Sunday, August 9, 2020

Civilian Trials In Military Courts in Al Sisi’s Egypt

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President Trump (L) greeting Al-Sisi (R) | Source: The White House via Flickr

With President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in power, Egypt is currently in the throes of a near-complete reversal of democracy. Under his rule the military has intruded into almost all aspects of public life, in a very explicit attempt to instill fear in Egyptians.

One of the most pervasive examples of this has been the military’s disruption of judicial process, with interference turning to encroachment as more and more civilians continue to be tried and sentenced by the army, through various nefarious means of expanded military jurisdiction.

Mohammad Morsi at XVI Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit, in Tehran, Iran on August 30, 2012 | Source: Government of India via Wikimedia

While a military judiciary has been present in Egypt since the 1960s, their power continued to grow after then Defence Minister Sisi overthrew the democratically elected President, Mohammed Morsi in a coup and became Egypt’s new leader. Since then he has worked towards removing tenure limits to his term, virtually guaranteeing him power for another decade or more.

The Egyptian government, like many others across the globe, has used the pandemic and the limited mobility of citizens due to it to tighten their chokehold on dissent and opposition. In April 2020, the Egyptian Parliament passed amendments to its Emergency Law. The law already prohibited demonstrations and protests, and now allows the military to arrest and confiscate assets of citizens without requiring permission from the special prosecutor, and investigate civilians without the right to appear before a judge.

Egypt has seen more time under Emergency Law than not in the past few decades, and President Sisi has not strayed from this pattern. The law has been used in many ways to normalize the military trespassing into the civil judicial system, such as having military judges on civil judicial councils and declaring the military judiciary as “an independent judicial entity” no longer under the command of the armed forces.

Public facilities have been placed under military jurisdiction, in conjunction with a law that allows anyone who directly or indirectly “assaults” an army base to be tried in a military court. In these courts defendants do not have common legal rights such as being informed of their charges, access to a lawyer or being brought before a judge soon after arrest.

Late Shaby Habash, a young filmmaker who died in prison August 2020 | Source: Shaby Habash Facebook

Additionally, there have been multiple reports of torture, sexual assault while placed in detention. In prison too, detainees face inhumane conditions, not being allowed to see family, exercise or get sunshine and fresh air. Thousands of student protestors, journalists and political dissidents have been tried in these military courts, and hundreds more have been killed extrajudicially. At the same time, citizens’ tools to criticise these steps are undermined, such as by limiting the domain of NGOs, censoring news and social media, and blocking around 600 websites.

The arrest, incarnation and trial of the deposed President, Mohammed Morsi is a glaring example of what is wrong with Egypt’s military trials. Morsi, who was in jail for over 6 years since the coup in 2013 and was under trial in military court collapsed and died during a hearing in the military court itself.

The constitution, the parliament, the law, and the abuse of these pillars of democracy has been instrumental in Sisi being able to give the military and himself the extreme power that they now possess. But despite restrictions on assembling and protesting, Egyptians continue to make their voices heard in the streets and worldwide, hoping that where institutions betray them, their community won’t. Hoping against hope, hoping against tyranny.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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