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IRI President Testifies on the Situation in Egypt

February 16, 2012

Washington, DC – Lorne W. Craner, President of IRI, testified today before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).  (Fact sheet on IRI’s work in Egypt and the crackdown (Arabic version).) 

Craner opened his testimony by looking at how far the region has come in just one year.  “After more than five decades of autocratic rule, the Middle East has seen one whirlwind year of political upheaval.  The changes are unsettling at a variety of levels but we must begin by recognizing that five decades of undemocratic rule are not conducive to one year democratic consolidations.”

Cautioning that “one election does not a democracy make,” Craner said, “the second and third elections in transitional countries are more important than the first, because voters have by then had a chance to judge their satisfaction with initial winners, and the political space begins to consolidate in a manner reflective of the new democratic environment.  In the Middle East, it may take even more elections to get to this point, but the course of democratic change is inevitable, and something we must cultivate.  One of the most important issues we and other democracies should focus on, therefore, is ensuring that there are additional democratic elections in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries of the region undergoing transition.”

Looking at Egypt specifically, Craner went on to outline growing concerns on the path Egypt is taking stating, “Revolutions are indeed messy, but in no country in the region, and few elsewhere, has the post-revolutionary situation been as repressive as in Egypt.  It is therefore vital, in examining the situation that IRI, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House find ourselves in today, to see it not in isolation but to understand it as just one symptom of increasingly troublesome developments in Egypt.”

Craner went on to look at three areas of Egypt’s transition – free and fair elections, freedom of association and rule of law.  While praising Egypt’s conduct of the people’s assembly elections, Craner raised concerns with the government’s actions in the areas of freedom of association and rule of law.

In the area of freedom of association, Craner outlined the escalating crisis surrounding the crackdown on international and Egyptian nongovernmental organizations (NGO).  “Taken in total, the events we are seeing reflect not only an attack on American democracy implementers like IRI, but more importantly, are the tip of the iceberg in an ongoing effort to silence independent Egyptian civil society voices that have been under increasing assault since last fall.  The rhetoric employed by Egyptian authorities in doing so is increasingly reminiscent of Mubarak-era propaganda.”

Despite Egyptian government claims that the investigation of NGOs is a judicial process, Craner went on to outline how Egyptian officials are apparently violating their own legal standards.  “None of the 43 persons implicated in the investigation and now facing charges has ever been provided with the investigative report that precipitated legal actions being undertaken as per the law.  In fact, no legal document pertaining to charges or reflecting the scope of the investigation against civil society groups has ever been shared with anyone at IRI.”  Craner went on, “the announcement of evidence against those implicated in the investigation by the judges and public statements made by Egyptian decision-makers including the Minister of Justice and Minister of International Cooperation Aboul Naga, appear to be a direct violation of Egyptian law.”

In conclusion, Craner reminded the committee of the importance of U.S. engagement in the continuing transition.  “The United States must strongly and consistently support popular demands for transparency, accountability and freedom at this critical crossroad in Egypt if the U.S.-Egypt relationship is to be successful in the new Middle East being built…The move away from one party autocratic rule in the Arab world has started, and the United States must be engaged and persevere if we are to eventually reach the democratic and human rights standards we hold dear.”