On November 26, 2013, the “No Military Trials for Civilians” group in Cairo held a protest in front of the Shoura Council, against the new Constitution’s provision allowing military trials for civilians. The Interior Ministry dispersed the protest by force, thanks to the new protest law enacted by the government 2 days earlier.
The government had already tried to use the law to repress protests before. Under Morsi, during the 2012 Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes; at Ittihadiyah; and during the second anniversary of the Revolution, Hisham Qandeel’s government had tried to pass a law to repress protests. But the Revolution was not silenced, the law was not passed; and we all know the result.
Even before, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces had tried to do the same thing. As soon as they took power, they passed a law criminalizing protests and strikes. But the Revolution was not silenced, and once again, rulers were unable to enforce the law.
“A democratic country, a country that wants to succeed, must have a voice. Otherwise we’re back to the age of slavery,” says Ghareeb, a worker at Petrojet. “Why was there a Revolution? What were its demands, if not to have a voice? To feel we have value and dignity? To feel we are human beings who can say yes or no?”
If we look back to the previous 30 years, Mubarak ruled Egypt by the emergency law, which had been passed in the name of fighting terrorism, just as Al-Sisi is trying to justify it now. Did Mubarak get rid of terrorism? It’s hard to say, but he managed to use the law to repress us, and use it against any opposition or demonstrations. And we know that the end of Mubarak’s regime and his law came when the people rose up.
What’s their plan? It’s simple and clever. Make people think the Revolution was a conspiracy, cooked up by the Muslim Brotherhood and some misguided kids. Get the people to give you a mandate to get rid of the Brotherhood, who actually reached power thanks to their alliance with the army. Then declare war on terrorism, pick off your rivals one by one, crush anyone who opposes you. To get the people to take your side, cook up some laws to suit yourself.
Of course, no one hates the rule of law. The system and its media are always going on about the rule of law. What happened to the November 27 protest at the Shoura Council — what does that have to do with the rule of law? Protesters organized a gathering without Interior Ministry permission, and stood on the sidewalk holding signs and chanting. The Interior Ministry gave a warning, hit them with water hoses, then tear gas, beat them, dragged them on the ground, sexually assaulted them, arrested them, held them in the Shoura Council.
But it hadn’t taken two things into account: these political prisoners included 14 female detainees, among them well-known activists. And the Constituent Assembly was in session inside the building. When its members heard of the female activists’ arrest, they knew they looked bad. So they suspended their membership until the political prisoners were released. There was a massive uproar. Half an hour later, the authorities ordered the female detainees’ release. The surprise was that they refused to be released.
Activist Salma Said: “I was the first to reach the protest, and stood with many others. Until we are all freed, we are all in this together. There ought to be the same charges against them and us. On what legal basis, according to the rule of law, should they be kept in custody, while we are released?” This made the state look silly. The Interior Ministry had only one solution.
Salma Said continues: “A man in a brown suit ordered the people holding us, who were also wearing civilian clothes, to get us in the police transport truck, by force. They beat us, kicked us and dragged us on the ground. We were thrown in the truck and it took us away around 10:30pm. On what basis are some people detained, then released, while others are arrested as political prisoners and given four days’, then 15 days’ detention? Especially as Amr ‘Awad, the Prosecutor who questioned us also questioned them. It was obvious the matter was not in his hands. The orders were coming from above: “‘Do this, do that.'”
The female protesters did not keep silent. The next day they went to the Prosecution. The 24 detainees in custody refused to answer prosecutors’ questions on the charges against them until they opened a case on the detainees’ torture in police custody.
Activist Rasha Azab: “The law is applied against the rulers’ opponents. In fact, if you say protest is not a civilized means of action, that it’s anarchic, then General al-Sisi must return to his barracks, because he’d never have reached power without the June 30 protests.
Salma Said: “This has nothing to do with the law. It’s about politics. They want to break the Revolution’s power. The law was made to stop protests, the Muslim Brotherhood’s or anyone else opposing the current rulers.”
Under the rule of law, public prosecutors should not await orders phoned in from above. Judges should not rule according to rulers’ whims. The police should not dump detainees in the desert. Nor should laws be designed to repress any political movement, workers’ strike, demonstrators holding balloons, students’ protests on campus, protests against military trials, and all of this according to the law.