Insulting Egypt’s revolutions: Criminalization vs. free speech
Activists and revolutionary movements in Egypt have objected to the proposed law
“The Jan. 25 revolution is a reality that no one can ever question,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told journalists, adding that a law to criminalize insulting the revolution would be issued shortly. The decision came in response to demands by activists and political factions following a rise in accusations that the Jan. 25 protests were a conspiracy, as was the acquittal of toppled President Hosni Mubarak and his interior minister.
“The law is the only way to show respect to Egyptians who sacrificed their lives for freedom and democracy,” said the joint statement issued by revolutionary and youth movements, including the Revolutionary Youth Coalition, the Revolutionary Powers Bloc, and the Egypt MPs Union. Sisi’s announcement has been warmly welcomed and heavily criticized.
Professor of political science Hazem Hosni says the law complements the constitution. “Even though the constitution mentions the Jan. 25 revolution, it doesn’t say anything about insulting it,” he said. “That’s why the law was much needed.”
Professor of political science Ahmed Darrag says the law is the only way to counter allegations that the revolution was a conspiracy plotted by external powers: “Through protecting the revolution from its enemies, the law would make it easier to fight corruption.”
Amr Hisham Rabei of Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies says the law is necessary to assuage fears that members of Mubarak’s regime might return to politics. “The acquittal of Mubarak and his top aides intensified doubts about the authenticity of the revolution, and raised concerns that the country might be heading back toward the pre-revolution era,” Rabei said. “This is a message to everyone that there’s no going back.”
Magdi Morshed, vice-chairman of the Congress Party, welcomed the decision, but said it should have been made much earlier. “Both revolutions have been severely reviled by supporters of Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said, referring to the protests of June 30 last year that led to the ouster of President Mohamed Mursi, which will also be included in the law. “The trial and acquittal of Mubarak and his aides, and the fact that none of them was harmed, prove how civilized these revolutions are, so they deserve to be honored.”
Legal expert Essam al-Islambouli says journalists will not be jailed just for criticizing the revolution. “Article 71 of the constitution bans the imprisonment of journalists,” he said. “The law can be applied in case such anti-revolution statements by journalists are linked with the crime of inciting violence.”
Islambouli supports the inclusion of the June 30 protests in the law. “Those who call June 30 a coup should definitely be penalized,” he said, referring to the Brotherhood, whose members were the first to call the protests a “military coup.”
Lawyer Samir Sabry said the law “violates the constitution, which gives every citizen the right to freedom of expression. Therefore, everyone has the right to criticize the revolution.” Sabry said if such a law is passed, it should also apply to the July 1952 revolution that toppled the monarchy.
Similarly, Refaat al-Said, former head of the Cairo Court of Appeals, asked: “Why should we single out the January revolution? The law should then apply to all revolutions that took place in Egypt, starting with the First Cairo Revolution.” He was referring to the 1798 revolution against the French invasion of Egypt.
“This is all so childish,” he said, adding that every revolution has positive and negative sides. “Even the French revolution that changed the world had many unacceptable downsides, despite the principles of democracy and freedom it called for,” he said. “The same applies to the Egyptian revolution. Let history decide this, not the law.”
Pro-government journalist and TV anchor Ibrahim Eissa slammed the law. “Is the revolution like the Quran now? Nobody is allowed to question it?” he asked on his show. “We’re dealing with double standards here. How can we be calling for freedom while telling people what to say and what not to say?” Eissa said everyone should have the right to criticize the revolution, and even question whether it was a revolution to start with. “This law will be a huge mistake,” he added.
There are also objections from activists and revolutionary movements. Haitham Mohamadeen, a member of the Revolutionary Socialists movement, wrote: “The only purpose of this law is to legitimize the June military coup. The January 25 Revolution does not need a law since it acquired its legitimacy from the masses that took to the streets and the martyrs that sacrificed their lives.”
Human rights activist and lawyer Khaled Ali wrote that the revolution “cannot be protected through laws but only through policies and legislations that achieve its goals and principles.”
Activist Ahmed Hassan says June 30, rather than Jan. 25, is the reason behind the law. “The main purpose of this law is to clamp down on those who oppose June 30 and refuse to call it a revolution,” he wrote. Hassan added that those who call Jan. 25 a conspiracy will stop doing so on Sisi’s orders, while those who call June 30 a military coup will not follow suit. “Therefore, only the latter would be penalized under this law.”
Journalist Abdel Qader Shoeib says the law may backfire. “We have enough laws and enough penalties for those who violate them,” he wrote. “We don’t want more laws to monitor what we say. If this happens, we will all end up behind bars just for having different opinions.”
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