Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre. I am pleased to participate in this evening’s debate on the situation in Egypt, a debate called for by my colleague, the hon. member for Toronto Centre. I am especially pleased to take part in this debate because my riding of Pierrefonds—Dollard is home to many Canadians of Egyptian origin, a community that is very involved and very engaged. In addition, Canada has enjoyed a close relationship with Egypt since the Suez crisis in 1956. Since that time, we have shared a broad range of common interests, and I will mention only a few: trade relations, the Francophonie and most importantly, the desire for a fair solution in the Middle East. But what happened so suddenly that caused all of Egypt to erupt? To understand the current situation, we must not forget history. There are many well-known causes, including youth unemployment, food shortages, the unchallenged domination of the National Democratic Party, President Mubarak’s party, and the fact that during the next election, one of the president’s sons, Gamal, might run for president. But the success of the uprising in Tunisia was certainly the trigger. When he saw the scope of these protests, President Mubarak responded by shuffling his cabinet. However, the opposition forces rejected this change and called for the president to step down. I should note that in response, for the first time in 30 years, the president appointed a vice-president, Omar Souleiman, who, according to the Egyptian constitution, would become president, in the event the current president stepped down, until the next election. In the meantime, the alliance of all of the opposition parties has asked Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to negotiate a transition with the president’s regime. Mr. ElBaradei has received extensive media coverage abroad but is relatively unknown in his own country. Jean-Noël Ferrié, the director of research at the CNRS, feels that he is not the right man for the job because he is “too alone and too absent”. But what does the opposition want? In short, it wants to see the president gone. What would happen then? The new president, Mr. Souleiman, would temporarily take over the presidency for a transition period, during which both houses of parliament would be dissolved and the constitution would be revised with a view to presidential and legislative elections. But would this scenario be acceptable to the coalition? Members must remember that this coalition is very divided and has opposing goals and visions. We must remember that these protests were initiated by the April 6 Youth Movement, led by Ahmad Maher. This group was started during a workers’ uprising in the Nile delta in 2008. Mr. Maher is calling for not only political reforms, but also social and economic reforms. Another party, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is prohibited by the government, is still represented by a number of independent members of parliament. This party is a big question mark and is a very big concern for Israel. Furthermore, there are 20 or so political parties that make up the legal opposition, including the Nationalist Party, the New Wafd Party, and the El Ghad Party, created by Ayman Nour, a candidate who lost in the 2005 presidential election. Where does that leave us today? The coalition is continuing to put very strong pressure on the current government through massive demonstrations. People are speaking out around the world. Catherine Ashton, the head of European diplomacy, has called on President Mubarak to act as soon as possible to carry out the political transition. The British Prime Minister told the British Parliament that this transition should be urgent and credible and that it should start now. On this side of the Atlantic, President Obama has said that an orderly transition must be significant and peaceful and must begin now. Canada is closely monitoring the situation. The crucial role of the army should not be forgotten because, since 1952, all Egyptian presidents have come from the ranks of the army. Furthermore, only the army has veto power with respect to presidential succession. Is the army prepared to give up this veto during future negotiations on constitutional amendments? I believe there is no turning back. Through diplomacy, Canada must play a much greater role than it does at present in searching for an equitable solution. After 30 years of unchallenged rule, future negotiations will be arduous, long and very difficult. That is where Canada must make a contribution. Every effort must be made to ensure that human rights and freedom of association, movement and religion are guaranteed not only in the constitution, but in reality. The violence must stop and Canada must now play a role not only in the establishment of meaningful dialogue, but also in the reconstruction of such a beautiful country.