Under the guise of combatting terrorism, Egypt’s People’s Assembly is today rubber-stamping a vote on constitutional amendments designed to turn the country into a police state. Yesterday 100 MPs walked out of parliament as voting was due to take place. But people in Egypt could not see the protest because television cameras were banned. On Saturday demonstrators confronted riot police and plainclothes agents in Cairo’s central Tahir Square.
President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power for 25 years, is notorious for his suppression of political dissent, including the detention of bloggers, who have joined numerous other prisoners held under "emergency laws".
Muslim Brotherhood MPs boycotted the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Peoples Assembly and joined with the Wafd Party, the leftist Tagammu Party, the Nasserist Karama movement and independent MPs to oppose the constitutional changes.The amendments are to be put to a popular referendum in April. The government claims that a third of Egypt’s 78 million people will vote. But in the view of leading bloggers, the turn-out could be as low as 2 per cent. But no one is in doubt of the outcome. The constitutional changes will weaken the role of judges in monitoring elections and give police greater powers of arrest and wide authority to monitor private communications. Those branded as “terrorists” lose the right to trial before a judge and will be tried by military tribunals. At present the label of terrorism is applied even to modern Islamist politicians including the Muslim Brotherhood and others.
Even before this latest move by the Mubarak regime, Egypt’s Association for the Assistance of Prisoners has said that human rights conditions in Eygpt are even worse than those documented in a US Bureau of Democracy Report published on March 6, which documented torture and killings in police stations.
The MB operates openly despite being banned since 1954, but last week over 80 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were detained after the group said it was boycotting the parliamentary vote on the amendments.Mubarak’s government will use what has been described as a “constitutional coup” to stop the Muslim Brotherhood before it makes electoral gains. President Mubarak wants a smooth transfer of power to his son Gamal and the increasing popularity of the MB stands in his way. Members of the Brotherhood running as independents hold nearly one-fifth of the 454-seat lower house of parliament.
Amongst those at the Cairo demonstration on Saturday were members of the Kifayah (Enough!) movement. One Kifayah leader said: “These are not constitutional amendments, it’s a constitutional coup. The aim is to block the remaining channels of democratic participation and resistance, and the ability of the judiciary to address wrongs in the system. The government’s aim is to gain complete control of elections.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to becoming Egypt’s largest opposition was aided and abetted initially by British imperialism in its campaign against Nasser’s revolutionary movement. Subsequently it worked with Sadat, Mubarak and the CIA to destroy sorely needed secular and socialist alternatives. Mubarak’s latest lurch to dictatorship shows that he is playing with fire and will only strengthen the hand of reactionary religious movements.
Corinna Lotz, AWTW Secretary