By Mohammed Nosseir
Egypt is a country that has been lacking justice for decades. Two revolutions and thousands of marches and demonstrations demanding justice, among other things, have taken place in all Egyptian governorates. So far, however, nothing has been achieved, be it the amendment of laws or the actual application of justice on the ground. On the contrary, I believe that Egyptians, in general, have become less tolerant and less sympathetic and are not able to understand the true principles of justice.
As a concept, justice does not only refer to court rulings; it includes other issues, such as equality, social justice, equal opportunity for all etc. Justice cannot be broken up into separate parts; we are either a nation in which justice is applied, or a country where justice does not exist. I am confident that, should a survey questioning citizens about their perception of justice in Egypt be administered, the vast majority of the survey sample would assert that justice is absent in this nation.
Living in Egypt makes you aware of injustice at each moment and every event. Society accords more privileges to men than to women. Large companies have access to more business opportunities than do smaller ones. Being wealthy is an indication that a person is well connected, hence he/she receives more respect and admiration than do the poor. Access to good education and health services depends on financial ability rather than on merit and real need. Senior citizens rule over young people, who form the majority of Egyptian society, routinely imposing their old-fashioned ideas upon them. In traffic, Egyptians driving large cars or heavy trucks have a substantial priority over those behind the wheel of smaller vehicles – and this list could go on endlessly.
Egyptians spend a great part of their life in the courts, trying to reclaim some of their missing rights. Conflicts among citizens are not only between opponents; they also exist among family members. Most Egyptians families experience internal conflicts that either lead them to the courts to obtain justice or, at least, to live out their lifetime as a split family. Over 10 million cases are presently before the Egyptian courts, a number far in excess of the average in other countries facing similar socioeconomic issues.
Many companies and businesses in Egypt force newly hired employees to sign a blank check and a resignation letter along with their employment contracts. This enables business owners to not only fire employees at anytime (with no financial obligation on their part to accord severance benefits), it also grants employers the possibility of having their employees imprisoned, should they wish to do so.
The use of unjust means by citizens in their attempts to obtain their rights is widely accepted and endorsed in Egypt. This even happens with the advice and connivance of the government. For example, attempting to evict people who are forcibly occupying your land or flat by resorting to the courts may take decades and the cost is usually considerable; it is much easier and faster to hire thugs to get rid of the illegal occupants.
Somehow, Egyptians have a distorted notion regarding the definition and application of justice. The purpose of justice is not to serve sectorial demands or to satisfy personal needs. Pressure exerted by government employees on the cabinet to apply a minimum wage has nothing to do with justice. Basically, it entails according some financial help to a certain sector of society that knows how to pressure the government when it is vulnerable. True justice would require linking government employees’ incomes to their productivity, efficiency and to the degree to which the state needs their services.
Anyone who lives in Egypt will quickly realise that this country lacks law and order. However, not too many citizens appear to be complaining about this state of affairs. The educated middle class has been continuously shrinking to the extent that it has become a small, ineffective minority. Meanwhile, well-educated citizens who understand this term, usually the elite of the society, don’t pressurise the government to apply law and order because they are usually not affected by the lack of it, often getting more than they deserve as a result of the non-application of law and order. The majority of the population, the financially poor and the illiterate, don’t understand what is structurally missing in our country, and they therefore tend to express their dissatisfaction through hatred and by breaking the law. Serving some prison time during their lifetimes has somehow become a norm that they tend to accept as the lot of less fortunate citizens.
The committee that is currently drafting the constitution is debating how to enable minorities, women and other under-represented sectors to gain parliamentary seats through a quota system. However, women and youths are under-represented in the committee itself. An unfairly formed body is thus trying to bring fairness and justice to society.
Meanwhile, rather than focusing on the country’s interest to progress, each sector of society is pressuring the committee to satisfy its individual needs. This includes representatives of the judiciary who are requesting certain benefits for judicial entities, instead of presenting their views on how to establish real justice in Egypt.
The truth is that we don’t need sectorial representation of any entity to achieve justice. The right calibre of people, regardless of their background or gender, will address equality and minority issues fairly.
Although political forces often talk about the lack of justice in Egypt, they use this speech to mobilise voters, rather than with the intention of applying justice if and when they come to power. Since the 25 January Revolution to this day, consecutive Egyptian governments have been working to mobilise the law for the benefit of the group they represent and to exact their revenge on other political forces that were previously in power, completely overlooking the fact that, sooner or later, they themselves will no longer be in power.
Observing many Egyptians who, after decades of being deprived of their rights, eventually managed to cross the river (lawfully or an unlawfully), and to become the more fortunate (financially or in terms of power) part of society, it is apparent, unfortunately, that these citizens quickly forget their previous demands for justice and enjoy their privileged position in society. This applies to members of the recent Muslim Brotherhood government, to the current interim liberal government, and, obviously, to the entire Mubarak era, as well as to many non-politicians.
In response to the revolution’s demands for “Bread, Freedom & Social Justice”, none of which has been implemented as yet. Egyptian governments have presented a different set of slogans that either give hope to society or warn it against an unknown threat. In different ways, both Mubarak and the Brotherhood were always talking about prosperity and renaissance, while the mission of the current government is to fight terrorism. Both ideas are tools used to mobilise Egyptian citizens.
Moreover, Egyptians are often proud of the fact that they belong to a religious society, and that they donate substantially through charitable organizations. While this is true, charitable donations certainly are not a tool for establishing justice. Charity is a means for assisting the less fortunate, while justice means according equal rights to the entire society. Giving a small bribe to a government official (which has become an established part of Egyptians’ life styles) is neither just nor an act of charity. Far from achieving justice, such behaviour results in the corruption of society.
Egyptians are deliberately left in this chaos in order to consume and drain the energy they would otherwise exert in attempts to obtain some of their missing rights. This is similar to leaving the country facing uncertain security issues. Applying law and order in Egypt will lead to minimising excessive use of power by the government and limiting government control over society – consequently encouraging citizens to pressure the government to realise other demands and needs.
Egyptians are divided into segments and sectors, each searching for its individual needs rather than thinking of the good of the nation. The private clubs located along the Nile River that serve various different sectors are a clear illustration of injustice. Obviously, this is done intentionally to create a degree of sectorial conflict among citizens.
It appears to be quite difficult to achieve true justice in a society that currently has a very low level of morals, where every citizen is completely convinced that they are always right, and are always able to justify their behaviour, placing their needs and demands far above the national interest. It looks like Egyptians are somehow happier living in denial than facing reality. Therefore, I’m afraid that unjust practices will remain the norm for a good time to come.
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian Liberal Politician working on reforming Egypt on true liberal values, proper application of democracy and free market economy. Mohammed was member of the Higher Committee, Headed the International Relations of the Democratic Front Party from 2008 to 2012.