Freedom very much the price of power

19:58, Jun 26 2014

Let us talk about power - and its price. For nothing done in the realm of politics is without consequence.

Let us talk about the Egyptian judge who, a few days ago, sentenced three journalists, employees of the Qatar-based news service Al-Jazeera to seven years imprisonment for "spreading false news".

The judge's name is Mohamed Nagui Shehatta. The photograph of him, posted on the BBC website, shows a man bearing a frightening resemblance to Saddam Hussein. There are the same flaccid jowls, the same drooping moustache, the same habit of wearing aviator sunglasses indoors.

It is a cruel face that Judge Shehatta presents to the world, its limp flesh displaying all that's required to condemn three innocent men to seven years in a fetid prison cell: bland subservience to those in authority, contempt for subordinates, and a complete absence of empathy.

The Arab Spring was supposed to have purged Egypt of such men. The tens of thousands of young men and women who gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square to put an end to the despotic rule of Hosni Mubarak had looked forward to a day when the Egyptian people's freedom of expression would be guarded by an independent judiciary. Judges dedicated to upholding the rule of law - not the rule of soldiers.

Tragically, the revolution those young Egyptians so bravely willed into being was an illusion. The soldiers and their corrupt accomplices in the civil service and judiciary had co- operated with the masses to prevent the establishment of a Mubarak dynasty. But an Egyptian democracy was never part of their plans. The momentum of Egypt's Arab Spring was sufficient to give the country a new constitution and its first democratic elections. It was not strong enough to sweep away the power of the military and their retainers. The moment President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood attempted to reform the judiciary (the crucial preparatory step towards finally ending the power of the generals) a new military strongman, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, set in motion the coup d'etat that he'd been personally responsible for planning.


That General Sisi's coup did not unleash a new revolution speaks eloquently of the Egyptian people's failure to grasp the meaning of democracy.

The Muslim Brotherhood had won the presidency and taken control of Egypt's parliament not because it represented a majority of the population, but because its political opponents were hopelessly divided. What finally united them, paradoxically, was Morsi's victory.

Unwilling to abide by the constitution they had won for themselves only months before, the anti-Morsi majority turned to the same soldiers who had protected them from Mubarak's vengeance in Tahrir Square and demanded that they remove the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood from office.

Like Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak before him, General Sisi was only too happy to oblige.

There was no need for across- the-board repression on the Egyptian army's part because the Egyptian masses were once again under its spell. As the sinew and muscle of the nation, Egypt's military forces were already being hailed as the sovereign people in uniform; the representative principle under arms. The state was the army and the army the state. Overnight, the Muslim Brotherhood ceased to be a democratic, constitutionally- protected political movement of Egyptian citizens, and became instead an alien force dedicated to the nation's destruction: the enemy within.

General Sisi shot them down like dogs - and a majority of Egyptians cheered him on.

Judge Shehatta and his judicial brothers-in-arms may be cruel, lacking in moral fibre and subservient to the will of their superiors, but it is hard to argue that their judgements are inconsistent with the will of their fellow citizens. The very same sovereign Egyptian people who, only a matter of weeks ago, elected General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi President of the Arab Republic of Egypt by an overwhelming majority.

And in the view of this overwhelming majority, Al- Jazeera is nothing but a mouthpiece for the despised traitor Morsi's supporters in Qatar: friends of the enemy within. For spreading the "false news" that the Egyptian people have betrayed their own democratic revolution, most of Judge Shehatta's countrymen would probably consider seven years to be a very light sentence. Considering the fact that his brother judges have imposed the death penalty for publicly supporting the deposed president's cause, they're probably right.

In Egypt, freedom has always been the price of power.

Taranaki Daily News