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Lessons to learn from the illusory stability of "ex-Egypt"

Shafiq Jamoos [Palestinian lawyer]: "The outbreak of the peaceful revolution of the Egyptian people was shocking - in every sense of the word - to many around the world. No one expected that Egypt, the "stable" country of the "wild" Middle East, would witness such an extensive revolution against the Egyptian government and even the "untouchable" President Hosny Mubarak himself.

What most of the world didn't know before the revolution was that Egypt's stability was quite illusory; it was based upon the oppression and fear of the people, and upon a tyrannical exclusion of political opponents. The suppression of Egypt's second voice could not in any way have derived from stable legal and political bases.

Since the commencement of Mubarak's first term as president in 1981 and up to this moment, Egypt has been living under Emergency laws, which have diminished many constitutional rights and liberties, undermining every protection granted by the Egyptian Constitution to the people. The freedoms of speech, to work, to demonstrate, to nominate oneself to office, and to vote were all infringed on a daily basis via the regime's broad interpretation of the Emergency laws.

In a country with 40% of its population living below the poverty line, a huge movement of privatization gave rise to a state-private alliance, which set up grand touristic, industrial and real estate projects. This regime was run in part by overindulgent businessmen, who reaped the benefits of privatization, but made the costs of living intolerable to ordinary citizens in light of their extremely low incomes.

In 2007, rather than adopting laws and constitutional amendments that would alleviate the economic and political hardships of Egypt's citizenry, 34 amendments to the Egyptian Constitution were passed to crush every last hope of the Egyptian people to live in freedom and prosperity. Some of the most controversial amendments are:

- Article 179: granting the police force more powers against the people with respect to search, seizure, interference, imprisonment and the restraint of movement. This made the Emergency laws a permanent feature of the Egyptian Constitution under "anti-terrorism" pretexts.

- Article 76: requiring the consent of 250 votes of the two chambers of the parliament and the municipal councils in order to nominate oneself to the President's office. This minimized the opportunity of any politician other than President Mubarak to be a nominee in the first place, as all the foregoing institutions are controlled almost entirely by Mubarak's political party via unfair elections.

- Article 77: no amendment was suggested despite the people's persistent demand, as this article allows the president to remain in office for an unlimited number of 6 year terms.

- Article 88: terminating the judicial supervision of the elections, creating a huge deficiency of powers to the advantage of the Legislative and the Executive, undermining the last element of checks and balances in the Egyptian government. It's pertinent to mention that the Egyptian judiciary is quite respected by the Egyptians for its liberal and just attitudes. This attitude was the main reason behind the exclusion of the judiciary from the decision-making process.

In light of these circumstances, Egypt during the last three decades has become a ready-to-use bomb that lacked a fuse; it was never a stable country nor was its political regime successful on any scale other than to promote narrow political and business interests. "Ex-Egypt" teaches us that equality and dignity are basic components of the human character that cannot be overlooked in any society; its experience shall also teach politicians a salutary lesson: that sometimes they have to listen to legal experts, and establish their regimes on the firmness of democratic institutions, peaceful circulation of power through honest elections, a government of laws not of men, the respect of human rights, and the upholding of the peoples' will.

This article was prepared for publication by Yuriy Vilner, an associate editor for JURIST's professional commentary service. Please direct any questions or comments to him at professionalcommentary@jurist.org

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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