Over the past three years Egypt has lurched from crisis to crisis. Many Egyptians who participated in the euphoric protests that brought an end to Hosni Mubarak’s thirty-year rule returned to the streets earlier this year in mass protests that helped lead to the ouster of Egypt’s first popularly elected President, Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government. Now with a foundering economy, political repression on the rise and Egyptians divided as never before many are asking what went wrong.
Experts believe one of the major stumbling blocks on Egypt’s road to democracy has been the absence of “transitional justice” as Mohamed Abdel Dayem, Senior Associate at the New York based International Center for Transitional Justice explains.
“Such justice should have been administered and should have included prosecution of offenses committed under former regimes, reparations for victims, establishment of truth commissions and implementation of reforms, both in the judiciary and law enforcement sectors,” he said.
Abdel Dayem says that the only components of transitional justice that Egypt carried out were the flawed criminal trails of deposed President Hosni Mubarak and some former officials who served in his government. He says the trials failed to meet a basic condition of transitional justice which is to rebuild social trust by repairing a fractured justice system.
“The problem was that the people who were tasked with collecting much of the evidence were the very same people who participated in human rights violations of the past, so it was not a surprise that there is a need for a retrial of Mubarak and his aides.” Abdel Dayem said.
He anticipates another challenge to transitional justice as the trial of former president Mohamed Morsi starts next month.
“To try the deposed president in isolation from all other elements of transitional justice is a repetition of the same ad hoc approach that protracted the transition.” Abdel Dayem warned “Many of the players who participated in those very violations that Egypt is trying to put an end to remain in power in one way or another and they will try to subvert transitional justice in its entirety.”
Interim government efforts at transitional justice fail
Ahmed Morsy, an Egyptian researcher at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland argues that even after Interim President Adli Mansour appointed Judge Mohamed Elmahdi as Egypt’s first-ever Minister of Transitional Justice few steps have been taken to implement transitional justice measures.
“Many Egyptians hoped that their long list of abused rights could find justice, but until now very little has been accomplished.” Morsy said.
According to Morsy the Egyptian government has attempted several times to establish independent commissions to investigate killings and abuses of protestors, but none has appeared efficient, sincere, or transparent. These include a fact-finding commission investigating the deaths of protestors during the January 25 revolution -- formed last year by Mohamed Morsi.
“The latest episodes in Egypt’s wobbly transition, particularly the imprisonment of the deposed Morsi and the death of over 50 Egyptians at the Republican Guards’ club on July 8, might suggest that Egypt has missed the chance for transitional justice.” Ahmed Morsy argued.
Michael Hanna, a fellow at the New York based The Century Foundation says transitional justice in Egypt has been characterized by fundamental lack of transparency and popular participation.
“The interim government’s commitment to accountability has appeared to fluctuate in relation to the level of public outrage and protest, and lacked an articulated rationale for its course.” Hanna said “There has also been insufficient public discussion of the direction of transitional justice efforts.”
Hanna says needed reforms of the Egyptian security sector have been largely cosmetic and have had little or no impact on the all-important Interior Ministry. Endemic problems at the ministry will persist, he says, without a more consistent effort at inculcating respect for the rule of law, and reforming police education and training.
Abdel Dayem agrees and says “Everybody knows that one of the major factors that precipitated the uprising in January 2011 and the additional rounds of civil unrest was police brutality and lack of accountability for abuse by state agents, so Egypt’s transition needs to put an end to impunity.”
And Ahmed Morsy concludes, “The longer the Egyptian government does not address its citizens’ grievances and genuinely reform its institutions, the higher the chances for a cyclical recurrence of mass protests, violence, and a gross accumulation of grievances without redress.”