Jan Royall on the need to ensure Egypt’s upcoming elections are free and fair, and deliver a real and lasting democracy
The Arab Spring was the beginning of a journey that the Arab world must undertake. It arrived in Egypt two years ago when people took to the streets to demand democracy, dignity social justice and freedom. While the past few days have been marred by disturbing scenes of violence in Port Said, it has also seen protestors mark the second anniversary of the revolution by filling Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
If I were Egyptian, I would be standing shoulder to shoulder with members of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party – to voice my criticism of President Morsi’s policies and reiterate the demands of the revolution.
Two years ago, Egyptians, weary of corruption, an economic system that delivered inequality instead of jobs, education and health, a lack of freedom and justice, and powerless in the face of the ruling elite, courageously took to the streets. They expected change but have not yet experienced it, and the revolution is still a work in progress. The desires and demands expressed by the people, together with respect for human rights underpinned by the rule of law, have not been realised giving rise to many frustrations. Rather than progressive change, fundamental freedoms have come under pressure, women’s rights have been restricted and members of the Coptic Church have faced executions and seen their churches burnt.
Change always brings instability but the challenge now is to move to a stable democracy with economic growth and social justice. With 30% of the population illiterate, more than 25% living in poverty and 57% aged under 25, the democratic transition and transformation of society will take time. There are no simple solutions, but this must be achieved if those hopes and dreams expressed two years ago are to be delivered.
There was great disappointment in Egypt and the wider world over the way the constitution was recently adopted. But the forthcoming elections to the first National Assembly can restore trust and global respect; and offer an opportunity to elect a parliament representing the political aspirations of all in Egyptian society. Free and fair elections will be a huge step towards a stable and sustainable democracy but the process must also be transparent and properly monitored if they are to have the confidence of voters and also the international community.
In answer to a question I put to Baroness Warsi in the Lords last Thursday, the Minister told the House that the issue of election monitoring has been raised with the Egyptian authorities, and that The Carter Center and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (both funded from the UK's Arab Partnership for previous elections in Egypt) expect to be allowed to deploy observers. I trust that our government, the EU and other Member States will keep up the pressure to ensure these expectations are realized.
I was in Cairo earlier this month for the first meeting of the Arab Social Democratic Forum, which is being supported by European Socialists. The Forum discussed ways of meeting the challenges facing democratic transition in the Arab World, to ensure steady progress towards freedom, democracy, social justice, economic development, the rule of law and good governance. We agreed that it is in our common interest that relations between the EU and Arab countries should be founded on an equal partnership, based on democratic principles, fundamental rights and fair trade.
The Egyptian Social Democrat Party, one of the leading Social Democratic Parties in both the region and the Forum, is campaigning for economic and social policies which guarantee everyone – regardless of gender, religion or social status – a full and effective citizenship with equal rights. They are ready to take the responsibilities of office, and I for one wish them strength and success as they try to help determine the future of their country.
Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour’s Leader in the House of Lords
Published 28th January 2013