The Obama Administration Must Press the SCAF to Restart Egypt’s Stalled Transition to Democracy
New York City – The latest round of voting in Egypt, as well as the dissolution of Parliament at the hands of the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) and the various steps taken by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in the days leading up to the presidential run off, present a major challenge to the Obama Administration and its claimed support for democratic transition in Egypt. Human Rights First calls on the administration to speak out publicly, clearly, and immediately to express concern over these developments and the failure of the SCAF to oversee a successful transition to civilian rule. “The status quo in Egypt is not sustainable and the Obama Administration must use its influence to prevail on the SCAF to restart Egypt’s stalled transition,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks. “Far from ceding power to civilian rule, the SCAF is tightening its grip over Egyptian political life, seeking to control the process of writing a new constitution in particular. The Obama Administration must reaffirm its policy to support Egyptians in making the transition from military to democratic rule. It is in the national interest of the United States for Egypt to resume its progress towards a peaceful transition to democracy.” It is now clear that the SCAF will not live up to its pledge to hand over power to an elected civilian government by June 30. This is a serious failure for which the SCAF bears full responsibility. From the early days of Egypt’s transition from the 30 year Mubarak dictatorship the SCAF has resisted calls to install a civilian transitional authority and to dilute its grip on power. On June 17 the SCAF issued amendments to its March 30, 2011 constitutional declaration that expand its powers. Among the most important are:
- Under revised Article 56 the SCAF takes on the powers of the legislature, until new parliamentary elections are held.
- Under revised Article 60 the SCAF provides itself powers to appoint the constituent assembly charged with writing a new constitution
- Revised Article 53 reinforces the SCAF’s control over military affairs, including powers to appoint its own members and to award the head of SCAF the positions of commander in chief of the armed forces – previously a post held by the President– and Minister of Defense.
- The amendments to Article 53 also provide a constitutional foundation for the military’s broad powers to detain citizens.
The Obama Administration should call on the SCAF to:
- Provide a firm timeline for the drafting of a new constitution, its approval by referendum and the holding of new parliamentary elections to replace the parliament dissolved by the SCC last week.
- Support the formation of a constituent assembly that reflects a broad range of political opinion and in particular ensure representation for women, and representatives of religious minorities.
- Provide all necessary support and resources for the development of a new constitution that expands civilian control over the military and in particular provides for public scrutiny of the military budget.
- While the SCAF remains in effective control of the country it must uphold the basic rights and freedoms of all Egyptians. It must protect rights of freedom of assembly and ensure that protesters are not abused. It should not detain peaceful protesters. It must uphold freedom of expression and protect the rights of religious minorities. It should end the persecution of independent civil society organizations, including the ongoing criminal investigations and prosecution of several human rights and democracy promotion organizations.
“The continuation of military rule will not bring stability,” concluded Hicks. “The United States, a major supporter of Egypt’s military, will be directly implicated in the anti-democratic practices and violations of human rights in which the SCAF may engage.”