On April 5 the president of Egypt spoke for two and a half hours before the People’s Assembly, explaining and defending his peace treaty with Israel. Such was the “public debate” on the treaty. Sadat gratuitously added that “as of today” there would be no restrictions on political parties, and pledged a “bill of rights” which would be “the start of a new life in Egypt.”

Meanwhile, the headquarters of the “official” left party, the Hizb al-Tajammu‘ al-Watani (Progressive Assembly of National Unionists) was raided by Sadat’s security forces for the third time this year and the second time since the signing of the peace treaty. The party named 44 of its members who have recently been arrested in party headquarters and at their homes, but Khalid Muhi al-Din, the party’s leader, protested to the Speaker of the Assembly that several hundred party members are presently being held in Egyptian prisons. This is Egypt’s present “rule of law” that Sadat constantly brags about in his speeches.

Egypt does indeed have a rule of law — the “Law of the State of Emergency” in effect almost continuously since the 1950s and invoked whenever repressions of internal dissent is found expedient. This “law” allows the transfer of civil cases to the military courts and judges, and a presidential veto over the judicial release of prisoners. Although it ostensibly requires that persons detained for “political crimes” — there is a whole list of them in the penal code — must be brought before a court within a month’s time, one continues to hear of cases of incarceration, often incommunicado, for much longer periods.

The recent “state of emergency” has been occasioned by attempts to question publicly the peace treaty, and to warn Egyptian citizens of the implications of some of its provisions. For more than a year, since his “peace initiative,” Sadat has stopped at nothing to muzzle criticisms of the treaty, of himself, or of others highly placed in his government. Only weeks after Sadat allowed the “official” parties to publish party organs last year, issues of the PANU&#rsquo;s paper, al-Ahali, were confiscated and the paper was prevented from continuing publication.

US aid to Egypt is well over a billion dollars a year, and expected to increase. The AID mission in Cairo is one of the largest in the world. There is little tangible evidence of this level of expenditure except exacerbated inflation, fat research and consulting contracts for selected Egyptians and Americans, and, of course, the repressive internal security measures. It is widely believed here that next year’s US presidential campaign “started on the streets of Cairo,” as an aide in Carter’s entourage in Cairo was overheard to say.

With this kind of heavy involvement of American aid and personnel in Egypt, Sadat’s repressive attacks should not go unremarked. Sadat’s “peace” is dreadful for those swept up in the dragnet of security arrests, held in the Citadel, Tora and Abu Za‘bal prisons. The peace treaty which supposedly heralds a “new democratic era” in Egypt in fact has brought about the worst repression in at least ten years.

How to cite this article:

A Special Correspondent "Sadat’s “New Democracy”," Middle East Report 80 (September/October 1979).

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