It is therefore no wonder that the constitution, drafted solely by political Islamists, further entrenches both political and religious despotism and paves the way for a Sunni theocracy similar to the Iranian model. The constitution gives a religious panel—in this case, senior Azhar clerics—the power to act as custodians of the legislative process in the name of Islamic law, and it gives certain groups the power to impose their vision on society in the name of “protecting morals” and the “authentic nature of the Egyptian family.” The constitution contains no reference to gender equality and limits the right to worship and build houses of worship to adherents of the Abrahamic religious recognized by Islam. Guarantees for civil rights and liberties were rendered toothless by Article 81, which makes the exercise of these rights conditional on their not contravening other constitutional articles related to the state’s religious identity and the protection of moral values and ethics, the public order, and society’s cultural and civilizational components.
The drafters of the constitution did not hide their desire for revenge against the Supreme Constitutional Court; they included provisions permitting the dismissal of particular judges and the executive interference in the composition of the court and introducing amendments to the law defining the impact of the court’s rulings. As part of the ongoing battle against the judiciary and the authorities’ desire to control its institutions, a new judiciary law is currently being drafted that would undermine the judiciary, including through the forced retirement of thousands of judges. This step comes after the MB replaced the Mubarak-era public prosecutor with one chosen unilaterally by the president without any input from the Supreme Judicial Council – all in the name of justice for the revolution’s martyrs. The new public prosecutor is plagued by political and legal challenges to his legitimacy and has ignored court rulings that invalidate his appointment.
Military trials of civilians continue and have been given legal status under the new constitution, which was drafted unilaterally by the Brotherhood and other Islamist factions. The first year of MB rule saw numerous political activists, social activists, and others – even fishermen! – prosecuted in these exceptional courts. The constant use of defamation of religion as a tool to undermine freedom of expression has been one of the landmarks of the first year of Morsi’s presidency. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have employed infamous legislation from the Mubarak era that contradicts internationally recognized standards to prosecute individuals for exercising their right to freedom of opinion and expression.
The harassment of journalists and media workers expanded even as Mubarak-era laws were used to secure MB dominance over state-owned papers, the Supreme Press Council, and the National Council for Human Rights. The media was intimidated through the siege imposed by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood on Media Production City, later continued by some Salafi groups who harassed and physically assaulted journalists and media professionals. The most recent targets of harassment were culture workers held a sit-in at the Ministry of Culture to protest attempts by the MB to control their institutions and impose a conservatism hostile to culture diversity and freedom of thought and creativity.
At the same time as jihadist elements have benefited from presidential amnesties and a blind eye is turned to their terrorist activity in Sinai, smear campaigns against human rights organizations have continued, as has the politically motivated, vindictive trial in which 43 staff members of advocacy organizations were recently sentenced to prison for between one to five years; the case was based on investigations by Mubarak’s security apparatus. Simultaneously, a new NGO law is set to be passed by the Shura Council which would further tighten the noose on civil society and human rights groups.
Instead of passing a new law to uphold trade union freedoms following the revolution, the current authorities have used provisions of the current union law and its amendments to secure MB control of the trade union organization and to harass and prosecute independent trade unions, many of which began to emerge in Egypt even before Mubarak’s ouster.
The legitimate demands for security reform, transitional justice, and an end to impunity heard after the fall of the Mubarak regime now ring hollow as the country moves further away from democratization and toward the establishment of a new authoritarian regime, in which repressive security solutions are deployed in the face of opponents. In practice, calls for security reform have been reduced to efforts to bring the security apparatus to heel, in tandem with attempts to pass more laws that criminalize protest and demonstrations, give the police free rein to use force against demonstrators, and stiffen penalties for resisting the authorities and assaulting police. Upon being elected, President Morsi promised justice for the revolution’s martyrs and injured, but measures taken have only exploited the issue to justify the assault on the judiciary and to issue exceptional laws in the name of the revolution and martyrs’ rights. In practice, these laws can be used to undermine civil liberties, harass political opponents of the regime, and keep them in pretrial detention for up to six months.