Last November, it was declared that 4 Egyptian opposition parties and 5 human rights organizations witnessed the establishment of the Committee for the Defense of Democracy”; these parties are:
Al-Araby Al-Nasseri, Al-Tagammu’ “advanced”, Al-Wafd (liberal), Socialist Party (under establishment). The Human rights organizations are: The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, Center for Human Rights for assistance of Prisoners, Hesham Mubarak Law Center, Al-Nadim Center for Mental Treatment and Rehabilitation, and Dar Syndicate Services.
The committee was formed of the parties and organizations that opposed the Non-Governmental Organizations Law No. 84 of 2002, which was decreed although it was severely attached by the opposition parties and human rights organizations. Although the committee for the defense of democracy has defined its tasks and objectives since it was established, which are: to demand the guarantee of public freedom and basic rights of citizens and providing guarantee of litigation; to cancel Marshall Law and constitutional amendment so there would be democratic constitution, where the State is the source of authority; to change local administration into real popular rule; to liberate freedoms of forming parties and organizations; and to amend the system of election for Presidency, however, the committee raised several questions and expressed differences about the objectives and formation of the committee.
This issue was addressed in a seminar held by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) within the frame of Ibn Roshd salon under the title: “Social Committee for the defense of democracy”. Bahey El Din Hassan, CIHRS Director, started by stating that establishing this committee is a very important initiative for the development of struggle for democracy and human rights. He indicated the establishment of the committee came just a few months after publishing the report on Human Development which received great interest in the Arab world. The report regarded the absence of freedoms is the basic constraint facing development and progress in the Arab region.
Mr. Hassan further clarified that establishing the committee has raised, and still does, a number of questions about the lessons learned from earlier attempts and experiences which have set similar objectives, and the negative aspects that should be avoided, in addition to the nature of the challenges that the committee must face in this stage, with the several considerations, mainly the resistance of the Arab region to democratic change. Hassan raised other questions about lack of a time schedule to implement the announced objectives of the committee, and stated there are other questions raised by the media especially with respect to membership of Moslem Brothers Group in it, and the practices of some parties within the frame of concluding dealings with the government.
Hafez Abou Se’da, Secretary General of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights stated there are several precedents to establish similar committees; however, he considers the current committee is distinctive for confronting the latest National Organization Law, which is a coronation of a bundle of integrated legislations restricting freedoms and public rights.
He explained that the organization has actually launched a campaign against Marshall Law because of its negative impact on rights and freedoms, since it is a constraint to all rights and freedoms stipulated in the Egyptian Constitution.
He gave an example of the weak and frail demonstrations in Egypt opposing the war, whereas in different countries of the world there were massive groups of citizens.
He asserted that the legislative and legal structure in Egypt is the reason for the decline of people’s participation, in addition to influences on the Parties’ work and freedom of journalism. He added that the committee focuses on the laws restricting public freedoms in Egypt, and on developing existing legislations and laws, so they would be in coordination with the Constitution and international charters signed by Egypt.
Hussein Abdul Razek, Assistant Secretary General to Tagammu’ Party, and one of the main leaders in the committee, initially stated that the Committee for the Defense of Democracy is not the first formed for that purpose. The first attempt in this respect took place after Sadat signed Camp David treaty and the “Committee of the 100” was established. Since that time, there were 7 other attempts to establish similar committees, among which were the Coordination Committee between Parties and Vocational Syndicates, and the National Conference for Democracy, as well as the Committee for Political and Constitutional Reform.
Abdul Razek believes the current committee is distinctive because, for the first time, it gathers the parties and human rights organizations together, after a huge gap in work between them, so they were viewed by some that they were established to confront the parties, specially that some of the founders of these organizations assumed different position in the opposition parties, which created an unhealthy relationship between both sides.
Abdul Razek attributed the absence of the Brothers group and labor party from the membership of the committee to the lack of their participation in the first meeting when it was suggested to form the committee, and when it was targeted to cancel the Non-Governmental Organizations Law No. 32 of 1964, noting that the deputies of the Brothers in the Parliament declared their approval of the law. The Presidents of the Al-Wafd and Tagammu’ and Nasseri agreed to postpone the subject of Brothers participation in the committee for some time, because of some sensitivities and earlier experiences that led to the cessation of the coordinating and political powers committee, and the crisis of “Sea weeds banquet” blasted by the Labor Party.
He stated the committee is encountering a number of challenges related to the government’s practices and the legislations restraining freedoms, besides the absence of the democratic traditions in the parties and among cultural and political elite, the varying degree of dependence on democracy by the parties, political, and cultural organizations.
He believes the committee declared its presence since its establishment relatively well; it has led a campaign against the extension of the Marshall Law and obtained signatures to present to the People’s Assembly; and prepared a study on the Party’s law and the law for practicing political rights and elections. The other democratic powers outside the committee must support it and not only to criticize matters undermining its work. He criticized the position of some parties’ journalists and private newspapers from the committee.
Farouk Al-Ashri, Education secretary at the Nasseri Party and it representative in the committee, stated that the committee did not start its work from vacuum, but has resumed the efforts of successive battles by national parties and organizations who participated in different phases of the Egyptian history.
However, Al-Ashri considers there is some negative aspects in forming the committee, is that it does not include all the parties and political powers. He indicated that they excluded the Moslem Brothers and Labor Party from its membership. He requested this negative aspect be addressed as soon as possible, and not to exclude other parties under any circumstances. He also a speech should be given to all parties, political powers and civil society associations to define its position regarding joining in the committee membership.
Al-Ashri said the task is very great and five parties and five organizations alone would not be able to perform them, and he regretted lack of support to the committee by some parties.
Regarding what was mentioned about establishing the committee at the time the American Prime Minister Colin Powel declared the initiative for partnership and democracy in the Middle East, and he explained that the committee for the defense of democracy started its work before this initiative, and in fact was surprised about it and issued a statement refuting it and requesting the government and national work organizations to abandon it.
Dr. Aida Seif Al-Dawla, Director of Al-Nadim Center for Mental Treatment and Rehabilitation, blamed the committee for excluding the non-government organizations that participated in refuting the national organization law. She said it is understandable not to invite the forces that defended the law, clearly referring to the Moslem Brothers Group. She said the committee did not claim to be the only one to defend democracy, and further requested those who oppose the objectives and work of the committee to form special committees with whatever objectives they deem necessary to be achieved.
Dr. Aida did not reject opening the door for membership in the committee, but requested the political powers to join together to initially approve the charter of the committee.
She further criticized what she described as taking decision by agreement in the committee. She expressed her fear that some members would withdraw if his opinion is not taken. She described Powel’s initiative as being impudent, on the basis that the practices of the American administration head towards the opposite direction of democracy.
Bahey El Din Hassan expressed his concern that Powel’s initiative would become the main concern of the committee in light of the statements issued. He asserted he completely agrees with refuting the initiative and said the committee should focus more on what should be done internally, and on the huge task at hand, which is political reform.
The attendees at the seminar exchanged conflicts and conservations about the committee. Dr. Magdi Korkor, Assistant Secretary of the Labor Party, stated that the committee is a non-democratic beginning, particularly with reference to the exclusion of the Moslem Brothers Group and Labor Party from its membership, as it conveys the principle of exclusion. He said there were previous experiences of conflicts before, but we could have built on those experiences and not wasted work done in them.
He added that the Muslim Brotherhood Group may have made a mistake in voting for the Non-Governmental Organizations Law, but that does not mean to exclude them because they represent a large segment of the national and political systems in the Egyptian society.
Hazem Mounir, a journalist in London’s Alhayat newspapers, talked about some departures in the committee’s work, for example the limited participation of Al-Wafd, which is the liberal party in the committee; and simplifying the impact of Powel’s initiative on the committee’s work without declaring the existing differences in positions regarding the initiative. He exclaimed how can the Islamic powers be included in the committee, when, in their practices, they disbelieve in democracy although they raise its slogan.
Negad El Boraie, lawyer and former Director of the Group Democratic Development (GDD), was the sharpest in criticizing the committee. He compared it to the meeting of the Arab Foreign Ministers, and said the similarity between them is that they put on their shoulders huge objectives without having the capabilities to achieve them. El Boraie said that the Committee for the Defense of Democracy emerged out of a failing committee which is the political and constitutional reform committee. In addition, the committee focused on attacking the American government subsequent to announcing the democracy initiative. The committee issued a strongly worded statement refusing to meet the American Government delegate, although the delegate did not request to meet with any of its members.
El Boraie called the human rights organizations participating in the committee, to reconsider their presence in the committee on the basis that the committee’s work is led by the political situations.
Farouk Al Ashri asserted that the committee in fact needs to organize its priorities within its available capabilities, but he appealed to everyone to join the committee.
Hussein Abdul Razek denied the fact that committee focuses to respond to Powel’s initiative, and said the committee issued one single statement about the initiative, and a statement refusing to meet with the American Government delegate to discuss the initiative, where the parties and Non-Governmental Organizations were asked not to meet him.
He asserted that there is team work in the committee, where the dominating power does not seek to control other powers. He said other people’s views are not excluded in the committee, referring to connection between issues of freedoms.
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