Egypt is witnessing a harsh political winter, a compulsory hibernation of the already deteriorating democratization process. In the restive Sinai, [the army has created] a buffer zone that has displaced civilians. The media clamps down on free speech and distorts the opposition while the press surrendered everything and has militarized in order to bolster the state. A different kind of Egypt has emerged after the Karam al-Qawadis massacre in Sinai.
Seizing what happened in Karam al-Qawadis, Egyptian authorities set in motion a rapid process of militarization. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a presidential decree allowing civilians to be tried in military courts. The first article of the law stipulates “deploying the army in the streets and around public and vital institutions, including power plants, networks, electricity towers, gas pipelines, oil fields, railways, road and bridge networks and other state infrastructure, facilities and public property. These facilities will be treated as military assets throughout the period of protection.”
The second article stipulates: “Anyone who attacks these facilities will be tried by military tribunals and the public prosecution is to refer cases having to do with these crimes to the relevant military prosecution.”
Based on what we understand so far, participants in all political protests, including factional protests, will be subject to military courts. Not to mention the cases concerning members of the Muslim Brotherhood that are being heard in ordinary Egyptian courts. This decision was welcomed by the media and political parties. Loyalists and some nominal opposition political parties launched the National Front to Fight Terrorism which invokes the figures of the National Salvation Front that led the June 30 uprising against the Muslim Brotherhood. There is ongoing talk about how this Front is going to provide political support to the state. Al-Akhbar found out from inside the Front that there is talk of postponing the parliamentary elections, which is the last step in the roadmap to democracy.
Human rights activists have expressed grave concern about these events regardless of political affiliations. Presidential spokesperson Alaa Youssef said: “The decree aims to secure the home front against terrorism and it was issued after the approval of the National Defense Council and the government based on what the State Council saw fit.”
This political maelstrom is approaching Egyptian universities where the state has failed, so far, in quelling student protests. Informed sources said: “Based on the aforementioned decision, the army might intervene along with the police to confront anti-government student protests.” Sources say that the issue is still being debated by the security leadership in the interior and defense ministries, especially as private security firm Falcon needs more time before its performance can be evaluated. “It is successful in some places but has failed in others,” the source said, emphasizing that “students who will be arrested during protests will be transferred to military courts right away.”
Many human rights organizations are about to shut down just before the November 10 deadline, which the Ministry of Social Solidarity refused to renew. This closure has to do not only with the new legal conditions but, according to the director of the Arab House Foundation for Human Rights Magdi Abdel Fattah, “has also to do with the political and military climate in which it is difficult to defend the idea of human rights in times of confronting terrorism. Human rights lawyers will also suffer immensely because military trials nullify the conditions of a fair trial.”
Another human rights figure is Hafez Abu Saada, director of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and member of the National Council for Human Rights. Echoing British Prime Minister David Cameron, he said: “Don’t talk to me about human rights in confronting terrorism. We have to declare a relentless war against extremists. Human rights organizations should play a role in organizing ideas against terrorism.”
The media landscape in Egypt is shrinking more and more. Businessmen who own satellite channels agreed to an editorial policy that “supports steps taken by the state to fight terrorism,” while newspaper editors decided to stifle freedom of the press. Militarization has become an acceptable phenomenon after the Karam al-Qawadis incident.
After Egyptian newspaper editors met with the Wafd Party three days ago, they issued a joint statement, which was a source of concern for local and international observers. The statement read: “Newspapers are going to stop publishing reports that support terrorism and call for undermining state institutions directly or indirectly, deal objectively and not magnify news of subversive protests by the Muslim Brotherhood in and outside universities, develop a mechanism for joint coordination between all newspapers to confront terrorist plots, take measures to confront these plots which would prevent the infiltration of terrorist supporters into the press and confront a culture that is opposed to our fundamental national principles.”
Khaled al-Bashi, a member of the board of directors of Egypt's Press Syndicate, argued that this step amounts to “nationalizing press freedom but by the journalists themselves.” This view coincides with an angry statement issued by the organization Journalists against the Protest Law, declaring: “The statement by editors amounts to a voluntary nationalization of the press and a taming of the Fourth Estate. The statement hands press freedom over to the ruling authorities under the pretext of fighting terrorism. Although everyone knows that an effective implementation of the press code of ethics is enough to stop any violation of the rules and ethics of the profession or any incitement to violence. Unfortunately the objective is to undermine freedom of the press.”
It appears that the situation in Sinai is becoming more tense, especially along the border with Gaza (13 kilometers/ 8 miles). Political analyst Karam Said foresees more than one scenario. The most likely scenario is that the army will establish a buffer zone along the border with Gaza and will resettle uprooted families living in Rafah near the Gaza border. “If this scenario fails, the state will dig a 10 kilometer (6 mile) waterway that would make the subsoil soft and thus hard to build tunnels. Besides, the steel wall that Egypt began building in 2009 along the border with Gaza to protect national security might be completed.”
Said believes that announcing a state of emergency in the entire country is a possibility, especially that the war on terror is open. However, he says: “If Egyptian security measures fail to control the border with Gaza or failure to lay siege to hardline organizations and their sleeper cells in Sinai, dangers besetting the Egyptian interior will escalate.”
By Radwan Adam
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