B Introductory memorandum by Mr Gardetto,
In the context of the preparation
of my report on the co-operation between the Council of Europe and
the emerging democracies in the Arab world last year, I had the
opportunity to visit Egypt in September 2011 together with Mr Konstantinos
Vrettos, rapporteur on the situation in the Middle East. On the
basis also of the findings of my visit, I prepared an Addendum to
my report just before the debate scheduled for the October 2011
part-session so as to include the latest developments in the region
2. During my visit to Cairo last year, I had discussions with
representatives of political parties, civil society and the media,
as well as the Chief of the Intelligence Services of the country,
Major General Mowafy. Representatives of Egyptian political parties
were subsequently invited for an exchange of views with the committee
and its Sub-Committee on the Middle East respectively in October
and December 2011. They all insisted on the importance of strengthening
ties between the Assembly and Egypt and on offering political support
to the ongoing process of transition.
3. Given the hugely important geopolitical role of Egypt and
the impact that political and constitutional developments in this
county may have on the whole region of the southern Mediterranean
and the Middle East, I proposed, in February this year, a motion
for a resolution on “The political transition in Egypt” suggesting
that our Assembly should follow closely the situation in Egypt and
the process of political transition and further develop its contacts
with both politicians and civil society in this country.
4. On 30 May 2012, I was appointed rapporteur for this motion
and intended to ask the authorisation of the committee in order
to carry out a fresh visit to the country, to take stock of developments
since last year and develop contacts in order to present a report
to the committee and then the Assembly in the forthcoming months.
5. However, worrying constitutional developments in Egypt in
recent weeks, in particular the dissolution of parliament and the
adoption of a constitutional declaration by the Supreme Council
of Armed Forces (SCAF), which increases substantially its power
and strips the newly elected president of his principal powers,
prompted the decision of the Assembly to hold a debate under urgent
procedure on the situation in Egypt at this part-session. I have
therefore had only a few hours to prepare a report for approval
by the committee and submission to the Assembly. At the same time,
at the precise moment we decided to hold this debate, the newly elected
president had just made his first public statements. It is, therefore,
too early for us to make any clear assessment of what direction
developments may take.
6. I will therefore limit myself to summarising developments
and briefly present the main challenges the newly elected president
faces, as well as the main risks and opportunities for democracy
in Egypt. I also believe that, in the context of the present report
and the debate under urgent procedure, our Assembly should reiterate what
the Council of Europe can offer to the new political institutions
in Egypt. Beyond that, I have probably more questions than answers,
like most of my colleagues in the Assembly. Listing them can at
least serve as pointers for our debate.
7. After this debate, and depending on developments in the country,
I intend to go to Egypt and report back to the committee on the
basis of more substantial information which I will collect on the
8. To start with and partly for the reasons I explained above,
I propose to modify the title of the report. To speak about “crisis
of democracy” presupposes there is democracy. However, Egyptians
are still in the process of “transition”, hopefully to democracy,
but they are not yet there. I also fear that such a title could
be misinterpreted as putting into question the results of the election
of the new president. The intention of those who proposed the debate
under urgent procedure was no doubt to ring the alarm bell about
the obstacles on the path to democracy that have occurred during
the present transitional period and, in particular, the risk that the
goals of the revolution are being confiscated by the military. At
the same time, the election of the new president, his first statements
and the reactions of the military and the international community,
raise the prospects of normalisation and opportunities for the future.
I thus propose that the report and debate be entitled “Crisis of
transition to democracy in Egypt”.
9. It has to be stressed from the outset that the very election
of Mr Mohammed Morsi as President of Egypt is of historic importance
as he is the first democratically elected, civilian President of
Egypt, which is the largest country in the Middle East. Also, the
elections themselves appear to have been free and fair and this,
again, is in itself an extremely important and positive development
both for Egypt and the entire region of the Middle East and beyond.
overview of recent developments
10. When we were in Egypt last
September, all our interlocutors told us that the Muslim Brotherhood
was undoubtedly the largest and best organised political group in
Egypt, a country in which religion (whether Muslim or Christian)
plays an important role. On launching their new party, the Muslim
Brotherhood confirmed that they did not object to women or Copts
in a ministerial position (cabinet). One of the vice-presidents
of the new party is Copt. They do however deem “unsuitable” both
women and Copts for the presidency.
11. According to analysts, the primary role which the Brotherhood
was called upon to perform appeared to be due not only to the strong
religious impregnation of the Egyptian people, but also to the social
context and the deep-seated clientelism of the vote in Egypt. As
I noted in the addendum to my report on the co-operation between
the Council of Europe and the emerging democracies in the Arab world,
the Islamist vote is also perceived as having the advantage of giving
meaning and significance to public action because it sustains a project.
12. At the same time, all our interlocutors credited the Muslim
Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, overall, with a score ranging
from 25% to 33%, making it in all probability the country’s leading
political force, but without it attaining the absolute majority
that would allow it to govern on its own. We were told that the Brotherhood
appeared not to want to really exercise power, no doubt for fear
that the measures which would need to be proclaimed just after the
elections might make their backers unpopular, thus losing part of
the revolutionary people’s support. So it was said they would only
put forward candidates in half the constituencies. This prognosis
proved to be wrong, to the surprise of many liberal politicians
and analysts inside and outside the country.
13. The electoral system has been an issue of controversy between
the SCAF and the political parties and was also raised in our discussions
with representatives of political parties. Initially, draft amendments
to the law on the parliamentary elections proposed by the SCAF provided
for half of the seats in the parliament to be allocated by a vote
on party lists and half by a vote on a single candidate list. Representatives
of all political parties we met stressed their preference for elections
on the basis solely of party lists, as they feared that single candidate
lists would privilege former members of Hosni Mubarak’s National
Democratic Party (NDP).
14. We were in Cairo on the very day, Sunday 25 September 2011,
that Egypt's Cabinet, in a meeting headed by Prime Minister Essam
Sharaf, approved the amendments to the law on the elections. The amendments
approved provided that two thirds of the parliament would be elected
through (closed) party lists while one third would be elected through
a single candidate list. The new law divided Egypt into 129 constituencies
– 46 where members would be elected using the party list voting
system, and 83 where members would be elected using a single candidate
list voting system. It also reduced parliamentary seats from 504
15. The parliamentary elections to the People’s Assembly took
place from the end of November 2011 to the beginning of January
2012; those to the Upper House of the Parliament, the Shuria, from
the end of January 2012 to the end of February 2012. The length
of the electoral process was explained by the fact the judiciary had
sole authority to supervise the elections (the High Elections Commission
being exclusively composed of judges) in a country lacking a sufficient
number of judges to cover all the polling stations at once. The
elections to the People’s Assembly were therefore conducted in thirds,
with two rounds each time, beginning with voting in a third of the
constituencies, then in the next third, then in the last third,
on each occasion at an interval of some weeks. Furthermore, there
were two rounds per zone.
16. The final results in Egypt's first post-Mubarak parliamentary
elections confirmed an overwhelming victory for Islamist parties.
The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party won a much higher
score than expected and the largest number of seats, namely 235
seats (47.2%) out of a total of 498. Even more surprising was the
score obtained by the hard-line Salafist Nour party, which came
second and won 121 seats (24.3%).
17. The liberal New Wafd party and the liberal Egyptian Bloc coalition,
whose representatives we had met last September in Cairo, came far
behind, obtaining respectively 38 seats (7.6%) and 34 seats (6.8%). Mohammed
Saad al-Katatni, from the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected by a large
majority of MPs as the Speaker of the People’s Assembly at the inaugural
session on 23 January 2012.
18. The first task of the new parliament was to elect a 100-member
Constituent Assembly to draft the new constitution.
The main challenges in the elaboration of the new constitution
- the role of Sharia:
would Sharia be the primary source of law? And which “version” of
Sharia? A “strict” or a “soft” version of it? How would Sharia be
reconciled with the principles of the rule of law?
- the balance of power between the president and the parliament;
- the role of the military;
- the rights of Egypt’s religious and ethnic minority groups;
- the place of women.
20. After a Constituent Assembly, in which Islamists had the majority,
was suspended by the Administrative Court of Cairo in April 2012
amid a boycott by groups which claimed liberals, secularists, women,
young people and minorities were under-represented, a deal was reached
at the beginning of June 2012 between representatives of political
parties and the military on the composition of the Constituent Assembly.
According to the agreement, 39 seats would be allocated to representatives
of parties in the People’s Assembly, dominated by the Islamists,
13 seats to unions, 6 to judges, while 9 would go to experts in
law, with one seat each for the armed forces, police and the justice
ministry. Al-Azhar University, one of Sunni Islam’s most important
institutions, would be given 5 seats and the Coptic Orthodox Church
of Egypt would get 4. Furthermore, 21 public figures would be appointed.
Decisions would be endorsed by a two-thirds majority.
21. While preparations for the elaboration of the new constitution
were ongoing, with all the difficulties mentioned above, the presidential
elections were also marked by many controversies, in particular
regarding the admissibility of candidates.
22. After a first round at the end of May 2012 gave no clear winner,
two candidates confronted each other in a second round in mid-June:
Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohammed Morsi, and the former air
force commander and former Prime Minister of Mubarak, Ahmed Shafik.
23. Only a few days before the second round of elections, on 14
June 2012, the Constitutional Court, composed of judges appointed
during the Mubarak era, in an unexpected decision, ruled that the
election of one third of MPs during the last parliamentary elections
on the single candidate list was unconstitutional and ordered the
dissolution of parliament. A decree of the SCAF dissolving the parliament
on the basis of the court ruling was issued and soldiers surrounded
the parliament to prevent MPs from entering the building.
24. Just as the polls for the second round of presidential elections
closed on 17 June, the SCAF issued an interim Constitutional Declaration,
which granted them legislative powers until a new parliament was functioning
and thus reinforced their role in the drafting of the future constitution.
The Constitutional Declaration stripped the president of the country
of powers in the areas of the budget, as well as foreign and defence
policy, which were to be retained by the military. The re-establishment
of the National Defence Council, putting the generals in charge
of Egypt's national security policy, was announced by Field Marshal
Tantawi, chairing the SCAF.
25. In a positive development, the state of emergency was lifted
on 31 May 2012. But in mid-June, the SCAF issued a decree granting
the military broad powers of arrest and detention of civilians for
trial in military courts for a wide range of offences until the
ratification of a new constitution.
26. The military explained the necessity of the Constitutional
Declaration, saying that it was meant to fill a power vacuum in
the absence of a parliament and ensure that the president would
not monopolise power. The military said they would hand over executive
power to the newly elected president on 1 July 2012.
27. As far as the presidential election itself is concerned, the
announcement of the results was delayed for four days, both candidates
having filed complaints against each other for fraud.
28. All these worrying developments prompted people to gather
in Tahrir Square, which was the scene of massive demonstrations,
and provoked concern throughout the international community about
the future of Egypt’s transition.
29. Fears that the military would impose former Prime Minister
Shafik, thus giving rise to a violent confrontation on the streets,
were dismissed when the High Elections Commission finally announced
the results on Sunday 24 June. The victory of the Muslim Brotherhood’s
Mohammed Morsi was confirmed, albeit by a narrow majority (51.7%
of the vote).
30. The announcement of the results was accepted with relief both
inside and outside Egypt, since it obviated fears of possible widespread
violence. Mr Morsi called for unity and stressed that he would be
the president of “all Egyptians”, men and women, Muslims and Christians.
The military congratulated Mr Morsi on his election and said they
would stand by him to ensure the stability of the country. The announcement
of the election results has moreover been welcomed by the international
community in very positive terms, underlining the historical significance
of this election, which also had an immediate positive impact on
31. That said, and while there is a wave of optimism today in
Cairo, the challenges Egypt faces are still huge and the risks and
obstacles to its transition to democracy are still significant.
3 Main challenges,
obstacles, risks and opportunities
32. Mr Morsi is the first president
elected in Egypt after elections were deemed, overall, to be free
and fair, and he enjoys the legitimacy of a significant proportion
of the population. It is indeed difficult for anyone to challenge
the legitimacy of this victory or to claim that the electoral machinery
was biased in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood.
33. As said earlier, this election is, in itself, a victory for
the emerging Egyptian democracy as fears that the military would
take full control of the country appear to have been obviated.
34. While the powers of the newly elected president have been
significantly reduced, he still has the power to appoint a prime
minister and a government, and powers over several aspects of domestic
35. One of the greatest challenges the president will now have
to face is to reassure those Egyptians who are longing for security
and stability and the chance to build the country's economy but
who are, at the same time, deeply polarised. Many of them are suspicious
of the new president’s intentions and fear that Egypt may turn into
an Islamic republic. In particular, there is a need to reassure
the revolutionary movement, which fears the confiscation of the
goals of the revolution by the military, on the one hand, and, on
the other, by the Islamists, and risks marginalisation.
36. Mr Morsi could reassure them through his choice of prime minister,
vice-presidents and cabinet ministers (notwithstanding the fact
that the key posts will have to be approved by the SCAF).
37. Another challenge for the newly elected president is the poor
state of the economy. Tourism has dramatically slumped, foreign
exchange reserves are dwindling rapidly and the government's finances
are in dire straits. Unemployment is high and on the rise, particularly
among young people.
38. Wide-ranging economic reforms will need to be urgently introduced
and the support of the international community is vital.
39. At the same time, the emerging democracy in Egypt is also
facing high risks coming from two main sources.
40. On the one hand, a fundamental question is how the army will
finally share power with the newly elected president and when will
a new parliament start functioning and resume full legislative power.
41. Firstly, the dissolution of parliament, the Constitutional
Declaration of 17 June, the enlarged arrest and detention powers
granted to the military, the questionable independence and impartiality
of the Constitutional Court in Egypt, give rise to many concerns
and constitute real risks for a slowly emerging democracy in a country
which has virtually no democratic experience.
42. Secondly, what will be the ultimate design of the balance
of powers in Egypt in the coming months and years?
43. On the other hand, while welcoming the democratic election
of the new president and without doubting his legitimacy, caution
is called for regarding the future of the country, as his statements
have often been perceived as ambiguous on such fundamental issues
as the role of women or religious minorities.
44. Thus, a third set of questions arises: what will be the relationship
between the Sharia and secular law in the new Egyptian State? Will
Sharia be the primary source of law? And if so, how can the Sharia
law be reconciled with the principles of the rule of law? Can equal
rights for men and women, as well as for Muslims and Christians,
be combined with such a prominent role for Sharia, for example?
It is worth recalling in this context that women and Christians
played an important role in the revolution. Are their rights under
threat in this new scenario?Note
It may also be recalled that, in its Recommendation 1957 (2011)
on violence against Christians in the Middle East, the
Assembly reiterated that “Christianity had its beginnings in the
Middle East 2 000 years ago, and that Christian communities have
existed in the area since” and it expressed concern at the recent deterioration
of the conditions in which these communities were living.
Unfortunately the situation has not improved, and successive
statements of the President of the Assembly and of the Committee
on Political Affairs and Democracy have been made since then.Note
48. It must be noted that, as a consequence of present instability,
Christians are leaving Egypt and certain sources indicate that some
100 000 have left during the last few months.
49. The future of Christians, as well as that of other religious
minorities in Egypt, is a reason for genuine concern and reassurances
from the new president are urgently needed.
50. Finally, the question of the new constitution is emblematic
for all the questions raised above, as all these fundamental issues
must be tackled, in one or another way, in this fundamental text.
In this respect, our Organisation could play an important and beneficial
role by offering the experience of the European Commission for Democracy
through Law (Venice Commission) in constitutional drafting. This
could be a concrete contribution that could be offered to facilitate
the difficult political transition in what is, after all, the largest
country in the Middle East.