WASHINGTON– The recent Egyptian presidential election was flawed but still may offer prospects for increased liberalization in Egypt and the Middle East generally, according to Commissioners and witnesses participating in a briefing held today by the U.S. Helsinki Commission.
“While the Egyptian elections did not meet internationally recognized standards of fairness, the mere fact that the regime allowed the opposition a place on the ballot has opened a doorway,” said U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). “The Egyptian elections were the first step on a long road to creating a true democracy, but it remains to be seen whether the regime will walk the rest of the path.”
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.
“The Egyptian people tasted electoral freedom for the first time and began to debate the future of their country in a way that once was unthinkable. This is the beginning of a long process of democratic reform which over time will reverberate throughout the Arab world,” said Commission Co-Chairman, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ).
The Commission briefing was held to discuss the impact of the recent Egyptian presidential and forthcoming parliamentary elections on Egypt and the wider Middle East region. For the first time in Egyptian history, opposition candidate’s names appeared on the ballot, and some campaigning by candidates was permitted. Previously, the Egyptian Parliament would vote to permit only one name to go forward on the Presidential ballot, and then voters would be given the option only of voting “yes” or “no” to the chosen candidate, who was typically the incumbent President.
“Nobody would mistake this election as free and unfettered. The opposition was fragmented, its main party excluded, and campaigning was tightly restricted,” added Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD). “Still, the sight of any public debate in the very heart of the Arab world’s most important state is the first crack in the façade of the old regime.”
“Nobody is expecting that Egypt, with all of its problems, is going to become a model democracy overnight,” added Brownback. “But the Egyptian Government knows that it cannot continue to repress its people and expect to have normal relations with the United States.”
Witnesses at the briefing included Thomas Garrett, Director of the Middle East and North Africa program for the International Republican Institute, Dr. Amr Hamzawy, a Senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Khairi Abaza, past Secretary of the Egyptian Wafd Party.