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Middle East and Africa

The Egyptian deadlock

Interview with Mona Makram-Ebeid, Senator, member of the National Council for Human Rights and Professor of the American University

‘The situation in Egypt now is at a standstill. It is a deadlock between two opposing forces who continue to ignore each other and no dialogue is possible between them at this present time. On the one hand there is the Islamist current and on the other the non-Islamist one. The non-Islamist current has made a few suggestions to the presidency to alleviate this clash and to try to alleviate the violence too that has been going on in the streets. They have asked for amendments to the Constitution which does not protect all the rights, human, economic and social rights, as it was claimed and expected in a new Constitution after a revolution. They also want to have a new government, a coalition government of different forces so that it is neutral during the elections, and also to remove the Prosecutor General who was imposed by the presidency and not elected by the Supreme Court.



There have been repeated violations of human rights in the past months and attacks on the judiciary, which is a highly respected institution in Egypt and abroad. So this violation against the freedom of expression, the freedom of writers and journalists etc. has been refused. All these claims were not taken into consideration by the ruling party or the President, and this is why we have this very serious clash between the two forces.



Will the coming elections be able to introduce a change, or some kind of movement in this deadlock?



‘No, because there is only one part that is going to take part in the elections. The non-Islamist parties, in fact have declared that they will boycott the elections unless their demands are met. And it seems that they will keep firmly to their standpoint. They do not want to take part in the elections so that they do not give them a legitimacy’.



And the Islamists? What is their reaction to the threat of a boycott?



They are now trying to see if they can get some members of the opposition parties to start talks with them. But until now they have refused.



In your opinion which kind of solution would be viable now?



There must be flexibility on both sides, because the country is in a severe state of chaos. The last word has not been said yet.



What is your personal hope?



I hope that both sides will be able to be flexible. I see that some members of the opposition do not agree with the proposal to boycott the elections and so maybe new ideas will come out in the coming days in preparation for the meeting with the elections.



And do you see signs of flexibility among the Islamists?



No, but we are hoping. The most important challenge is to plan the future of the Egyptian State. The Islamist vision of the State (a theocracy) is different from the vision of the opposition parties (a democracy), but they could find a platform of mutual interest if the wise people on both sides take the lead.



Is the very difficult economic situation of your country pushing for change? Is it moving towards a new awareness of the political parties?



Of course. There are more and more people who are angry with the rise in prices, and the new taxes they have to pay. They can see that there is a lot of injustice and this increasing number of angry ordinary people is a big challenge for whoever is now trying to rule Egypt.



And what about the Coptic position in this context?



The Copts are very angry because of the distribution of the seats and the division of the constituencies. Many constituencies have been divided in a way that will prevent the Coptic candidates from getting a seat, even in some areas where there is no majority but a considerable number of Christians. The rise and domination of the Islamist trend has terrorized a lot of Coptic Christians. They are afraid of the future and feel the real risk of becoming, and being threated as, second class citizens. However, I can say that there is no persecution now against them, there is discrimination. They represent an important part of the Egyptian population which is very concerned about the future. In fact some of them have chosen to emigrate. This is why I fight for their rights, as I’m fighting to defend every single citizen. We must remember that Egypt was one of the first signatories of the Human Rights Declaration.



The young generations played a key role during the days of the revolution. Where are they today?



The young generation, the young revolutionaries, Muslims and Christians, feel that the revolution was stolen, and they are angry and will probably join the coming boycott. And I wish to remember the very important participation of the Coptic youth in the January 25 revolution. They had many martyrs in those circumstances. They asked for rights not alms. During the revolution there was a very deep solidarity and conviviality between the Coptic and Muslim youth. That is why today there is this great disappointment: that conviviality did not last and we feel the need for it to return for the good of Egypt.



How do the Coptic people see the new Pope Tawadros II?



I think that it is a great blessing for Copts and Muslims in Egypt to have such a wise and patriotic man at the helm of the Christian Church, which is one of the main institutions in Egypt. Thanks to his wisdom he is able to come together with the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the leader of the Muslim community. Both of them are wise men and both of them have the interest of Egypt at heart and are fighting for national unity.