Oh, how things change!
Today Egypt declared its intentions to join the ICC. Its position towards Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir remains conflicted and problematic. Nevertheless, Egypt’s turn towards international justice is a significant and positive development for proponents of international criminal justice.
Just a few weeks ago, claims that the Middle East and Arab world would be swept up by the cause of international criminal justice would have been laughed off. Then again, for better or worse, international politics has always kept us on our toes. Prediction has always been a risky game.
The invocation and support for international criminal justice marks a dramatic shift for Middle Eastern and Arab states. It has been a rare occasion that the rhetoric of international criminal justice has been employed by these states towards themselves. Yet, the surge of regional democratic movements and the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ has been complimented by a demand, and now supply, of justice and accountability. Indeed, international criminal justice seems to be sweeping through the region.
Egypt’s zest for the rule of law in recent days has been dramatic to say the least: ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s former political party was ordered to be dismantled by a court; a former prime minister and a number of ministers are facing trial on charges of corruption; if his health does not deteriorate, it is a distinct possibility that Mubarak himself will be brought to trial.
Not to be overshadowed by domestic efforts to achieve justice, today Egypt declared its intention to join the ICC. As part of Egypt’s desire to become a “legally constituted state,” Foreign Minister Nabil El-Arabi declared the following:
“Egypt is currently taking the required steps to join all United Nations agreements on human rights and to join the International Criminal Court…I think the events that have taken place in Egypt in recent days and the arrest of senior officials is evidence that the state wishes to follow the rule of law… domestically and internationally.”
To date, Arab and Middle Eastern states have been conspicuously absent from developments in international criminal justice. While numerous states in the region engaged positively in the negotiations to establish the ICC, with the lone exception of Jordan, none became member-states of the Court. The Arab League has been amongst the sharpest critics of efforts bring President Bashir to trial.
The question of Bashir’s arrest warrant will continue to pose a political quandary for Egypt. Despite Egypt’s desire to join the Court, another Egyptian diplomat clarified that it would not affect Egypt’s support of Bashir and that the Sudanese President could visit at any time without fear of detainment.
Two years ago, advocates of international criminal justice bemoaned Egypt for accepting a visit by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the ICC to face charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur. At some point, Egypt will have to clarify how it expects to have its cake and eat it too.
Today’s announcement that Egypt will join the ICC reflects an incredible turn of events and turn of attitudes. Many Egyptians will no doubt be celebrating their country’s new-found commitment to human rights and justice. Those who support the international criminal justice project too can celebrate. Having Arab and Middle Eastern states engage as member-states of the ICC can only enrich our debates and strengthen the cause.