Mervat Rishmawi - Human Rights Consultant: Research, Training and Policy Analysis
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Egypt in turmoil

I have been travelling to Egypt frequently in the last two years. I happened to be there just when the revolution stated and was traveling out of the country on January 28th 2011, just before the first massive protest took place which lead to the overthrow of Mubarak. I then saw the sheer of determination of protesters to change Egypt. 

I went to Egypt many times after that for human rights meetings (Egypt is a hub for meetings for Arab countries). When I used to speak with friends there, I could not help feeling a strong sense of anger that what was happening in the country after President Mubarak left power was not what they have aimed to achieve! Many of the same people were still in power for a long time. There was also a feeling of chaos. Achieving democratic elections was definitely a huge success, but the aftermath did not indicate a direction that my friends and many others from all walks of life struggled for.  Heated discussions on how to write the new constitution of the country was only getting more and more polarized  The push to carry out elections and to write a  new constitution that is representative of Egypt as a whole, not some views, was only causing  more anger.  

It makes you wonder, why is the new government rushing into such decisive moments and aspects of life without allowing enough time and space for mature consideration and debate? Egyptians lived under a repressive regime for decades. Now must be the moment when they should be taking enough time to form political parties, debate issues openly, decide on major issues through representative processes which encompass all opinions. But that cannot happen swiftly. It needs time. However, it seems that Egyptians are constantly denied time, as if it is a luxury that the country cannot afford. NO, time is not a luxury: it is a necessity in political process. 

My friends in the human rights movement  almost daily have to react to issues that come their ways: government policies, decrees, decisions, etc which continuously undermine their ability and that of many others to think proactively and strategically. However, despite that, they are able to come up with extremely impressive, elaborate, and thought through ideas and counter-proposals.  I always wonder how. But somehow I know how: my friends hardly sleep. They leave their work at 2 in the morning, sleep for only very few hours, only to return next morning to start work again.

The last Presidential decree giving the newly elected president close to unlimited powers was a new slap on the face of those who were trying to find a way out. Those faces I saw in the streets of Cairo at the time of the revolution and afterwards certainly did not struggle for this. While the decree in some aspects echoed some demands of protesters, for example to bring those responsible for the killing of the protesters during the revolution to justice, te expanded powers to the president was definitely not what people were demanding.

The current stand-off because of this is unfortunately polarizing the country even more. Egypt did not need this. Today, the situation is presented in a way that the Muslim Brothers and their supporters are on one side, and almost everybody else are  on the other. Is it because President Mursi was the candidate of the Muslim Brothers that they have to support him unconditionally? I really wonder if all their supporters really support this last decision of the president, and somehow I doubt it. But I also have a feeling that people are fed up with those in power playing with their lives in such a fundamental way. 

People have expected changes in their daily lives: measures to lift them from poverty, to provide them with education  and health treatment, not to put them in constant turmoil!!!

The announcement of President Mursi today to annul the decree is certainly a big step in the right way. It will helpfully bring some calm to a country in turmoil. But his persistence to go ahead with a referendum on the draft constitution which was rushed through, without the participation of civil society and many political parties, will prolong the anguish and turmoil. 

Is this what Egyptians deserve after their long years of anguish certainly not!

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