Experts warn of “chaos” and “violence” in 2007

Newspaper editor Ibrahim Eissa, Judge Hisham Bastawisi and politician Osama Ghazali Harb made dire predictions for the year 2007 at the Ibn Khaldun Center’s annual New Year’s event on Tuesday night.

Speaking to a crowded room of liberal Egyptian civil society leaders, politicians and foreign diplomats, the panel warned of a year full of confrontation, political crises, and potential chaos.

“In 2006 we saw the arrest of [former Al Ghad party leader] Ayman Nour and [MP] Talaat El-Sadat, as well as increased crackdowns on members of the Muslim Brotherhood, liberals in parliament, and intellectuals,” said Ibrahim Eissa, the Editor-in-Chief of independent newspaper El Destour.

Earlier this year Eissa was charged with “defaming” President Mubarak and faces a one year jail sentence, which is currently under appeal.

“I think these trends will continue,” He continued. “It is clear that the regime is completely autocratic, and we must take severe action against this autocracy. They oppress anyone who raises their voice.”

“The people who are managing these conflicts for the NDP are the worst people to be doing it. They are not talking about what is good for Egypt, they are taking a security stance against dissent.”

Osama Ghazali Harb, a member of the Shura Council and a former member of the National Democratic Party, says the current socio-political environment in Egypt has allowed decay to seep through.

Last year Harb resigned from the NDP to form a new party, the National Democratic Front. This week the NDF will apply for official certification from the government’s Party Commission this week.

Harb described the bleak life faced by most Egyptians and raged against what he sees as national decline.

“We lack basic educational services, health care and even adequate food security. We face disgraceful problems. Our blood banks are contaminated, we don’t have basic health care – we can’t even get organized to pick up garbage in the streets. Our country is full of disgrace and shame.”

“The real conflict in our country is between those seeking change and those opposing it,” he said. “Our fight is with despotism and this autocratic system. The rivalry that many feel between liberals and the Muslim Brotherhood is a trivial distraction – it is not the real conflict we face.”

The major debate of the year 2007, all agreed, will be over amendments to the Constitution. Parliament is scheduled to debate 34 amendments this year, but the most controversial is a proposed amendment to Article 88, which stipulates judicial oversight of elections.

The proposed amendment will reduce the supervisory role currently played by judges. The state argues that this will protect their dignity by shielding them from possible insult or injury at polling stations.

In place of judicial oversight, the proposed amendment establishes an oversight role for the powerful State Security police. Critics decry such a move as an attempt to expand the power of the state security forces and diminish the principle of independent oversight.

“Mubarak is paving the way for his son to inherit the throne, by using state security and other executive bodies to eliminate rivals,” said Judge Hisham Bastawisi, a leader of last spring’s Judges Movement.

“We will not allow the government to pass Article 88, which will create an eternal state of emergency under the guise of a terrorism law. We need a system that posts one judge at each ballot box, and we will not abandon this principle.”

Members of the panel warned of the potential for widespread unrest in the coming year.

They pointed to recent strikes by transportation workers in Mahalla and Alexandria as proof of rising discontent among the Egyptian poor and working classes, and warned that the amendment of Article 88 could act as a fuse for a wider crisis.

“If these laws pass, then we in Egypt will lose all hope for peaceful change and the peaceful transfer of power,” said Bastawisi.

Eissa agreed.

“When 27,000 workers in Mahalla go on strike under the banner ‘we are real men,’ that is a sign of change to come,” he said. “We are floating on a sea of corruption here in Egypt, and we have two choices — chaos and change. Nothing will remain as it is now for much longer.”

“If there is chaos it will destroy everything in its path, including us,” he told the audience, which was composed mainly of upper middle class liberal activists and foreign diplomats.

“If you remember the level of destruction and chaos that accompanied the two days of bread riots in 1977, you have an idea of the danger we face if we do not organize efforts to turn the potential chaos into productive change.”

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