The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

More on State Dept. comments on elections

So the State Dept. is fine-tuning its statement in light of the grumbling over last week's praise of Egypt's conduct of the election. The point seems to be that while not perfect, these elections are a vast improvement on what happened previously. On the one hand, it's true that the size of the opposition in parliament is much bigger than it previously was. But on the other, I think -- and we're likely to have this confirmed tomorrow -- that this election has seen the most violence and vote-blocking. This is a country where the police spends its time stopping citizens from voting when an election's results start to bother it. That's hardly something praise-worthy. (Key passage highlighted.)

Daily Press Briefing for December 6 -- Transcript:
QUESTION: Human rights groups are reporting some widespread violations in the Egyptian elections and there's been 69 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested today, and also Mr. Nour has been detained. So I just wondered whether your assessment of the Egyptian elections so far is the same as it has been in recent weeks, or do you think so far that it is a free and fair vote? And I just wondered if you had any further comment on how it's progressing. I think it's the final round on Wednesday.

MR. ERELI: Yeah. There are a number of, I think, points to make. We've seen the detention today of Ayman Nour, who is a prominent leader of political opposition in Egypt. We've also seen a number of developments over the past couple weeks during the parliamentary elections that raise serious concerns about the path of political reform in Egypt. Those developments include the arrest of opposition candidates and their supporters. They include clashes between Egyptian security personnel and voters, physical abuse of domestic monitors and journalists, as well as the barring of domestic monitors and in some cases even voters from polling places.

Clearly, these actions send the wrong signal about Egypt's commitment to democracy and freedom, and we see them as inconsistent with the Government of Egypt's professed commitment to increased political openness and dialogue within Egyptian society. I would note that in this context the Egyptian people themselves are having a debate about these latest developments and on Egyptian TV, both government and private, you see a vigorous debate about these developments and about what they mean for the future of Egyptian democracy and Egyptian society.

So it's not just us that's saying this. It's the Egyptian people themselves that are noting these developments with concern and asking serious questions about how it may relate to the future of their own country. And that's as it should be.

With regard to Mr. Nour's case in particular, I think that I would note that the presiding judge has ordered that he be remanded to custody pending a hearing on December 10th. We would call upon the Government of Egypt to make every effort to ensure that this trial conforms to international standards and we've also made it clear that we will be watching this trial closely, and that with respect to this trial, as well as the other political activity in Egypt, we and the international community, I think, believe that the Egyptian people should be free to speak and assemble and choose their leaders in an atmosphere free from intimidation.

QUESTION: And what's your view of the arrest of the 69 Muslim Brotherhood --

MR. ERELI: Yeah. As I said --

QUESTION: -- on the eve of the vote and if they should be released --

MR. ERELI: Yeah. Well, first of all, I don't have the details of those cases. We view these arrests in the context, as I said, of a political process that has been characterized, as I said, by intimidation and harassment and is inconsistent with the Egyptian Government's commitment to openness and freedom. So without getting to the specifics of these cases because I'm not familiar with the specifics, I can say that they are part and parcel of an atmosphere, a general atmosphere, which, frankly, does not meet the expectations of the international community or, frankly, the Egyptian people themselves.

QUESTION: Have you been in touch with the -- sorry -- have you been in touch with --

MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. What is the follow-up?

QUESTION: You seem, the words that you're giving us now, you seem to be taking a harsher stand on this. Have you made any formal complaints to the Egyptian Government or am I reading the tealeaves a bit too much?


QUESTION: You seem to be making a much more forceful criticism than previous --

MR. ERELI: I think we've been fairly outspoken frankly about how we see things going in Egypt from the beginning. Starting with the Secretary when she went to Cairo and gave her speech at American University where she was very forthright about the importance of democracy, first and foremost, to Egyptians and the people of the region, as well as to the United States.

Second of all, in the presidential election, we provided you with our assessment of things, but also made the point that -- and I think this is an important one and it should not be lost in our discussion -- that this is first and foremost an issue for the Egyptians to wrestle with and to come to terms with, their democratic development, their process of reform and their fulfillment of the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people.

And in the context of the presidential elections, we said that the -- amending the constitution to allow for multiparty contestation of the presidency was a significant and positive step and that in the wake of those elections we looked to the Government of Egypt to follow through on its commitments to make progress in meeting standards that it had set for itself in the parliamentary elections. And during the course of these parliamentary elections, we have said that in many cases, those standards are not being met.

QUESTION: Adam, if I can follow up on that. I think it was last week, it was either you or Sean, that you were saying that you were convinced that the Egyptian Government did share the U.S. goal of ensuring free and fair elections. Do you think that is still the case?

MR. ERELI: That is the stated commitment and stated position of the Egyptian Government and take them at their word.

QUESTION: While, okay, take them at their actions as well. Do you think their actions fulfill their --

MR. ERELI: There are, you know, there are actions that we have noted and that, again, let me emphasize, the Egyptians themselves have noted, that are disturbing and that raise concerns. And in our representations to the Government of Egypt of which there have been numerous, at both the senior and working levels, we have urged the Egyptian Government and civil society as well to act in ways that meet international standards, are consistent with commitments and stated policy of the Government of Egypt, and help advance the development of democracy in Egypt. Is it perfect? Have there been problems? Is it perfect, no. Have there been problems? Yes. Has progress been made? Certainly. If you look at where Egypt is now in terms of reforms and openness and democratic development versus where it was a year or two years ago, I think it's important to note that there has been important progress made. Are there problems still? Yes. Are these problems that the Egyptian Government is aware of, the Egyptian people are aware of? Yes. It is something that they themselves are debating and working through and trying to resolve? Yes.

And our role, the position of the United States is to try to help them do that, to try to identify -- help them identify and work through issues that are problematic, to help cooperate with civil society and others to ensure openness and transparency and to engage in a common endeavor, in a spirit of partnership and alliance so that, frankly, the desires of the Egyptian people can be fulfilled.

QUESTION: Adam, when you first started talking and when the Secretary and the President first started talking about this whole democracy agenda, you said that your relationships with countries would be governed in part by their commitment to freedom and democracy. In your representations to the Egyptian Government are you making clear that this could have a negative impact on the future of U.S. relations, given the fact that you do have very close relations with the Egyptians on many issues, including the Middle East and Iraq?

MR. ERELI: Right. Right. You know, we make the point worldwide that, you know, we've talked about it with respect to other countries as well, that -- I guess, two points: One is the pace and scope of change is something for every country to decide, based on the circumstances and the history of that country.

We've also made the point that as democracy develops, as fundamental freedoms blossom, so does the relationship with the United States and that, I think, you can apply it to other countries. The development of -- there is a link between the development of democracy and the depth of the relationship with the United States, simply because the fuller the democracy, the greater the share of interest and the more we have in common and the more we can, I think, the more we can engage, the broader can be our engagement, the deeper can be our engagement.

That doesn't meant to say that if there are problems and things are slow or things take a while, that’s going to hurt the bilateral relationship, but I think I'd put it in a more positive perspective. And that is, as they grow and develop and become a fuller, richer, more vibrant democracy and more vibrant civil society, so does the relationship with the United States.
Today a friend spoke to a leading election monitor who received US funding for his training. His words: "We appreciate the financial support, but we also need moral support. Frankly, this [State Dept.] statement is ridiculous."