Egyptian autumn

Baroness Deech

Or, as the Americans would have it, Egyptian fall. My take on what is happening in Egypt right now is one I set out in the (much delayed) Lords debate on the Arab spring over a year ago.  In brief, democracy is not just about voting.  Voting is necessary but insufficient in itself.  The state needs a constitutional structure and the rule of law. This is the gist of what I said in the debate.

It was with considerable optimism that we greeted the start of the so-called Arab spring a year ago, seeing in it a mirror of the events that freed eastern Europe from 1989 onwards, and confirmation for those who believed that democracy and liberty were indeed dormant in Arab countries, waiting only for the opportunity to express themselves. There is a rather more sombre mood today. Rather than ushering in a new era of democracy and human rights, there may be the emergence of Governments which are intrinsically hostile to the West and repressive of their own fellow citizens. We do not hear much now from the young liberated people who started the revolutions: instead, we see new regimes as repressive as those they replaced. Indeed, there is worse on the way, for events in Syria are of a nature not witnessed since the disintegration of Yugoslavia. The danger is that, after one election, future genuine elections may never materialise, as was the case in Iran after the fall of the Shah.

The coming of the Arab summer is uncertain because of the lack of democratic party-political infrastructure in most of the Middle East countries that face change. We hope for stability, liberty, dignity, proper governance and better living conditions for them, but they are unachievable without the pillars of civil society being in position. Democracy is more than free elections. It requires free speech, a free press, a constitution, freedom for and of religion, equal justice under the law, individual rights and women’s rights, an independent judiciary and freedom of communication. That is where the UK can help. Our Government should provide support for that infrastructure,  and international organisations should support women’s participation and political leadership, for no country can prosper when half its population is effectively muzzled. The UK Government can help the Arab world meet the challenges of modernisation, which are so far unmet- those are science, technology, women’s rights, and communications-and prevent counterrevolution against modernisation.

In the distribution of foreign aid by the UK there is room to fund scholarships for Arab students and civil servants to come here to study government administration, and to send experts from here to the Middle East to help establish the pillars of civil society. It is urgent, for many are suffering in the mean time-namely, the Egyptian economy, Christian minorities in Iraq, Egypt and Syria, women and African migrant workers. Being in a minority in the Arab Muslim world was always dangerous and precarious, and minorities suffer even more when national unity is at the forefront.

Other generic problems in the Middle East are hampering a move to a good future-namely, the treatment of women; the inability to settle refugees, whether they are Palestinians, Iraqi refugees in Syria, Syrians in Jordan, Somalis in Yemen or Iranians in Iraq; and the unwillingness to host the minorities in their midst. That is in contrast to the multiculturalism and hospitality rightly expected by Middle Eastern migrants to this country and the West.

The Syrian question is a blot on the history of the United Nations and has further weakened the standing of the UN itself.  Turkey has recently held what appears to be a show trial with the effect of threatening journalists and other professionals. The greatest threat of all, where the spring was choked off, is nuclear Iran, supporter of Assad.  As a nuclear power, it will dominate the region and the energy supply. It threatens genocide. Its human rights record is particularly appalling, with executions, political prisoners, the persecution of women, gays and minorities, and its blocking of communications-allegedly the BBC Persian service and internet sites.  There may be a slightly better spoken new Iranian President, but this is a case of old wine in a new bottle.

5 comments for “Egyptian autumn

  1. Senex
    19/08/2013 at 12:41 pm

    Muslim Brotherhood Statement on Islamic Law and National Identity
    Translation of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood statement regarding Sharia (Islamic Law) and its importance in society, and therefore in the country’s new national charter…

    …The Muslim Brotherhood was founded for the purpose of reviving the spirit of Islam and awakening faith in the hearts of society at large, recognizing that this is the way for the nation to rise again, to restore its historical position and vital role and achieve its duty…

    …Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, identified the group’s mission as: guiding all humanity to the good ways and enlightening teachings of Islam, without which mankind will not attain happiness…

    …Sharia safeguards the rights of non-Muslims, granting them the full right to practice rites of their faith and referring to their own religious rules for their personal and private affairs. This made the late Pope Shenouda say: “Copts under Sharia will be happier and safer than ever… We are eager to live by the principle ‘we share the same rights and duties’”…

    Sunday, November 4, 2012 17:10

    Al-Banna launched the Society of the Muslim Brotherhood in March of 1928. The brotherhood was extremist and violent from its inception. It’s motto is, “God is our purpose, the Prophet our leader, the Qur’an our constitution, Jihad our way and dying for God’s cause our supreme objective.” :

    Democracy: the Emperor’s new clothes? The Muslim Brotherhood seems out of touch with its core supporters. Is your democracy undergoing conversion to tyranny? No! Are you sure?

    Ref: Hassan al-Banna

  2. Bumble Bee
    20/08/2013 at 8:58 am

    Ha!Ha! “Egyptian Fall”.

    The baroness has mentioned Turkey once, yet it is a key player in the region. It is competitive with Egypt for power and influence. It has always been keen to embrace “Western,values”

    I am inclined to think internationally and not just about the nation state, however large Egypt may be, and about the International powers that have been created in the 20thC, such as the OAU and the ECO.
    The OAU is ineffective, and the ECO is embryonic, yet knowing them provides an insight in to the international politics of the region both eastwards and Westwards.

    The sequential Ottoman empires are of course examples of old ‘international organisations’ defunct, but the histories of which are instructive about power in Africa and power in Central Asia today.

    Modern secular Turkey has a historical stake in both.

  3. Senex
    21/08/2013 at 10:53 am

    Was Tommy Cooper a Turkish spy, a comedian or both?

    Its the exact nature of the ‘Emperors New Clothes’ that should concern all that participate in democracy. Its not the sheerness or transparency of the cloth so much as its opaqueness that matters. Egypt has demonstrated that democracy allows politicians to wear a burqa to disguise their true intentions and for a semi-illiterate electorate to return them to power. Having attained power they simply please themselves by doing whatever they want – that is until the army is called in to repair the damage done.

    The Muslim Brotherhood has simply demonstrated radical Islam’s mantra that democracy cannot be trusted even by radical Islam.

    It’s the nature of executive to lift the skirt of the burqa to see what’s underneath. So what went wrong in Egypt? Even Ptolemy knew of the Aesop metaphor, the scorpion and the fox and that ever changing river that all must cross?

    Indeed what has happened to us via the English Parliament? The constitutional convention for over a thousand years is that all who abide by the rule of law shall have their constitutional protection interwoven within the legislative process through the House of Lords. Yet legislators in both houses went to enormous lengths to change this convention and offer us that protection through what to what; certainly not the Supreme Court.

    Has the quality, the art of the legislator now fallen so low that our democracy is served only by the self deluded?

    We stand now just as naked as that Emperor.

  4. Bumble Bee
    21/08/2013 at 1:26 pm

    “Tommy Cooper a Turkish spy, a comedian or both?”

    The problem was that he was best in Welsh.
    Jokes that seemed vaguely amusing to English speakers were absolutely hilarious to the Welsh speaker watching the same programme.

    So he was probably both, and very witty to a Welsh audience as well.

  5. MilesJSD
    24/08/2013 at 10:02 pm

    Kindly clarify
    “In brief democracy is not just about voting” (…)

    [Here the People say:
    “Democracy is an essential self-governance result from the cooperatively participative equal first-resort sharing, throughout all of the Citizenry, Subjects, or Levels-of-The-People, of not only all relevant Information and Knowledge, but of Governance-Know-Hows, too”.]

    (Baroness Deech ):
    “Voting is necessary but insufficient of itself”(…)

    [Here we consider evidences, that
    (1) (“) Britain is a ‘successful Democracy’ despite 60% of its Enfranchised Citizens failing to turn up and Vote (at General Elections and Other ‘Democratic’-Voting Times e.g. Referendums); and
    (2) despite the fact that there is in effect no first-resort relevant and vital Information sharing, cooperative-discussion, and Clarificational Pre-Politicised Debating, at all participatible levels of The People;
    (3) nor any effective access for the individual-democratic-citizen into forthcoming, in progress, and post-royal-assent, Parliamentary Bills and other constitutional or legislative influences,
    (4) influences i.e. upon any number of people or individuals who will or may be affected by such Law and ensuing Process or Influence.{“}]

    (Baroness Deech):
    “The state needs
    a constitutional structure
    and the rule of law”.

    [Here the people consider their experience of both the Constitutional Structure and the Rule of Law being unsustainworthily and corruptly over-privileging, over-empowering, and over-protecting of the Rich and the Establishmentarian,
    and lifesupportively- unfair and both morally and ecolonomically un-sustain-worthy towards the vast majority of The People especially the poorest and the most disadvantaged].

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