By Press TV
By Mahmoud Moghadas
In recent days the Middle East experienced major developments that were unprecedented in this part of the world.
The four weeks of popular protests that were sparked by the self-immolation of Mohammad Bu Azizi resulted in the collapse of Zine El Abidin Ben Ali’s 23-year rule over Tunisia. Bu Azizi’s suicide, revived the fire of protests and set a chain of events into motion, which that rocked the dictatorships of the region.
The last of the developments was the collapse of the 29-year-old dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, the president of one of the most important Arab nations of the world. When analyzing the roots of the unrest one must take into consideration the role of political institutions, which have had no true practical use and have become idle over the years under the dictatorship.
First, we can look at the role of the military. Overall, the political climate in Egypt has been dominated by military rule over the past half-century; which eventually transformed into a security atmosphere. The best indicator to gage the leverage of the military over leadership roles is their control over sensitive and important positions.
Since 1952, when the Free Officers revolted against the monarchy, Egypt has experienced an extensive military presence within its political makeup. The political intellectuals of Egypt have either been from within the military ranks or have been active on the political scene with support from the military. For example, the past presidents of Egypt such as Najib, Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak were all from the military and all presidential ministers were army generals. The last five consecutive presidents of Egypt have all been former military generals.
Power and control in the government has been hereditary over the past years which have been facilitated by military intellectuals. The presence of Free officers at the center of national governance was followed by the implementation of a series of plans that can be explored under Arab Socialism.
The plans resulted in the centralization of power, the reduction of civil rights, the abolishment of political parties, and the outflow of capital from the nation, which had negative implications for the Egyptian economy. Egypt’s international situation also contributed to the complex.
The existence of a threat like Israel was a good excuse for the military to increase spending and tighten its control over the nation. Since peace in the Middle East has remained fruitless, the arms race has strengthened the position of military men.
The parliament is yet another institution that is far from its true responsibilities. According to article 86 of the Egyptian constitution, the parliament has authority and power to make laws, must set the general policies of the government, must determine the national budget and is in charge of implementing social and economic development plans.
Items 134 and 131 of the constitution give parliament the right to supervise the executive branches of the government, giving it the power to question or even impeach the prime minster and other ministers. Research and investigation as well as demanding the formation of special committees are other powers of parliament but the main issue is that Egypt’s parliament never got the chance to practice its legal authority.
If we look at the number of legislation put forward by parliament we can easily see its weaknesses. In 2004, the parliament approved all of the 231 legislation submitted by the government. This is while in the same year, parliament only introduced 31 legislation, 14 of which were approved and included in government law and 17 others were left lingering.
In 2005, most of the 54 legislation introduced by the government were approved. The number of legislations introduced by the parliament was 43, of which 13 were discussed and approved. Overall, between the years 2000-2005 nearly 1,171 legislations were introduced by the government, of which 1,053 were approved by parliament.
This shows how far the Egyptian parliament is from its real responsibilities. The lingering legislation introduced by parliament are a sign of how secondary the role of parliament is in Egypt. In addition, the approval of most legislation introduced by government shows that the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) has turned parliament into a rubber stamp.
The parliaments’ weakness in implementing its special supervisory task can be attributed to the absolute dominance of the NDP. Firstly, the representatives of the party, due to their fidelity to the government, play an important role in hampering the correct implementation of any of the parliament’s special tasks. Secondly, the appointment of the parliament speaker by the president further weakens the parliament and has an important role in neutralizing the opposition.
Secure privacy and civil freedoms can only be possible under a Judiciary system, which is independent, restricts the powers of the Executive and the Legislative branches and prepares the grounds for the expression of views by individuals and the society.
In the absence of an independent judiciary system, the governments’ promises are not valid and they cannot be expected to fulfill them. When the Judiciary is under the control of politicians, the citizens’ pledges towards each other with regards to the contracts they have signed will have less validity.
This is an accepted fact that the successful production-and-service-based economies require long-term planning which itself requires a great deal of trust and realistic expectations.
Due to its specific political structure and relations, Egypt’s judiciary system has never been able to exert its power independently and it has always been subservient to the Executive branch. The actions of Egyptian courts are proof of this fact.
The verdicts issued against Egyptian political activists, journalists, writers and intellectuals are indicative of the Judiciary’s partial approach. The establishment of special courts and the appointment of judges by the president have exacerbated this dependence. This body allowed Mubarak to systematically clampdown on and crush any opposition.
Imprisonment and prosecution of the opposition figures and parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood is indicative of his limitless and arbitrary power exertion through judicial institutions.
With regards to the party system, it should be mentioned that the totalitarian nature of the Egyptian government has prevented Egyptian parties from fulfilling their functions completely.
The relations between the government and political parties have also been of a security-type and doubtful nature. In 1977, the Law No. 40, which was enforced by former president Anwar Sadat, placed more restrictions on forming parties. At the time of Sadat and Mubarak, many of parties required the court permission for their formation.
It is under this law that the Muslim Brotherhood has not been recognized yet. The law gives the right to confirm or reject a party to the Committee of Political Parties Affairs, which is composed of the head of the Consultative Council, minister of justice, interior minister and parliamentary affairs minister.
Law No. 36 even imposed more restrictions on the process of forming parties. The restrictions mentioned have weakened the legal opposition in the country. Although the Muslim Brotherhood is the largest Egyptian opposition, it is still illegal.
In the past 29 years, the Political Parties’ Committee, which is controlled by the NDP, has only authorized the formation of two new parties. Legal restrictions, having no access to radio and television — which are exclusively under the government’s control, arrests, dissolutions and myriads of other problems, have made the parties unable to compete with the NDP.
In fact during the past 30 years, it has always been the NDP which has had the final say in the parliament and all the policy making processes and there has never been an opportunity for a political consensus among the elite. As a result, many of the intellectual and political elites have been put aside from the decision making processes.
Non-official opposition parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood – whose members have had to participate in elections as independent candidates — have also been subject to such treatment.
Therefore, it can be said that the nature of the regime and centralization of decision makings have pushed the parties and their programs away from the political arena and minimized the policy making circle. In fact, the Egyptian political parties, who are not allowed to enter the policy making arena, have turned into the “others” in the rhetoric’s of the Egyptian rulers.
In summing up, it should be said that the Egyptian revolution stems from a variety of reasons such as malfunctions of the country’s political institutions; the institutions, which during years of Mubarak’s totalitarian regime, failed to fulfill their real role and exacerbated the discontents.