Monthly Archives: February 2012

Egypt’s Revolution: A Year after Mubarak

by Dr Omar Ashour, Lecturer in the Politics of the Modern Arab World

456x277protest“The time of Mubarak wasn’t bad. At least there were tourists and I can get by” tells me a taxi driver. “But how about the police? Did they harass you under Mubarak?” I asked. “Oh, all the time…God bless the revolution!” The conversation summarizes the attitudes of millions of opinionated, but politically inactive Egyptians, the so-called “party of couch” (Hizb al-Kanaba). Many of whom bitterly complain about the current political and economic conditions, one year after removal of Hosni Mubarak. But when you remind them of his era, they never miss it.
Security crisis, bad economic conditions, and a state-owned media campaign blaming the revolutionaries, their marches and sit-ins for such problems, have seemed to undermine the popularity of the revolution. But the high turnout on the revolution’s anniversary showed otherwise. Hundreds of thousands marched to Tahrir and other squares across Egypt. Marching from the upper-middle class area of Mohandiseen, I saw tens of thousands chanting “down with military rule” and “revolution continues” all the way to Tahrir square, a two-hour walk. When they arrived there was no space for them to enter. The square was full.

Institutional versus Street Politics

But who dominates Egypt’s politics currently? Three entities emerge: street activists, the parliament, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Following the Post Said massacre, in which more than 70 football fans died, the parliament started proceedings to charge the Interior Minister with negligence. It is the first time in the Egyptian parliamentary history. Massive marches and street activists sitting-in in front of the Interior Ministry have emboldened the MPs to embark on these proceedings, and more importantly to ask for a thorough security sector reform and restructuring. Several draft laws and initiatives in that regard have been in progress.

Still, the slow pace of parliamentary proceedings, coupled with the (mis)management of the SCAF, did not meet the expectations of the revolutionaries. Tensions are on the rise between institutional and street politics; revolutionaries who were not elected can still mobilize tens of thousands. And in the absence of a unified leadership and organizational structures for the street activists, tensions are likely to be the rise.

The removal and the trial of Mubarak, his sons and chiefs of the repressive security apparatus have all came as direct results of Tahrir pressures. The same applies to the dates of the presidential elections. To expedite the transition, the SCAF brought the dates from 2013 to June 2012, following Mohamed Mahmoud street clashes and a massive sit-in in Tahrir. After massive marches to Tahrir on the anniversary of the revolution, the date was brought forward again, with the official nominations being on March 10, 2012.

Street politics has therefore proven effective, but quite dangerous. Egyptians paid the price in blood. The parliament, as the only elected institution, will need to address three salient issues on the eve of Mubarak’s removal. The first is the security sector reform and monitoring. The second is the proposed package given to the SCAF to abandon reserved domains of power (legal immunity, economic autonomy and veto in high politics). The third will be dealing with street activists and channelling their energy. Those three inter-related challenges will determine the success or failure of the Egypt’s democratic transition.

This piece first appeared on the Brookings Institution website.

The Children Act is an act of kindness

Liz Trinder, Professor of Socio-legal Studies, says there is no systematic bias against fathers in family courts, so no need for ministers to tinker.

This piece first appeared on the Guardian website on 6 Feb 2012.

Should there be a change in the law on shared parenting after relationship breakdown? The government has now published its long-awaited response to the Family Justice Review chaired by David Norgrove, which spent 18 months considering exactly that. The Children Act 1989 currently requires that the “child’s welfare shall be the paramount consideration” in family court decision-making. The Norgrove review decided against a stronger statement on shared parenting, based mainly on the Australian experience where shared-care legislation had not worked as intended and had shifted the focus from children’s needs to parent’s rights.

Although the report was widely welcomed by those who work within the family justice system, it was not by fathers’ rights groups. And now the government has rejected the recommendation, with ministers to formulate “a legislative statement of the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both their parents after family separation, where that is safe, and in the child’s best interests”.

In theory that sounds entirely sensible. However, we know from the Australian experience that this type of formulation makes it harder for courts to focus on the needs of an individual child rather than the rights of parents. The Norgrove review understood this. So why is the government not listening?

One powerful driver for the government’s position appears to be an attempt to address public perceptions that the courts don’t recognise the joint nature of parenting. This seems to be based on the repeated claims of fathers’ rights groups like Fathers 4 Justice, frequently repeated in the media, that the courts are biased against men. But there is no evidence to back claims that fathers are disadvantaged in court. Under the Children Act both fathers and mothers have parental responsibility, incorporating rights and responsibilities for their children. Since the mid-1990s courts have bent over backwards to try to ensure contact takes place.

In 2010 the courts refused only 300 of 95,000 such applications. Careful research based on analysis of court records finds that the great majority of fathers get the contact they seek and often do better than mothers. Indeed, the contact presumption is so strong that research studies have found concerns raised by mothers – especially about domestic violence – are not being addressed adequately by the courts.

The research evidence is clear, then, that the claim of systematic bias against fathers is a myth. Indeed the justice secretary, Ken Clarke, said on the Today programme that he does not believe there is any bias. So it is worrying that this entirely unnecessary change is likely to lead to poorer outcomes for children.

Behind much of the debate is a set of unhelpful myths about wicked, vengeful women and innocent, bewildered fathers. While these stereotypes might exist in small numbers, they do not stand up to empirical scrutiny. As Oscar Wilde put it “the truth is rarely pure and never simple”. It is no surprise that lawyers, judges and researchers who hear all sides of the family story – men, women and children — do not support changes to the law.

Only 10% of separated families go to court about contact. They are a highly conflicted group, with multiple problems and where both parents feel unheard. Finding ways to make contact or shared parenting work for these children is not about giving parents more rights but about helping them fulfil their responsibilities, and finding ways to give children a voice. The beauty of the Children Act 1989 and its unadulterated welfare principle is that it focuses on an individual child and their unique needs, preferences and circumstances. That is a principle we must treasure.