Trip Report by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter
to Egypt, Jan. 8-14, 2012
Jan. 17, 2012
The primary purpose of my trip was to join 40 other Carter Center election observers who have been deployed in Egypt since late November. Additionally, I wished to consult with the leaders of the major political parties, Supreme Council for Armed Forces (SCAF), the prime minister, election officials, donors, U.S. officials, revolutionary activists, women's rights leaders and others who will shape the future of the nation.
The first voting is to choose delegates from 27 governorates (geographical areas similar to states) to the People's Assembly. Beginning on 28 November and ending 11 January, three rounds of voting have been held in 9 governorates at a time, to choose a total of 498 delegates (10 more will be appointed). The next phase, beginning 29 January, will be a two-step election to choose 2/3 (180) of the members of the upper house (Shura). Together these parliamentary officials will then select 100 citizens who will draft a new constitution that will be submitted to citizens for approval in a referendum. The present schedule calls for a president to be elected in June, who will appoint the remaining Shura members (90).
Despite the extreme complexity of this first democratic election, assessments by us and other observers after the People's Assembly campaigns are that despite a number of complaints and problems (some districts have been required to re-vote), the general consensus is that the announced results represent the will of the citizens who voted. There are no substantial allegations that irregularities were designed to favor any parliamentary candidates over others.
Preliminary results from delegate elections gave Islamist parties about 71 percent of the Assembly seats, (Muslim Brotherhood 47 percent and Salafists 24 percent), with the remainder divided among about a dozen political parties and independents. I was assured by U.S. State Department officials before leaving home that this victory of Islamists would be accepted and that meetings with them had already begun. The Muslim Brotherhood announced that they would not form a governing coalition with the Salafists.
It seemed to me that the basic question to be decided is whether the SCAF (military junta) will relinquish full control of the government to the elected officials.
I was met in Cairo and briefed by U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson and then joined with Dr. John Hardman, David Carroll, Hrair Balian, and others from The Carter Center. Tuesday morning we received detailed analyses by experts on the election process and political affairs, and then had a thorough discussion with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the SCAF and acting as de facto president of Egypt.
Since the overthrow of King Farouk in 1953, Egypt has been governed by military leaders, who have accumulated and maintained full political and military power and substantial control over economic and commercial affairs. Despite the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, the military has retained an overwhelming portion of its historic authority. Only pressure from the revolutionary forces on the streets has resulted in grudging concessions.
I was received with a friendly welcome as I congratulated the military leaders for what seemed to be a successful election, and then asked a number of questions. It seemed that the SCAF had full confidence that there would be accommodation to their demands by the Muslim Brotherhood and their coalition partners as the new government is formed. Instead of the reported 12,000 mostly political prisoners being held for trials in military courts, the Field Marshal stated that there were no more than 3,000, all of whom were guilty of criminal acts and being tried in civilian courts. He stated that the widely promulgated videos showing military attacks on demonstrators and a woman "with the blue brassiere" were all falsified. He said the soldiers were actually helping the woman re-clothe herself with what was provocative attire. I was assured that the emergency law would be lifted before the presidential election, no later than June.
The military leaders could not imagine any constitutional issues being unresolved through dialogue. Full civilian control of the government was envisioned by June, but it was my impression that some key elements of historic autonomy and privileges would be retained. (See later comments.) They fully supported all facets of the peace agreement and would continue to be cooperative with Israel. When I asked about the raids on offices of NDI, IRI, and other NGOs, they stated that specific laws had been violated and that action had been taken by the Ministry of Justice as required. They realize that this is a matter of contention with the U.S. and are trying to resolve the issues.
We then met with Prime Minister Kamal El Ganzouri, who had served in this capacity about 15 years ago, and has the burden of governing on his shoulders. He is faced with a need for $10 billion to cover government needs during the first three months of this year, and financial assistance from the U.S. and Arab countries is not forthcoming. He knows that the impending sessions with the IMF are likely to force very unpopular decisions on the government, such as reducing subsidies on bread and other consumer goods. He will continue to serve until a new government is formed, but is eager to return to his former retirement role. He is respected, and acceptable to all the major political parties to serve in this interim period.
In the afternoon we went to visit polling places and to meet with news media, but the friendly crowd at the first location was so dense around me that we could not move or communicate, so we abandoned the effort and went to some unannounced voting sites. A judge was presiding over each one, many of the officials were school teachers, and there were a number of party observers in each place. They all expressed gratitude for the peace agreement and for our witnessing the first election that had any real significance. Carter Center observers had assessed more than 1,700 polling places throughout the country.
We visited the members of the High Elections Commission Wednesday morning. A large group of senior men, they acknowledged having received about 900 complaints, which had been referred to the Chief Prosecutor, none of which had yet been resolved. When I later asked to meet with him, he declined my request. Many of the complaints seemed to be about the religious parties (Christians and Islamists) injecting their faith into the campaign, which is legally forbidden. We then had a series of meetings with the smaller parties, including one that is headed by Anwar Sadat, nephew of the former leader. All of them assessed the election process as vastly improved over previous ones, with many errors and complaints, but generally representing the will of voters. The presentation by Al-Nour (Salafists) was especially complete and knowledgeable, although the party was formed only about six months ago. They claimed that, with more time, they could get a majority of voters' support. They said that any religious laws implemented in the future would have special exclusions apply to Christians. There would be no repeat of problems we witnessed in South Sudan, where 95 percent of the first hands cut off for theft were among non-Muslims.
In the evening we planned to observe the counting of votes after ballot boxes were brought to a central location, but our advance team was unable to reach the site after spending two hours caught in traffic. Even with a police escort, we decided it would be best to cancel our plans. Carter Center observers, already in the area, witnessed the counting.
The next morning we visited the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood and their Freedom and Justice Party. It is in a beautiful site above a prominent mosque and citadel, to which an enormous aqueduct was built in the early 16th century to furnish water from the Nile. Knowing that they had won at least 45 percent of the parliamentary seats, their leaders were making plans for the coming election for the upper house (Shura Council), discussing potential members of the Constitutional Committee, and the formation of a government. They had begun meeting with the SCAF to discuss the transition and with other political party leaders to form a majority coalition. They assured me that there would be complete civilian control of the future government but perhaps a transitional period during which the military might enjoy some special privileges. This might include involvement in preparation of the military budget, with final decisions being made by the parliament.
That day and throughout the week I had interviews with prominent news media. I stated this as my opinion in a press interview, and the SCAF quickly issued a public statement that there would be complete transfer of authority to the elected government. I hope this is true.
As did other political leaders with whom we met, the Muslim Brotherhood leaders assured me that all provisions of the Camp David Accords would be honored, including peace between Egypt and Israel and protection of Palestinian rights including withdrawal of Israelis to the 1967 borders.
During the rest of the day we met with other political parties, domestic observers, women's rights activists, and leaders of the Revolutionary Youth Council. It was especially disappointing to realize that only about 1 percent of the elected parliamentarians will be women. Previously existing quotas were removed, and all the parties had moved women to the bottom of their lists. Some of the women condemned the entire electoral process, and others claimed that the newly elected government would not be an improvement. An especially effective spokesperson for women's rights will be Samira Ibrahim, a young woman who filed a lawsuit against the military government for forcing her to submit to an invasive examination to determine if she was a virgin. The court had reduced her serious charge to a much lesser misdemeanor.
The young revolutionaries we met said they had decided not to seek or accept public office in this first election, but would monitor this process very closely. They can still marshal vast numbers of demonstrators, and have had incredible success during the past year in forcing policy changes by the SCAF. They are demanding an end to military rule by January 25, a goal that will not be realized. I advised them to assess the text of the constitution before renewing their mass demonstrating. They were very critical of the U.S. failure to support their cause.
Our final meetings of the day were with the Al-Wafd party (probably 52 delegates elected) and presidential candidate Amr Mousa, former foreign minister and Secretary-General of the Arab League. He is already campaigning actively.
Friday morning we received reports from our observer teams representing 24 nations (mostly favorable while acknowledging problems), and completed our written press statement. We than met with our major donors and held a press conference, in which the repetitive question was whether the military will relinquish control to elected officials, to which I reiterated my expectation and desire that the SCAF will hand over governing power to elected officials.
Over lunch, we discussed the situation in Syria with Nabil ElAraby, Secretary-General of the Arab League. I suggested that they seek UN Security Council approval of a resolution calling for free elections for parliament and president, and the writing of a new constitution following a cease-fire and amnesty for all political prisoners. These elections would be monitored by international observers, with the entire process supervised by the Arab League and the UN. It is at least possible that the government, domestic demonstrators, and permanent members of the Security Council could agree, and is the only alternative I see to a devastating civil war that is impending.
We then met with leaders of other international observer groups, including NDI and IRI, who have not been accredited nor had their confiscated records, computers, and cash returned. Regarding the election process, their assessments are similar to ours. Our final sessions were with presidential candidates Bothaina Kamel, Ahmed Shafiq, Hamdeen Sabahi, and Mohamed El-Baradei (who withdrew from the race the next day). They all have widely different impressions and plans. It is expected that many others will qualify for the campaign.
Optimistic plans for future events include the election for the Shura Council, selection by the Council and People's Assembly of 100 persons to write the constitution, a referendum to assure its approval by the people, qualification of presidential candidates (about 15 April), election of a president (about 15 June) and inauguration at the end of June. We will apply for the continuing involvement of The Carter Center until the process is completed.
I have been to Egypt many times, and enjoyed the remarkable new atmosphere of excitement, gratitude, free sharing of ideas, and hopes for the future, all combined with some trepidation that dreams of peace, freedom, and democracy might not be realized. It is gratifying to be involved in these historic developments in Egypt.