For Immediate Release: August 3, 2012
Washington, DC – As Egypt’s new cabinet gets to work, it has much to do to support human rights, according to Human Rights First.
“There is no sign that the Egyptian military is willing to relax its grip on power,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks. Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the ruling military council, remains as Minister of Defense, a position he has held since 1991. Tantawi and the SCAF have been Egypt’s de-facto leaders since President Mubarak left office in February 2011. “The SCAF’s unwillingness to empower civilian institutions remains the greatest obstacle to Egypt’s democratic transition,” noted Hicks.
In recent days there have been serious incidents of violence against Christians in Dahshour, just 25 miles south of Cairo, Egypt’s new government must act to reassure religious minorities that their rights will be respected in the new Egypt.
The new cabinet, announced yesterday by Prime Minister Hesham Qandil, is primarily made up of technocrats, with holdovers from the previous cabinet in key positions. The boldest appointment is that of Counselor Ahmed Mekki as Minister of Justice. Mekki, a former senior judge, is a strong advocate of judicial independence who has criticized some recent decisions of the Supreme Constitutional Court. The SCC’s decision to invalidate the parliamentary elections led to the dissolution of the parliament and was seen as favoring the military over the Muslim Brotherhood. Mekki’s appointment may signal that the new government is prepared to challenge the military’s self-appointed predominance in Egypt’s evolving constitutional order.
Human Rights First had called for women to be better represented on the cabinet, but only two were appointed, one of whom is the cabinet’s only Coptic Christian. “It is disappointing that Egypt’s new cabinet does not break with the regrettable practices of the past,” noted Hicks, who said that women and religious minorities remain severely under-represented in senior government positions.
Hicks said it is reassuring that there is no place in the new government for the controversial former Minister of International Cooperation Faiza Aboul Naga, seen as the driving force behind the closure and prosecution of human rights and democracy promotion groups. However, attacks against independent civil society groups, including human rights organizations, are continuing. “There is a need for a new approach that protects the legitimate work of independent non-governmental organizations, especially those that are critical of government policies and work to increase transparency and to make the government accountable for its actions. This cabinet has a lot of work to do to earn the trust of the Egyptian people.”
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