Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Topical Issue Debate
Many are calling the events in Egypt a second revolution. I offer my full support to ordinary young people and workers in Egypt who are attempting to conclude the process started earlier this year with the overthrow of President Mubarak, an ally of successive US Administrations. The repression he imposed and the global economic crisis kicked off the revolutionary process earlier this year and raised the hopes of many ordinary people for fundamental change. The road to genuine freedom and democracy was not being blocked by just one man and his cronies but by an entire military cast and capitalist interests. The military's failure to hand over power and its unleashing of repressive measures in excess of President Mubarak's have caused outrage across the globe. In recent days thousands of activists have fought running battles with state forces over the control of Tahrir Square, 33 people have been killed and almost 2,000 seriously injured. The military has extended the 30-year state of emergency, with arbitrary detention being the norm and some 12,000 civilian critics facing military tribunals.
While we have seen the beginnings of a crack in the regime, clearly the situation is serious. The efforts of ordinary people to secure a decent future must progress. I, therefore, support the call for the holding of urgent genuine elections, which would constitute the first step of a process to improve democratic rights and ensure a better future for the ordinary people of the region.
I call on the Government, in particular the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, to condemn immediately, clearly, unequivocally and publicly the Egyptian military regime for the massacre of 33 protestors in Tahrir Square during the weekend and as many as 50 protestors in the past week or two. I also ask the Government to call publicly and unequivocally for the military clique surrounding Field Marshal Tantawi, a thug of President Mubarak, to step down, relinquish power to the civil authorities and give an immediate undertaking that democratic elections will be allowed to take place and that those elected will have full power without military intrusion. Will the Tánaiste call in the Egyptian ambassador who is located on Clyde Road in Ballsbridge to tell him that, unless there is a clear undertaking from the Egyptian authorities that they will end the repression of the democratic revolution in Egypt immediately, he will be expelled from Ireland and that we will sever diplomatic and other ties with the regime?
Will the Government speak out about the involvement of the United States through its continuing arming and support of the military clique responsible for the massacre during the weekend? Will the Government make public statements and call in the Saudi ambassador to question him on his country's financing of Salafi gangs which are whipping up sectarian conflict between Christians and Muslims and focusing vicious attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt in an attempt to disorganise and divide the country's democratic forces?
These are important steps that the Government could take to support the democratic revolution in Egypt, which is of historical importance. If the revolution is defeated, it will set back the cause of democracy in the Middle East for many years to come. The Government must side publicly with the protestors who are laying down their lives in the fight for democracy, justice and equality in Egypt.
Like many in the international community, the Government has been closely following events in Egypt in recent days in the run-up to historic parliamentary elections which are due to get under way on 28 November. We all recall the events last February in Tahrir Square which proved so inspiring, when the discredited government of former President Hosni Mubarak was swept away in an impressive demonstration of people power. In the intervening nine months, Ireland and its EU partners have been monitoring closely the transition to democratic rule in Egypt. We have been offering all possible political support and responded positively to requests for practical assistance. It is recognised that, as in other countries undergoing democratic transformation in the region, the uprising in Egypt that ended President Mubarak's rule was a genuinely popular one, drawing support from all sectors of society, and that it is for Egypt itself to determine the pace of its own transition and how the international community can best assist.
It needs to be recognised that profound and historic changes have taken place in Egypt during the past nine months. The country is on the verge of holding its first genuinely free elections in many years. Political parties have been openly campaigning, many of which, including those linked with the Muslim Brotherhood, would only have encountered repression previously. The former President and his close associates have been publicly put on trial for their crimes, an event to behold for ordinary Egyptians when they consider how impregnable the rule of President Mubarak appeared just one short year ago.
Despite this, concern has been growing in recent months at the overall slow pace of the transition in Egypt and the degree of real change and reform taking place. Despite repeated requests from the European Union and others, the ruling Supreme Command of the Armed Forces has refused to lift the long-standing state of emergency. As a hard hitting Amnesty International report has highlighted in recent days, we have continued to see large-scale trials of civilians in military courts, as well as many credible reports of arbitrary detention and torture.
Also of considerable concern has been the growth in sectarian tension. This had its most recent manifestation last month, when more than 20 people, mostly Coptic Christians, were killed after coming under attack from elements linked with Egyptian security forces. The military authorities have undertaken to investigate these deaths fully and also promised legislation to address well founded Coptic grievances. As with other aspects of the change agenda in Egypt, the pace of reform has been slow and hesitant.
Most recently, the prospect of military rule continuing until well into 2013 has caused renewed apprehension among many ordinary Egyptians, as well as Egypt's international partners. That this and other failures to realise the full promise of change have given way to renewed violence and deaths is regrettable. The Government joins others in the international community such as High Representative Ashton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in expressing our deep concern about and condemnation of the violence in Tahrir Square and other parts of Egypt that is now estimated to have claimed at least 33 lives.
The need for restraint, an avoidance of all violence and renewed dialogue on all sides is obvious. There is no doubt that excessive force has been used by the Egyptian police and security forces in responding to what are peaceful demonstrations in Tahrir Square and other Egyptian cities. The clear impetus behind all the renewed violence and tensions of recent days is the failure to respect fully the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people. High Representative Ashton has warned that the demands of ordinary Egyptians and their political parties for a progressively unfolding transition that will safeguard the principles of democracy must be listened to.
The head of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces in Egypt, Field Marshal Tantawi, has undertaken to advance the date for the presidential election to next July. He has also held out the prospect of a referendum on the military continuing to play a political role in Egypt. A new government is also likely to be formed. This is a step forward, but considerably more remains to be done if the democratic promise of last February's Tahrir Square revolution is to be fulfilled and if a genuine process of democratic change akin to what is being observed in Tunisia and Libya is to get under way. The Government will continue to work with our EU and international partners to assist Egypt along the path towards democratic transformation.
It is too early for the Minister of State to use Libya as an example. It is interesting that he says Egypt can determine the pace of its transition when different criteria were set down in the case of Libya. Western imperial powers stood back and propped up President Mubarak during the years to allow him to use brute force on his population and the West did not care as long as its interests were being protected. The West would be quite happy with any regime in the area if it was capable of keeping a lid on matters. Soundings of concern at this stage are the result of the people putting the spotlight on their oppression, on which the eyes of the world have focused the eyes. Ordinary people are instinctively opposed to a constitution drawn up by the military and they are correct. Rapid elections are needed. However, a democratic parliament that involves people from below is also needed, as is a programme to tackle economic questions giving rise to such strife and sectarianism at grassroots level.
Giving dates for elections does not impress me or the Egyptian people because elections were held under President Mubarak. The problem was that the Mubarak clique continued to rule with an iron fist. All political opposition was suppressed violently. Giving dates for elections means nothing, therefore; it is a charade while the military clique retains power which it uses to crush political opposition. It is necessary for the Government to publicly condemn the military's repression of the democracy movement, call in the ambassador to demand that the military regime state it will relinquish power to the civil authorities and identify a date this year. This includes releasing political prisoners and bringing the suppression of the protests to an end.
The Government should also call in the Saudi ambassador. The Minister of State referred to groups of thugs attacking Coptic Christians; they are being financed by elements of the Saudi regime. There is a conspiracy involving certain forces in the region, backed up by the United States, which do not wish to see a genuine democracy in Egypt. I appeal to the Government to show publicly that it is on the side of the people by making concrete demands to bring about the realisation of the aims of the democratic revolution in Egypt.
The question for Ireland, the European Union and the wider international community is how best we can support the Egyptian people along the path towards full and a genuine democracy. The first step in that process is the holding of parliamentary elections which are scheduled to take place next Monday. The Government has committed €250,000 to the United Nations' development programme to support the electoral process in Egypt in the coming months and help to create a genuine and deep democracy that is respectful of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
High Representative Ashton was the first major international figure to visit Egypt. She went to listen to the Egyptian people about how the European Union could support Egypt's transition to democracy. The Union has promised greater political association, economic integration, mobility and financial support for Egypt and other countries experiencing democratic transition in return for real reforms. It has made available €350 million until the end of next year to support the process of democratisation and the achievement of economic growth throughout the region.
It is for Egyptians to determine their future. In partnership with the European Union, Ireland can continue to accompany the Egyptian people in their praiseworthy efforts to build what we all want to see, a democratic Egypt, in order that its people can fulfil the basic aspiration of a better life and have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.