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April 21, 2011

Egypt: Dignity, Democracy and Social Justice

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Seven years ago a new political party in Egypt was formed, Al-Karama (Dignity). On May 30, 2004 it applied to become an official party but it has never been approved because it was outspoken against Mubarak, his family and his corrupt regime. The party was of one of the forces behind Egypt's January 25th Revolution. Its leader Hamdeen Sabahi, a journalist, ran for parliament as an independent. He won in 2004 and lost in 2010 but he is intended to run in the presidential election later this year. In Cairo last week I met his deputy, Amin Iskander, an engineer from my Cairo’s birth place; Shoubra.

I do not know if there are other political parties in the world named Dignity. Usually a name includes such words as freedom, national, democracy, liberal, social, conservative, labor, or Christian, Islam, etc. But I thought the name Dignity for a political party was appropriate and encompassing and I still do.

Dignity is a basic human need that is denied by totalitarian regimes like that of many pre-revolution Arab countries and by occupation military powers like that of Zionist Israel.

Denying dignity to any one is evil and must be resisted. Those who administrate that denial rely on violent and oppressive means that are repulsive.

Dignity strives only in a society which values both freedom and social justice. Any inequality, political, social or economical, compromises dignity.

Lack of dignity leads to humiliation at the individual level and expresses itself collectively in uprisings that often lead to revolutions.

Nobel laureate Africa’s Wole Soyinka has argued that a nation relies on the preservation of dignity of all its citizens for its own proper identity. In The Open Sore of a Continent (1996) he writes: "Under a dictatorship, a nation ceases to exist. All that remains is a planet of slaves regimented by aliens from outer-space. Only through the strength and independence of individuals can the life of the nation progress.”

Totalitarian regimes and occupation forces treat the masses as second and third class citizens. Under these evil regimes the masses suffer from poverty, lack of basic services; having access to clean water, adequate housing and decent health care and education.

Only one class gets most of the benefits of being a citizen; an elite class of those rich and powerful in the case of pre-revolution Arab countries or Zionist Jews in the case of Israel.

Dignity is shattered under torture. Totalitarian regimes and occupation military powers excel in administrating torture to their opponents.

Any eye witness account of torture, from pre-revolution Arab countries, from Israeli prisons and concentration camps, and from American prisons in Iraq makes you sick. These torture techniques, physical or physiological, are well designed to assault human dignity and causes the maximum damage of humiliation.

Democracy, freedom and social justice provide necessary frameworks to achieve dignity within a nation state.

For true freedom to be achieved a minimum level of social justice must be achieved allowing self-determination that would enable individuals to be the author of their future and that of their children. 

“In this context, the state was defined, not as a force potentially opposed to individual liberty, as in classical liberalism, but as an instrument of freedom in that it provided each individual with certain conditions of life in which he or she could realize her or his powers and capabilities, and could strive towards her or his ‘possible self’ (Freeden 1978: 53, 58 and passim; Vincent/Plant 1984: 59; Nicholson 1990: 140-65; Collini 1979). 

“Self-development of the individual thus remains the aim of liberalism, but it is now seen to depend upon the creation of enabling opportunities by a ‘welfare’ state.  Vincent and Plant have succinctly summed up the thoughts of the ‘British Idealists’, which profoundly influenced this new liberalism.  They assumed that:

all citizens had capacities and powers, not necessarily of equal amounts or types, yet each should be given an equal footing and a means to develop what they possess.  The aim was to achieve the fulfillment of the largest number through their citizenship.  The state, by providing the basic services, was attempting to equalize opportunities through intervention.  The rationale for this was liberty and citizenship based upon a modicum of economic welfare and a share in civilization.  (Vincent/Plant 1984: 87)” – Liberal democracy into the twenty-first century, Dr. Roland Axtmann, 1996.

In Soyinka’s Nobel lecture, delivered on 8th December 1986, he said:

'And of those imperatives that challenge our being, our presence, and humane definition at this time, none can be considered more pervasive than the end of racism, the eradication of human inequality, and the dismantling of all their structures. The Prize is the consequent enthronement of its complement: universal suffrage and peace.'

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