x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Rule of law will determine Arab states' future

Arab uprisings have overturned dictators, but not the "justice for the few" rule of the law that kept them in power.

There will be different views on the justice dealt to the three Arab leaders already deposed this year. They all had charges to answer for, but has justice been done for Ben Ali, who is now in Saudi Arabia; Mubarak, as he faces trial in Cairo; or Qaddafi, killed in the streets of Sirte? This year has seen momentous change, yet questions remain. Will tomorrow's rule of law in Arab countries be any different than yesterday's?

If not, these uprisings, for all of the courage of protesters, will have done little besides remove individuals from office. Dictators were the focus of people's hatred, but it was the unjust social order that caused the underlying grievances.

Some countries have made considerable strides in a short time, no more so than Tunisia, which held its first free elections last week. Egypt's elections are scheduled to begin this month. Elections by themselves, however, do not constitute a democracy or a civil society.

Nearly nine months after Mubarak departed office, Egypt appears unchanged - or at least, not changed enough - in a fundamental sense of law and order. At the weekend, protesters fought security forces in Cairo, claiming that one of their own, Essam Atta, had been tortured to death while in prison on Thursday. Atta's death immediately recalled Khaled Said, the young man who became a symbol of Egypt's uprising after being beaten to death by police. Indeed, protesters are now shouting, "We are all Essam Atta".

It is too early to determine guilt in Atta's case, although the details are disturbing. But it is exactly that climate of fear, where the "rule of law" disguised atrocities by security forces, which was the worst quality of Mubarak's reign.

As The National reports today, Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize winning Egyptian legal scholar and former head of the IAEA, has warned that new dictators could rise. "Government and civil service institutions have been completely torn down in these countries," Mr ElBaradei told the International Bar Association conference in Dubai on Sunday. "The establishment of a rule of law will be the basis for the establishment of good governance."

Justice in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings will require more than slogans and vague promises. For Egyptians, Mr ElBaradei said, that will mean top to bottom reform starting with rewriting the constitution. It must be institutions, not individuals, that guarantee principles of justice.

The "rule of law" has long meant justice only for the well-connected. The day that changes will be the real revolution.