Madam Speaker, over the past few days, the eyes of the world have focused on Liberation Square in the capital of Egypt. Events unfolding in Cairo could have a profound effect on the Middle East and the entire world.
Our government’s priority is, of course, the safety of Canadians who are in Egypt. That is why we took swift action to organize an air evacuation of those who wanted to leave the region. These measures will be deployed as long as they are required. My colleague will describe in more detail the measures we have made available to Canadians.
This evening we are particularly disappointed and concerned that the protests that began with hope, order and enthusiasm are now fraught with violence, havoc and fear.
A few hours ago, live ammunition was used against Egyptian citizens. At least one person has been killed and many hundreds more have been wounded, some seriously.
Egypt, a nation of 80 million people with an ancient civilization, has long been a moderate leader of the Arab, African and Muslim worlds, and an important partner in the Middle East peace process, based on its long-standing peace treaty and co-operation on security matters with Israel. It is also home to the Suez Canal, a vital shipping route. What happens in Egypt therefore has major implications for other countries of the region, most especially Israel, for the world economy and for international security including the security of Canadians.
This morning I spoke to my Egyptian counterpart, foreign minister Aboul Gheit. Our deep and strong relationship with Egypt allows us to be frank with each other as friends should be. In our conversation this morning, I expressed Canada’s concern about the situation in Egypt and our desire to see a peaceful and meaningful transition to democracy. I also reiterated the importance that Canada and the world place on the stability of Egypt and its region.
In discussions with my colleague, now and in the past, I have not hesitated to raise Canada’s ongoing concerns with the situation of human rights in Egypt. We have urged Egypt to improve respect for human rights, in particular freedom of expression and freedom of association. We have raised concerns about the continuing application of Egypt’s state of emergency, which is still in force after 30 years, and the use of torture and arbitrary detention by Egyptian security forces. We have also encouraged political reforms in order to promote democratic development and respect for the rule of law in Egypt, including the holding of free and fair parliamentary elections with international observers.
After the political opening of 2005, which saw the introduction of multi-candidate presidential and parliamentary elections in Egypt, the following years saw a marked setback on human rights and democratic development. Canada has expressed concern on several occasions in that regard. In particular, we conveyed our disappointment at the parliamentary elections in November and December 2010 that saw the ruling national democratic party win over 80% of the available seats and a loss of most of the opposition seats amidst allegations of massive vote fraud and low voter turnout. A lack of international observers surely contributed to the lack of credibility of the outcome.
These elections represented a setback for democratic reform and modernization in Egypt and a failure by its government to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people for a greater voice in the running of their government. There is no doubt that these decisions by the Egyptian government fed the frustration of the Egyptian people.
The results of the latest parliamentary elections, the absence of political reform and the slow pace of economic progress, the increase in the price of food, and the bleak future for youth led to the protests that began on January 25. There is no doubt that the example of Tunisia, where the people are experiencing the same frustrations, also inspired the Egyptian protests. However, the priority must now be to put an end to the violence, and I urge the Egyptian authorities to respond with restraint during these tense times.
We urge Egypt to respect freedom of association and freedom of movement for all political actors. There, however, have been disturbing reports of looting, as well as prison breakouts and we urge the Egyptian authorities to respond to these incidents and to safeguard the security and the property of all of the people in Egypt.
The large-scale protests in many parts of Egypt have demonstrated the desire of the Egyptian people for greater political freedom and economic reform. The people of Egypt are claiming what people all around the world want and what we as Canadians take for granted: freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law and the chance at a better life.
The demonstrators have also shown their commitment to bringing about political and economic reform through peaceful protest, not by taking up arms or by terrorism. They should be commended for peacefully expressing their views and their voices heard.
Other darker forces, however, are at work on Liberation Square and that is why calm and order must be restored as quickly as possible. We all know that the new social networking media, at the heart of popular movements around the world, is transforming the way societies everywhere communicate and share information.
It is increasingly important for people everywhere to be connected to the Internet, for the governments to permit access. We are, therefore, disturbed by interruptions to Internet services in Egypt and the blocking of social networking websites. This not only restricts access to information and communication by the people of Egypt, but it hampers emergency efforts to provide consular services to foreign nationals in Egypt.
We are also troubled by the forced closing of some news media. We call on the Egyptian government to ensure freedom of expression by unblocking websites and not interfering in the free dissemination of information.
We have noted President Mubarak’s promise to leave office next September and the appointment of a vice-president, a new prime minister and a new council of ministers, who have been asked to undertake economic reforms. This new political team will be judged on its response to the legitimate demands of the Egyptian people.
However, more clearly needs to be done in order to address the long outstanding need of Egypt for real and meaningful political and economic reform. Putting on a coat of paint to cover the cracks in the wall will not satisfy the Egyptian people’s demand for change.
The Government of Canada has long engaged Egypt and other governments in the region on the need to bring about reform. Democratic development is a priority of Canada’s foreign policy. Democratic development advances Canada’s interest because it offers the best chance for long-term stability, prosperity and the protection of human rights.
Canada is committed to strengthening civil society and democratic institutions and processes, including political parties and independent media, throughout the world so that people can have control over the decisions that affect their daily lives. With this same determination and hope, today, we are asking President Mubarak and the new Egyptian government to strengthen the foundations of democracy, dialogue and co-operation.
It is not up to Canada to decide who should govern tomorrow’s Egypt. Today, the people of Egypt are telling us, in the most active and courageous way possible, that they finally want to choose leaders who will bring them prosperity, justice and safety. We do no hesitate to raise our voices, loudly and clearly, in this chamber to say that we hope that Egypt’s future leaders will actively devote themselves to implementing reforms that will meet the needs and aspirations of the Egyptian people.
Canada wants to see a transition towards greater democracy and freedom in Egypt, with respect for human rights and the rule of law. There needs to be a clear timetable for a new parliamentary election with international observers.
The 2010 parliamentary election lacked credibility and deprived the people of Egypt of an elected and democratic opposition as a means of peaceful political expression and participation in the governing of their country. The current situation is, at least in part, a direct result of this failure to respect the democratic process.
A true democratic transition in Egypt will require institutional reforms. For example, it will require the establishment of a credible and non-partisan elections commission to run the elections, as we have here in Canada. Such an elections commission would oversee the preparations for an election, which should reflect international standards for transparency and integrity.
The international community will no doubt be willing to assist by providing election observers and technical assistance.
Egypt also needs to make constitutional reforms. These could include stronger guarantees for human rights, in particular, freedom of expression and freedom of association, coupled with the strengthening of the independence of the judiciary.
The state of emergency that Egypt has been living in for 30 years now, which has resulted in much injustice and inequality, must soon be lifted. As I was assured by the Egyptian minister of foreign affairs this morning, the rules governing the registration of presidential candidates are to be revised so that as many people as possible can run in the September election.
It would also be beneficial to set fixed terms for the president and vice-president.
However, an election must not be confused with democracy. Although a fair and equitable election process is certainly essential to building a democracy, only a stable and honest government can ensure the sustainability of democratic principles.
In order for us, here in Canada, to recognize and support the future Egyptian government, it must meet four basic conditions: first, it must respect freedom, democracy and human rights, particularly the rights of women; second, it must recognize the State of Israel; third, it must adhere to existing peace treaties; and fourth, it must respect international law.
Canada urges Egypt’s government to heed the courageous voice of the Egyptian people, seize the moment and turn it into an opportunity for long overdue democratic and economic reform that will allow Egypt to maintain its place as a leader among Arab, African and Muslim states.