Statement by Assistant Secretary Michael H. Posner
January 26, 2012
My visit to Cairo this week coincides with the opening of Egypt’s Parliament on Monday and the commemoration yesterday of the one-year anniversary of the start of the Egyptian Revolution. During my four days here, I met with government officials, including representatives of the new parliament, as well as civil society activists. I heard a wide range of perspectives from government officials and from human rights advocates, religious leaders, lawyers, journalists, and bloggers. I also consulted with diplomatic colleafgues from the European Union.
My meetings with Egyptians made clear that this is a time of hope and possibility as Egypt transitions toward a more democratic, accountable, civilian government. But it is also a time when the economic, political, and social challenges facing this country have come into sharper relief.
In recent months, we have witnessed elections to Egypt’s People’s Assembly, in which there was broad participation and engagement. As the People’s Assembly met for the first time on Monday, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces transferred legislative power to them, and the Assembly elected Mohamed Saad Katatny as its speaker.
We look forward to an open and constructive engagement with the new People’s Assembly on matters of mutual interest as lawmakers fulfill their responsibilities to the Egyptian people. In the coming months, Egyptians also will elect the Upper House of Parliament, the Shura Council and in June, a new president. Each of these will be an important milestone in Egypt’s democratic transition.
Around the world we see that elections alone are not sufficient to building vibrant and durable democracies, and so we welcome the People’s Assembly’s important role in strengthening the institutions that are the foundation of accountable and democratic governance. We stand ready to work with all Egyptians inside and outside of government who are committed to a peaceful, democratic transition.
At the same time, we see several ongoing challenges. The first is the difficult environment in which civil society groups are operating, especially those groups advocating for human rights and democracy. A strong and independent civil society is an essential element of a sustainable democracy. As Secretary Clinton said in Krakow, “citizens must be free to come together, to advocate and agitate, to remind those entrusted with governance that they derive their authority from the governed.”
For years, Egyptian and international NGOs working on human rights and democracy issues have been constrained by laws and administrative practices that restrict the universal freedoms of association, assembly, and speech. In December, Egyptian security forces raided the offices of seven NGOs, including four U.S.-based organizations, confiscating files and computers, and subsequently subjecting their employees to investigation. We strongly urge the government to redress this situation. It is time for Egyptians to create an environment where members of social organizations of all kinds, including human rights and democracy advocacy organizations, are able to operate freely, consistent with universal human rights standards.
A second challenge is the government’s continued reliance on emergency powers of detention. We were encouraged by Field Marshall Tantawi’s announcement on Tuesday that he has taken steps to lift the state of emergency that has existed for several decades. Many Egyptians are continuing to urge a full lifting of the emergency law—a view we share. We also urge reliance on civilian courts to address cases where individuals have violated the law.
Finally, we continue to be concerned about sectarian tensions that have long existed in Egypt and that in some cases have resulted in violence. The upcoming constitutional reform process will provide an excellent opportunity to build a legal foundation that promotes pluralism and religious freedom for all Egyptians. We very much hope that the constitutional process will be transparent and inclusive, so that all Egyptians can have confidence that their new constitution will serve them equally and will win the broadest possible public support.
Egypt’s diversity is a source of strength, a part of its rich history and culture. It is vital to preserve this, and that there be a place in the new Egypt for all citizens, including members of all religious minorities, such as Copts, Shia, Bahai, Ahmadis,and Jews. We also hope Egyptians will use this process to ensure that women have equal opportunity to contribute fully to the economic, political and cultural development of their country.
The American people have been inspired by Egyptians’ commitment to a future of dignity, freedom, and opportunity. We value our long history of partnership, and we have great confidence in Egypt’s future. We are eager to see Egypt succeed and will be a long-term partner as Egyptians navigate the road to a peaceful, prosperous and democratic future.