Most of the biggest Egyptian political parties have committed to delivering ambitious human rights reform in the country’s transition, but have either given mixed signals or have flatly refused to sign up to ending discrimination, protecting women’s rights and to abolishing the death penalty, Amnesty International said today.
Ahead of parliamentary elections which began in November, the organization asked political parties running in Egypt’s elections to sign a “human rights manifesto” containing 10 key measures to signal that they were serious about delivering meaningful human rights reform.
Amnesty International wrote to 54 political parties and sought meetings with 15 of the main ones, nine of whom signed up to the manifesto, either in its entirety or to some of the pledges. Three others gave oral feedback.
The Freedom and Justice Party, which won the most seats in the new People’s Assembly, was one of three parties not to respond substantively, despite considerable efforts by Amnesty International to seek its views.
“With the first session of the new parliament sitting this week, it is encouraging that so many of the major parties engaged with us and were prepared to sign up to ambitious pledges for change on combating torture, protecting slum residents' rights and ensuring fair trials,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's interim Middle East and North Africa Director.
“But it is disturbing that a number of parties refused to commit to equal rights for women. With a handful of women taking up seats in the new parliament, there remain huge obstacles to women playing a full role in Egyptian political life.
“We challenge the new parliament to use the opportunity of drafting the new constitution to guarantee all of these rights for all people in Egypt. The cornerstone must be non-discrimination and gender equality."
While the only parties to sign up to all of the pledges contained in the manifesto were the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the Popular Socialist Alliance Party, nearly all of the 12 parties who responded agreed to all of the first seven points of the manifesto.
These included commitments on civil and political rights. Key promises included ending the three-decade-old state of emergency, combating torture, upholding freedom of expression and association, ensuring fair trials and investigating abuses committed under the rule of Hosni Mubarak.
Amnesty International also secured pledges from nearly all the parties to address the rights of those living in slums and to deliver economic, social and cultural rights for all Egyptians.
Reservations The eighth pledge, to end discrimination, was signed up to by most parties but several said they could not sign up to Amnesty International’s call for an end to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Comments from at least two parties suggested that the issue of discrimination against Copts, including in building churches, has been exaggerated.
A number of parties had reservations over the ninth pledge, which called for women’s rights to be protected, including for women to be given equal rights in marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. Several parties invoked Islamic law to explain why they would not commit to this.
Most parties made reservations over the 10th point, which called for the abolition of the death penalty, either stating that this was in contradiction with Islam or that they were continuing to study the issue. Even the two parties inclined to abolish the death penalty said that this was a long-term goal not achievable in the coming years.
"The real test for political parties will be to translate these pledges into initiatives in parliament to abolish repressive Mubarak-era laws, reform the police and security services, and pass laws which protect human rights and break with the legacy of abuse," said Philip Luther. "One of the first measures should be the lifting of the much-decried state of emergency. "Women and men stood side by side in the protests and have been instrumental in the movement that toppled President Mubarak and led to these elections. Denying equality would dash the hope that Egypt is entering a new era of respect for the rights and dignity of all."
The 10 pledges in Amnesty International’s Human Rights Manifesto for Egypt are: 1. End the state of emergency and reform the security forces 2. End incommunicado detention and combat torture 3. Ensure fair trials 4. Uphold the rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression 5. Investigate past abuses 6. Realize economic, social and cultural rights for all 7. Uphold the rights of people living in slums 8. End discrimination 9. Protect women’s rights 10. Abolish the death penalty
Responses by Egyptian political parties to the Human Rights Manifesto for Egypt: In November Amnesty International sent letters to 54 Egyptian political parties inviting them to sign up to the manifesto. The organization sought meetings with the leaders of 15 of the biggest parties in November and December. Below are the responses obtained:
Egyptian Social Democratic Party (part of Egyptian bloc, which won 34 seats in parliament): signed up to all 10 pledges, but said it was premature to expect abolition of the death penalty in the absence of popular support.
Popular Socialist Alliance Party (part of Revolution Continues bloc, which won 7 seats in parliament): signed up to all 10 pledges, but said it was premature to expect abolition of the death penalty in the absence of popular support.
Egypt Youth Party: sent a letter with the signed manifesto, stating its commitment to human rights in general, but without giving details on the 10 pledges.
New Al Wafd Party (38 seats in parliament): signed with the exception of the abolition of the death penalty.
Democratic Front Party: signed with the exception of the abolition of the death penalty.
Reform and Development Party (10 seats in parliament): signed with the exception of the abolition of the death penalty.
Al Karama Party: agreed orally to all pledges with the exception of the abolition of the death penalty.
Al Nour Party (125 seats in parliament): agreed orally to all pledges with the exception of the abolition of the death penalty and protection of women’s rights.
Revolution’s Guards Party: sent a letter agreeing to the manifesto, with the exception of the abolition of the death penalty and protection of women’s rights, stating that they follow directions from Al-Azhar religious institutions on such issues.
Egyptian Liberation Party: signed with the exception of the abolition of the death penalty and protection of women’s rights, stressing its opposition to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); agreed to commit to ensuring non-discrimination, with the exception of non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The Al-Wasat (Center) Party (10 seats in parliament): signed but expressed strong reservations to the abolition of the death penalty, the protection of women’s rights and ensuring non-discrimination. Expressed reservations on non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and according equal rights for Muslims and Copts in building houses of worship.
Egypt Revolution Party: party representatives raised concerns in a meeting over the need for “security” and the obligation to respect “Islamic values”, justifying the continuation of the state of emergency, although pledging to combat torture. They also said freedom of expression, association and assembly were important but only as long as they do not “threaten public security”. They said women’s rights should not be in contradiction with religion and that discrimination against Copts was an issue blown out of proportion. The party did not raise reservations over other pledges.
Free Egyptians Party (part of Egyptian bloc, which won 34 seats in parliament): did not respond to meeting request nor give feedback on manifesto.
Freedom and Justice Party (234 seats in parliament): did not respond to meeting request nor give feedback on manifesto. Amnesty International did not receive a substantive response to its last attempt to contact them in January 2012.
Justice Party (1 seat in parliament): did not respond to meeting request nor give feedback on manifesto.