By Kumar David –
Legal types smell blood: Mursi’s and Rajapakse’s: Purblind Executive Presidents
Pakistan’s President Mushaaraf suffered shipwreck when he dismissed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry unconstitutionally. The mobilisation the judiciary and lawyers lit-up, roused society at large as the public, anywhere, become agitated when it fears fair dispensation of justice is imperilled. It took a year or two to get to the grill, but once the fire was ablaze, Mushaaraf was fried bacon. Last week in this column I drew attention to the publicity coup President Mursi pulled off by leadership in crafting the Gaza ceasefire, and expressed the hope that he would use the prestige to sort out Egypt’s messy internal problems. The anxieties that have pushed him into recent controversial actions are concerns that I share; but he has been brash. This folly will cost him face; already by conceding, within a week, that his decree is “only temporary”, he has been compelled to climb down. Still Mursi, unlike his local counterpart, has flexibility and sense.
No meliorating concession can be granted to the Lankan regime and the nasty slap it landed on the face of the judiciary; it’s a Machiavellian power grab to subvert the division of powers and whip the judiciary into subordination. In its folly, the regime picked the very moment when its position is at a nadir, to start the witch-hunt. I have been saying for weeks that the fourth quarter of 2012 is the turning point of Rajapakse’s fortunes, the juncture at which decline and fall commenced. The CJ-issue may not be Waterloo, the final denouement; but it is Stalingrad, the twist in the road after which it will be retreat, all the way to a shrouded bunker.
Unlike the Lankan witch-hunt, sponsored by a 113 strong lynch-mob, in fealty to an overlord who tells it when to whistle and when to whip, when to sign a blank sheet and when to mount bogus charges, in Egypt there is an ongoing struggle on the streets. The revolution is not complete; the powers behind the old regime have not been vanquished; they lurk and they threaten the gains of the revolution. The poor political acumen, of Muslim Brotherhood and secular revolutionaries alike, has split the popular movement just when unity is most needed to flush out reactionary residues.
Action and reaction
Many Constitutional and Supreme Court judges and the Chief Public Prosecutor (till recently) are hardened Mubarak era diehards. This Court dismissed an elected parliament and dissolved the Constitutional Assembly earlier in 2012. Hundreds of unarmed protestors were killed in 2011 by state forces, but the Prosecutor dragged his feet and failed to secure a single conviction. Then it leaked out that the Court was plotting to dissolve the reconstituted Assembly, again, thus leaving the country ‘constitutionless’; in constitutional limbo in perpetuity. This was intolerable, prevarication impossible. For this reason, though massive demonstrations demand that Mursi rescind his ill-considered decree, the Muslim Brotherhood too is able to mobilise equally large demonstrations in its support. Qualms about dark Mubarak era inciters and recalcitrant elements in the military stirring trouble to discredit the revolution or even make a power grab, are justified.
Mursi’s decree brought sweeping powers into his hands and placed the judiciary under control (what is being attempted in Lanka, by stealth). Elated by praise for theGazaceasefire he issued the decree the next day in an effort to consolidate power. He prohibited the Courts from dissolving the Constituent Assembly, a necessary step, and dismissed the prosecutor for a more popular alternative, also necessary. These steps revolutionaries should support, but by framing the decree in general terms, Mursi overreached. He raised hackles by not engaging in consultation with the radicals and neglecting alliance building.Egypt’s secular revolutionaries too have time and again been dunderheads – in the runoff presidential elections they called for a boycott, which if successful would have handed victory to a pro-Mubarak, military backed, reactionary. The secular movement lacks leaders with political maturity and vision, the Brotherhood is cack-handed and naïve, all this is not good. Nevertheless, there is time for realignment on both sides, but not much.
The confrontation at one point became very violent; offices of the Brotherhood inPort Said, Ismalia,Suezand other towns were set ablaze by angry mobs and one of its supporters killed. The country’s entire legal profession is on strike. Mursai miscalculated and in climbing down he will give away more to the reactionaries than if the Brotherhood and secular revolutionaries had strategised better in the first place. He is now reduced to the un-presidential chore of negotiating with the judges for a compromise. It is astonishing that the anti-Mubrak forces which have an unfinished democratic revolution on their hands can’t get together and formulate a common minimum programme. The sine qua non for this is that the Brotherhood sets aside its dystopian objective of a Sharia compliant constitution. Islamic law cannot be imposed on a much modernised nation likeEgypt. The time of such antiquated relicts is long gone; whatever obsolete opium the large pool of old humanity in the countryside still smokes.
Confronting the lynch-mob
The statement presented by the CJ and her lawyers at their meeting with the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) is extraordinary for its courage and determination. Clearly, the lady intends to fight, and thank god for that! The submission is explicit in its choice of adjectives to describe each charge; “baseless, groundless, frivolous, false or malicious”, as appropriate. The declaration has to be one hundred percent accurate on matters of fact; no way can it risk inaccuracy. I read it several times with this in mind, found it persuasive and concluded that the charge-sheet is frivolous and foolish. The submission levels the thinly veiled counter-charge that the accuser’s intention is to malign the CJ and harm her reputation; that is, to set up a lynching. This aligns with widespread public perceptions and fears. (The full text can be read on the Colombo Telegraph website; currently Lanka’s top web portal. It has been blacked-out by all local media; whether for of legal reasons, I do not know).
The state of play inEgyptis different from Lanka though superficially similar;Egyptis post revolutionary, the masses are on the streets. In Lanka the regime is in decline, the opposition divided, the people torpid. It is likely that the UPFA will use its blunderbuss majority to drive out the CJ. If the regime backs down it will be only to save its own skin; it has no use for truth and law. If it fears that the repercussions of a lynching may setoff a backlash to its own disadvantage, then it may hold back.
Lanka must hope that the courage sustaining the CJ will not desert her when the going gets tough, as it will. Men in politics these days are like women, cowering under desks in Sri Kotha – all of them. Bikku Sobitha, the best prospective Single Issue presidential challenger, did his bit in the Supreme Court, challenging the unlawful PSC. (The Court decided not to make an interim order and held its horses for now). The Thero, and other theros, need to continue; to march like Martin Luther and to nail their testament, in full public view, to the trees, to the doors and to the parapet walls,.
It is important that CJ, and reciprocally the public, understand that she is not fighting only for herself. In doing so, and in the style of doing so, she is fighting for all of us. If they throw her out on the street, I hope she has the gumption to pick herself up like Iftikhar Chaudhry, dust off the grime, and give direction to the anger that has gripped the legal profession and is agitating ever widening layers of the public. In this country were men in politics have lost their balls, become co-opted or turned toady clients, how breathtaking if a woman’s courage can demonstrate that she has big ones. By this, the CJ can earn forgiveness for her own sins; after all, full repentance, penitence, contrition, remission, oblation and sacrifice have to be made for letting the Eighteenth Amendment slip though.