For Immediate Release: November 17, 2011
New York City – Political parties in Egypt are planning a mass demonstration in Cairo tomorrow to protest the continuing efforts by the ruling military council, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), to control Egypt’s government. Human Rights First said the protest is further proof that Egypt’s military rulers must agree to cede power to make way for a transition to democratic, civilian rule in Egypt.
“The SCAF appears to be reverting to the pattern of rule employed by former President Mubarak for decades. It is portraying itself and its authoritarian practices as essential bulwarks against instability, extremism and anti-Western sentiment, while at the same time allowing such forces to bubble up to the surface from time to time to play on the fears of secularists, religious minorities and the West,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks. “This was a dangerous game under Mubarak that contributed to Egypt producing some of the most virulent religious extremists in the region. It ultimately failed to produce a stable, sustainable government in Egypt. It is reckless to believe that a return to military dominated authoritarianism in Egypt would produce anything but further instability, economic uncertainty and political violence.”
The so-called supra-constitutional principles, announced by SCAF appointed deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmi earlier this month, provoked almost universal criticism from political parties from across the political spectrum opposed to what was seen as a brazen power grab by the military. The proposed principles would give the military permanent powers to intervene in the political process, would shield the military budget from public scrutiny, and would have allowed the SCAF to dominate the selection process for the committee charged with writing Egypt’s new constitution. In an attempt to weaken opposition to its plans, al-Selmi and the SCAF have recently backed away from some of these claims during negotiations with representatives of political parties. Even so, the threat to Egypt’s democratic transition presented by the SCAF’s reluctance to cede power remains.
“A peaceful democratic transition in Egypt is in the best interest of Egyptians and of the United States,” noted Hicks. “The U.S. government must continue to make clear its opposition to the SCAF’s obstructive tactics, and should increase its pressure on Egypt’s rulers by all means, including as necessary by attaching certain targeted conditions to military assistance given to Egypt each year by the United States, to restore basic political freedoms by lifting the emergency law, to end the trial of civilians by military courts, to cease attacks on independent civil society organizations and to release detained bloggers and cease attacks against independent journalists.”
Given the SCAF’s last minute concessions and maneuvers, Friday’s protests may only be supported by some political factions, but the principle of continuing military domination being incompatible with democratic transition is irrefutable. Human Rights First states that the sooner the SCAF concedes this point, the better the prospects for Egypt’s transition to break out of the malaise that has plagued it for the past few months.