Egypt’s unsteady ground

Members of the Human Rights Committee in Shura Council
Members of the Human Rights Committee in Shura Council

The Oslo Center, represented by Mr. Kjell Magne Bondevik and Ms. Vigdis Vevstad held a workshop seminar about human rights for the Human Rights Committee in Shura Council in Cairo on 25th and 26th of June. It turned out to be very tensed days for the members who attended. There were frequent reports about massive demonstrations against President Mohamed Morsi ahead. There was a great discontent with his leadership as president that was not much better for the people than under his predecessor. In addition, he led a conservative Islamist rhetoric that many thought was wrong and an abuse of what they had fought for during the revolution of 2011.

Conservative MPs

The participants of the human rights seminar represented four of the major parties in Egypt; the Muslim Brotherhoods Freedom and Justice Party, the Salafists Al Nour, the old traditional Wafd Party, and the more liberal Egyptian Social Democratic Party. The members we met were mainly a conservative group that supported the then president, with the exception of the head of the committee representing the Social Democrats. He turned in his resignation to the Shura Council the day after our seminar finished. In addition to international law and democratization the issues of freedom of assembly and association, prohibition against torture, rights of women and freedom of religion were main topics. There were good discussions about the understanding of, and how each of these can be implemented in Egypt’s national law. The most sensitive subjects were about rights of women and freedom of religion that some of the members had a difficulty to connect to Egyptian culture and society. A lot of the objections implied cultural differences and perception of norms and values.

Military intervention

That evening before we left Cairo Mohamed Morsi held his three-hour speech that held many expectations among people. It came too late, the demonstrations had already erupted several places in the country with two killed in clashes in Alexandria. The forecasts would have it that Morsi would make it through this hump, but not the next. Several members of the Human Rights Committee believed that he would sit out what was left of his presidential period, with three years remaining. However, it turned out that a few days later he was defeated as the demonstrations grew too big and became a risk to national security; the military intervened and ousted the president. They were lauded by massive crowds. They were praised in several Western countries, despite the fact that the deposition is reminiscent of a classic military coup. What might have made it okay for someone to not call it by its sensitive name may be because the military was supported by democratic forces, the same democratic forces that flocked to the streets to show their discontent with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.  This is a diversified group that had one common goal, to remove Morsi. Beyond that, they have no concrete proposals for joint actions; they know that the situation cannot continue as it has evolved.

New revolution

In less than a month Mohamed Morsi has been deposited, and interim President Adly Mansour has been instated with a government of 35 Ministers. Mansour has appointed the economist Hazem el-Beblawi as Prime Minister and the internationally renowned opposition man Mohamed ElBaradei as Vice President. The situation is however not calm. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are very unhappy with how the situation has developed, as they say this has been a coup. This has resulted in many massive clashes between the supporters and opponents of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Over one hundred people have been killed in less than a month, several thousands are injured. A few days ago the Minister of Defense, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged people to flock to the streets to support him in his fight against what he calls “violence and terror”. The Muslim Brotherhood feels that this is pure provocation and is a calling for civil war. The biggest clashes are reportedly still ahead, with preparations for massive demonstrations after this Friday’s prayer which can have disastrous consequences. Egypt is very important for the whole region; a civil war here would be catastrophic far beyond the country’s own borders.

Egypt’s second revolution is a fact. New elections are set for January 2014. Will they find the right man to take over, or can we expect more unrest?

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