A year in review: Unfinished business

Since the first Day of Revolt on 25 January, developments in Egypt have moved at a dizzying pace. There have been three cabinets, four major clashes, dozens of protests, scores of new political parties, countless propositions for the transition period and an equal number of reform initiatives. With everything moving at this breakneck speed it’s been difficult to keep up and, inevitably, some major issues have fallen out of the public consciousness and the news cycle.

As we review 2011 and prepare for 2012, Egypt Independent is taking a minute to look back at the major developments that haven’t gone anywhere.

The Mubarak trial. On 3 August, Egyptians and people around the world were glued to their televisions for a sight most people could scarcely imagine: Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s president of almost 30 years, a defendant in a court room. After months hidden away in the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh, the deposed president appeared lying on a hospital gurney in the white uniform of a criminal defendant, accused of corruption and killing protesters. Beside him stood his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, as well as his former henchman and Interior Minister Habib al-Adly. The first day of the trial lasted for about five hours of frantic yelling from lawyers and technical questions before the judge ordered that it would resume on 15 August.

The trial resumed as scheduled, amid yet another chaotic day in the courtroom. At the end of the session, the presiding judge, Ahmed Refaat, ordered that it would no longer be broadcast on television. Since then, the trial has continued, but in secret. Those shocking images of Mubarak behind bars? We haven’t seen them since.

The Interior Ministry. It was no coincidence that the first day of Egypt’s revolution was 25 January, the national holiday celebrating the police. After decades of abuse at the hands of the Interior Ministry, reform inside the notorious security forces has been a major demand. On 5 March, less than a month after they deposed Mubarak, protesters stormed the headquarters of the State Security Investigation Services, the much-hated domestic spy agency. The interim interior minister was then sacked, and it looked like reform was on the way. Ten days after the storming, SSIS was renamed National Security and a number of high-level officials were forced into retirement, but most security reform advocates viewed the change as only cosmetic. Two interior ministers later, it seems as though nothing has changed inside the ministry. The violence used by Central Security Forces against protesters during the last week of November suggested that the tactics are the same as ever.

Emergency Law. For his nearly 30 years in power, Hosni Mubarak relied on the emergency law to repress dissent. The state of emergency granted authorities sweeping powers of arrest and indefinite detention, while restricting freedom of assembly. Its dissolution was a major demand of the 25 January revolution. It was almost achieved. After the army took power on 11 February, generals announced their intention to abandon the emergency law. And then came September.

After a group of protesters attacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo, the SCAF announced that it would extend the use of the emergency law until June 2012. The generals went further, stating that they intended to apply the law to those accused of “thuggery” and blocking traffic. Of course, the military didn’t even need the emergency law. Where Mubarak would have used emergency courts, the SCAF has used military tribunals.

Judicial independence. A judiciary independent from interference by the cabinet or the president has long been a demand of Egypt’s pro-democracy movement. A wave of protests for an independent judiciary in 2006 is seen as one of the precursors to this year’s revolution. But more than five years later, the fight continues. Reform advocates were optimistic after Hossam al-Gheriany, a pro-independence judge, was appointed to head the Court of Cassation and the Supreme Judicial Council, the top judicial position, in early July. In the next weeks, judges wrote a new version of the law regulating judicial authority that would have freed judges from supervision by the executive branch.

That movement hit a roadblock in late September, though, when disagreements arose between pro-reform judge Ahmed Mekki and Ahmed al-Zend, the head of the Judges’ Club over the exact wording of the re-written law. Mekki wanted to eliminate the Justice Ministry’s role completely, while Zend’s proposal only made minor modifications to the previous law. But since September, the issue has fallen out of the public view. While judges are charged with overseeing parliamentary elections — and many believe they largely succeeded in ensuring their integrity — no serious reform measures have yet been put in place.

State media reform. In the eyes of most revolutionaries, the state media showed their ugliest side during the 18-day uprising, when they spread lies about the protesters taking drugs and being paid by foreign interests. The state media coverage of the continuing revolution was persistently biased to the ruling SCAF, as exemplified in the coverage of the Maspero violence where a march of mostly Copts was fiercely attacked by the army. In July, the SCAF appointed former Wafd editor Osama Heikal minister of information. Heikal promised change, but delivered little. Since his appointment, the state media’s editorial line has remained the same, backing the SCAF’s narrative of events. Dissent may be brewing inside the Egyptian State Television and Radio Union, with two groups of activist employees pushing for reform. Ahmed Anis, a former general who has been working in state media for years, replaced Heikal in early December during a cabinet re-shuffle. Anis pledged that “Free speech is the basis of state media,” but those who are pushing for reform aren’t buying it.

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