is a visiting scholar at the American University in Cairo, where she is conducting research on Egyptian views about justice and accountability in post-Mubarak Egypt. Her past research has focused on the role of memorials in social reconstruction and transitional justice, the challe...
Transitional justice in Egypt: one step forward, two steps back
Judy Barsalou, 12 June 2012
The dominance of neo-patriarchal, semi-authoritarian regimes with little interest in justice, accountability or other values associated with democratic governance has meant that, until recently, the Arab region has had limited experience with transitional justice (TJ). Several states have started down the TJ path since the emergence of the “Arab Spring”, but their progress is uneven. In Egypt, much depends on the nature and speed of the transition, whose outcomes remain uncertain. Whether and how Arab transitional states embrace TJ – especially how they manage the fates of their deposed rulers and essential institutional reforms – will indicate whether they intend to break with the past and build public institutions that inspire civic trust.
Preliminary research findings indicate that Egyptians strongly support due process and the rule of law, but face countervailing forces invested in the status quo. Many Egyptians are poorly informed about how other states have promoted justice and accountability during transitions (including recent initiatives in the Arab region, such as Morocco’s truth commission), but are eager to learn more. Only two Arab countries (Tunisia and Jordan) are signatories of the 1998 Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court. In April 2011 Egypt’s then-foreign minister, Nabil al- Araby, signalled the country’s intention to join, but nothing more has happened on this front. Research indicates, however, that Egyptians desire “local” justice and believe that seeking justice from an outside court would undermine national sovereignty, so any foreign assistance must be carefully considered.
Human rights NGOs and independent media are under duress in Egypt, but are playing essential roles. Some civic initiatives have resulted in detailed proposals to promote criminal accountability for torture, strengthen judicial and media independence, and ensure security sector accountability through reform. Parliament has already taken up some of these issues, indicating a thirst for reform even before the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) makes good on its promise to return to barracks by July 1st.