The Global Citizen: Egypt
The violent protests against a U.S.-based film that started in Egypt last Tuesday continue to spread throughout the Arab world. The most notable of these occurred outside the U.S. embassy in Libya, where four American diplomats lost their lives. Anti-American demonstrations have also been reported in Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, and Gaza City.
Among the four Americans lost, was the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. Ambassador Stevens was a career diplomat who was committed to working with the Libyan people. He was the American envoy to the revolutionaries during the uprising in Libya, and helped bring down Moammar Gadhafi. Ambassador Stevens embodied what it truly means to be a diplomat. He was passionate about building a relationship between the United States and Libya, and cared about the people, not just the politics. He helped free the Libyan people, and his death is a tragedy for American diplomacy.
Among those killed, was also U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith. Smith was assigned to Libya on a temporary mission. Our diplomats overseas are more than just our representatives or negotiators; they are our peacemakers, our community builders, our innovators, and our trailblazers. They commit their lives to serving the greater good.
UPDATE (6/27/12): Earlier today, President Morsi announced that he would appoint a woman as one of his vice presidents, and a Coptic Christian as his other. On the whole, this move should help to assuage the concerns of those who feared that Morsi's affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood would lead him to adopt radical Islamist policies. In addition, this announcement followed news that an administrative court in Cairo has overturned the military's declared right to make warantless arrests. Overall, a good day for democracy in Egypt, though, of course, much work remains to be done.
This past Sunday, Egypt took another tenuous step along the road to democracy, as the Supreme Presidential Election Council declared the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohamed Morsi, the winner of Egypt's first presidential elections since the fall of Hosni Mubarak. According to statistics released by the Election Council, Morsi garnered 51.7% of the popular vote, compared with a 48.3% share for his opponent, Ahmed Shafiq.
Last Friday I attended a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Egyptian crackdown on non-governmental organizations. In December, the Egyptian government raided the offices of several NGOs within the country and is now prosecuting representatives from these organizations. The government claims that the organizations were not registered to be in the country and that they were receiving aid from non-Egyptian organizations. Four presidents from American NGOs affected by the raids testified at the hearing, including the International Republican Institute, National Democracy Institute, Freedom House, and the International Center for Journalists.
The witnesses were questioned about how their organizations were affected by the government raids and the charges being brought against them. Lorne Craner, of the International Republican Institute, said that members of his organization were interrogated for hours by Egyptian officials. Some of the NGOs said their offices were sealed so that they are no longer able to use the facilities and most had documents, computers, cash, and other goods confiscated. The witnesses agreed that their organizations have never received treatment like this before. While no formal indictments have occurred, charges are being brought against 16 Americans.
Egyptians continued voting in parliamentary elections for a second day Tuesday, marking a historic change for a nation that was under authoritarian rule less than a year ago. The elections to fill the People's Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, are the first held since the ousting of former dictator Hosni Mubarak, who resigned from power following massive uprisings earlier this year. The first days of voting have seen an unexpectedly high level of participation (authorities estimate participation to be above 70%) amongst a population optimistic that their votes will finally matter after decades of totalitarian governance. The elections have also been surprisingly peaceful and free of obstructions that many feared would put a damper on the watershed moment for the budding democracy.
The election of a new Parliament is a months-long process, done in regional stages that will not be completed until March. This vote will set the stage for the creation of a new constitution next spring as well as a presidential election to be held next summer. The success of the voting thus far gives hope that the resulting government at the end of this process will be truly democratic and representative of the Egyptian people.
CGS has joined a cross-regional group of civil society organizations urging the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to call an urgent special session to address the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt.
On January 25, a popular uprising demanding an end to the 30-year rule of authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak, began in Egypt. In recent days, Egyptian authorities have responded to ongoing protests with targeted assault on peaceful demonstrators, civil society activists and journalists, leading to hundreds injured and arrested. According to the UN, 300 may have died already. Citing the mounting casualties, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay described Mubarak's leadership as, "a system that has deprived people of fundamental rights, and has committed a range of serious abuses, including widespread acts of torture."
In a letter addressed to UN Member States, 29 NGOs, including CGS, is calling on UN Human Rights Council members to hold an urgent special session to work to prevent further human rights violations and protect Egyptian citizens who have already suffered government repression.
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