Mr. Speaker, my thoughts turn first to our constituents of Egyptian origin and to the immigrants, naturalized citizens and people of Egyptian descent who live in Quebec and Canada. Their days are filled with anxiety because violence has marked the events in Egypt since they began. And today it worsened as supporters of the Hosni Mubarak regime began to systematically attack protestors.
We cannot forget that the misfortunes of the Egyptian people, which are spurring the uprising we have been witnessing for over a week, go back much further than these last few weeks. For a number of decades, the Egyptian people have been living under regimes that are dedicated to making a small number of people rich and that are known for their authoritarianism and widespread violation of basic human rights. This is especially true of the current regime of President Hosni Mubarak.
The power of Mubarak’s regime is usurped power. Everyone knows that Egypt’s elections are rigged, to the point where during the latest election, the majority of the credible opponents decided not to run, in some instances in the first round and in many other cases in the second round, because they saw that the election had been completely rigged.
The Mubarak regime is also known for its ongoing violations of basic human rights: arbitrary detention, torture and censorship. Clearly, that could not last forever. After the Tunisian uprising that led to the fall of President Ben Ali, Egypt exploded. The protestors oppose the regime of Mubarak, a dictator who has ruled since 1981 and is now aging and ill. Hosni Mubarak had to go overseas for several weeks in 2010 for an operation, and with the approach of the 2011 presidential election, the question of his successor was on everyone’s minds. Of course, those in power could not accept the possibility of losing that power and considered offering President Mubarak’s son to the Egyptian people—imposing him, in fact. But now the anger in Egypt is no longer directed solely at the standard of living. It is also directed at those in power because the people recognize that abuse of power is largely to blame for the country’s problems, be they economic or otherwise.
In recent months, tensions had risen in this country of 83 million people, triggered specifically by price increases and restrictions on basic commodities. Some 40% of the Egyptian people live on less than $2 a day. The unemployment rate among young people is especially high, as in Tunisia. Egypt’s relative underdevelopment can be explained, at least in part, by a remarkably inadequate education system. According to the World Bank, in 2003, only 32% of young Egyptians had earned a bachelor’s degree.
Egypt’s national statistics office has calculated that 73,000 new university places will have to be created each year for the next 15 years just to maintain the graduation rates.
Half of the Egyptian population is under the age of 24, and this explosive demographic situation is having a serious impact on the country’s economy. Furthermore, with 94.5% of the country covered by desert, understandably, population density in Egypt’s populated areas is just about the highest in the world.
This is not the time or place to give a full chronology of all of the events in recent days, but I would like to go back to February 1, 2011, when, after a series of non-stop demonstrations, the army announced through a spokesperson that it agreed that the Egyptian people’s demands were legitimate and said it would not use any force against the demonstrators. That was definitely a turning point. According to the media, at least 250,000 Egyptians marched on Liberation Square in Cairo, in the largest demonstration since the beginning of the revolt against President Mubarak’s regime.
Yesterday Mubarak announced that he would not run again, but that he would remain in power until the presidential election in September 2011. However, a spokesperson for the Egyptian army asked Egyptians, particularly young people, to stop demonstrating. The spokesperson said that they had gotten their message across and that their demands had been heard.
But over the course of the day, we saw that they would not allow themselves to be discouraged by that kind of admonition. Unfortunately, Mubarak’s supporters reacted violently today. Anti-Mubarak protesters committed very violent acts, and there are concerns that this new situation could radicalize the positions, although the army has called for an end to the protests. Reporters and cameramen—even some members of the Quebec media are there—who were covering the violence in the heart of the capital have been threatened themselves and have, of course, described a very tense climate. Agence France-Presse spoke of over 500 injured today in the protests, and there is some fear that that number will be even higher this evening.
The Bloc Québécois’s position on the current situation in Egypt can be summed up as follows. First, the people of Egypt have spoken out against President Hosni Mubarak. Egyptians are calling for their president to step down. The trust is no longer there—if it ever was—between the people of Egypt and their government. President Mubarak is no longer the right person for the job. In light of all of this, we cannot simply say, like the Minister of Foreign Affairs said earlier, is that it is not our role to decide who should run Egypt. We cannot simply say that what is going on in Egypt is not our business. That kind of reasoning no longer works these days.
In recent decades, the Canadian government has broken that taboo several times. Members will recall the very positive role played by the Mulroney government in the fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa, for example. We cannot simply say that this has nothing to do with us and that it is up to them to decide.
The people in the streets of Egypt have spoken: they do not want the status quo. They want freedom.
We have seen thousands of Egyptians challenge the authoritarianism of their regime in recent weeks in order to claim their due rights and freedoms.
The Bloc Québécois will always stand behind those fighting for freedom. Freedom is a universal and inalienable right. Democracy and the rule of law are the natural expression of a free society.
We strongly condemn repression of peaceful demonstrations. We condemn the Internet censorship imposed by the government on the Egyptian people. The free circulation of information is a fundamental condition of democracy and liberty in a country. The Egyptian government must lift the censorship on the Internet sites it recently banned. Freedom of information is not negotiable.
Finally, we feel that a swift and peaceful transition to a democratic and free regime must be initiated quickly and peacefully.
For that reason, we believe Hosni Mubarak has to leave and, to get him to leave, democratic countries must join forces to put pressure on the Egyptian government. Since it was supported for so many decades, we think that an interim government and president should be appointed with the consent of the key parties. Then, free, multi-party, fair and transparent elections have to be held as soon as possible.
The Bloc Québécois defends the idea of freedom for all peoples, but it also defends the responsibilities that come with that freedom. The outcome of the political battle must not be a victory for extremists, who would, in turn, deny the Egyptian people the freedom and democracy to which they are entitled. We want to see an Egyptian government that restores the people’s trust in their government and responds to the aspirations of the Egyptians.
In other words, any new government will have to ensure Egyptians’ freedoms, religious freedom in particular since Christians in Egypt have suffered many humiliations and injustices these past decades.
That government will also have to ensure stability in the region by maintaining diplomatic relations with its neighbours and will have to recognize the State of Israel’s right to exist. None of that can be achieved as long as the Egyptian people rightly feel that all their freedoms have been taken away.
In closing, Hosni Mubarak has to leave. We very easily stand behind the message the U.S. government sent him today, that the transition must begin immediately.