. The following month, 40 people were killed. However, instead of seeking justice for the victims, Morsi tried to appeal to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, likening criticism of the military to mere insults. Perhaps More surprising, is the fact that the Nour party,a Salafist organization, supported the military's action to oust Mohamed Morsi.
In the end, it doesn't really matter who is in office, because it will be the people that will ultimately determine the fate of Egypt.