“A matter of dignity”: Egypt’s low-wage workers
This morning the Elders met Wedad Demerdash, a cotton mill worker from the city of Mahalla, one of Egypt’s centres of textile manufacturing. As a union leader, she had organised a successful strike for better pay and working conditions in 2006; an action which proved to be an important milestone in the wave of popular protest that eventually removed Hosni Mubarak from power last year.
Mary Robinson, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Jimmy Carter with Wedad Demerdash (centre).
She reminded the Elders that the labour movement had played a key role in the revolution. During the uprising she had travelled to Cairo in an attempt to see then President Mubarak personally, at considerable risk to her own safety. She knew that bringing the workers’ demands to him could be dangerous, but “it was a matter of dignity,” she said.
Jimmy Carter asked whether she was satisfied with what had happened in Egypt since that time. Wedad explained that some things had improved – for example, workers can now openly attend union meetings.
But despite the overthrow of the old regime and the election of a new President, Wedad argued, not enough had changed for Egypt’s low-waged workers. Salaries have not increased, and workers feel less able to make demands now – they are told that they shouldn’t take industrial action because the country is going through a difficult period.
The Elders asked Wedad’s husband if he is also active in the labour movement. Laughing, he said, “it’s enough to have one politically active person in the family!” Back in 2006, he admitted having discouraged her from organising; when he saw what she was achieving, he changed his mind. “She’s never going to stop!”
Youth debate: "We are 50% of the population!"
LIVE FROM CAIRO
Mary Robinson: "Nelson Mandela told us to listen to young people and be on their side. Do you feel, after the events of 25 January last year and the building up towards a political transition, that you are playing a role, and are able to participate?"
Hadia Mohamed (22): "Not yet. Yes, we do participate, but we cannot speak freely, like we did during the revolution."
Moaz Fawzy (21): "People here believe that old age means experience - they undermine the potential of young people. The revolution was driven by youth - but they are not on the scene any more. We hope the coming years will be better."
Gro Harlem Brundtland: "Many of you are students - but I have heard that 8 out of 10 people who graduate here won’t be able to find a job. Do you discuss how your economy can evolve? I don’t get the sense that this is being thought about."
Emad Karim (29): "East Africa and Egypt has some of the highest unemployment among young people in the world. Education in Egypt doesn’t train people to be absorbed into the labour market. We need the development of our educational system. We need a new spirit, new voice; we need entrepreneurship, institutions that provide inspiration and knowledge. We need our society and community to seek knowledge and stop being consumers. We need a national policy for young people - we are 50 per cent of the population!"
Jimmy Carter: "Egypt is going to become a leading nation in North Africa and the Arab world. How will you use your experience here and share it with your neighbours in the region?
Moaz: "Thanks to the Arab Spring, our stereotypes of each other were undermined. Now we can share ideas and initiatives. The most important thing is debate - to share information and respect each other."
Youth debate: "What would you advise Egyptian women?"
LIVE FROM CAIRO - The Elders are taking part in a live televised debate with Egyptian youth
Emad Karim (29): "We’re lucky to have two women former heads of state on stage here. What’s the magical component you have - what is your advice to Egyptian women?"
Mary Robinson: “Personally, I was quite shy – I had to steel myself and learn to debate. Like people here, I was in a very religious country with strict laws, so I studied law and tried to use it to promote change in Irish society.
“I always felt it was positive to be a woman - I didn’t try to be like the male presidents who had come before me.”
Gro Harlem Brundtland: "Both my parents were politically active - my family always signalled there was no difference between me and my brothers. This made it easier as a young woman to speak out. Like Mary, I was shy. Maybe many women are. You have to learn to dare to use your voice; to raise it. It's important that you say what you really mean and speak from your heart.
"I think that people elected me because they thought I said what I truly believed. Values are important, whether you’re a woman or a man."
Jimmy Carter: "In Norway and Ireland, women also had the right to become President or Prime Minister. This is going to be very important for Egypt: equality of opportunity for men and women."
The voice of Egypt’s youth
CAIRO - There’s less than one hour to go until Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson take the stage at the Cairo Opera House for tonight’s live televised debate, accompanied by four young Egyptians:
Moaz Fawzy, a 21-year old medical student at Cairo University who firmly believes religion has no place in politics;
Emad Karim, 29, a New York University graduate concerned about Egypt's deteriorating education and health systems and unrest in the Sinai;
Hadia Mohamed, 22, an Economics graduate from Cairo who now trains young debaters as part of the Young Arab Voices project;
Sahraa Wasfi Ismail, a 23-year old graduate in Fine Arts and Graphic Design interested in community development and reaching out to the marginalised.
Elders meet foreign policy experts in Cairo
CAIRO - This afternoon Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson joined a roundtable discussion on the theme of ‘Egypt in the World’, hosted by the Egyptian Council on Foreign Affairs and the Diplomatic Club.
The Elders welcomed the opportunity to hear from prominent Egyptian experts and government officials on a number of foreign policy issues including Middle East peace, Sudan and South Sudan, and Syria.
Elders meet President Morsi
CAIRO - This afternoon the Elders met Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi at the Presidential Palace. On the second day of their visit to Egypt, having already spent time with a range of religious leaders, officials and members of civil society, the Elders were glad of the opportunity to discuss Egypt's political transition with the President.
Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson and Gro Harlem Brundtland with President of Egypt Mohamed Morsi.
Syria agrees Eid ceasefire, Lakhdar Brahimi confirms
CAIRO–This morning the Elders met Nabil ElAraby, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, at his office at Tahrir Square. The group took the opportunity to discuss issues of common concern, from the Middle East peace process to Sudan and South Sudan.
Lakhdar Brahimi, member of The Elders and Joint UN/Arab League Special Representative for Syria, joined the meeting to discuss recent developments in Syria. Afterwards, he confirmed to reporters that the Syrian government and many rebel groups have agreed to a ceasefire over the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday that starts on Friday.
"If we succeed with this modest initiative, a longer ceasefire can be built on it – and the launch of a political process," Mr Brahimi said.
Lakhdar Brahimi speaking to journalists after the meeting between The Elders and Nabil ElAraby, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.
Egypt: key player in the Arab world
During the short press conference, which took place just before the Elders set off for a meeting with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, the group again emphasised the significance of Egypt’s political transition for the wider region. President Carter said: “We decided to come to Egypt because of the importance of what is happening here.”
Gro Harlem Brundtland added that she was glad to see the progress Egypt’s new government has made so far. Mary Robinson reaffirmed The Elders’ support for Egypt’s inclusive, democratic transition, while urging continued vigilance to ensure that the human rights abuses of the old regime are not tolerated.
Mary Robinson, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Jimmy Carter talk with Nabil ElAraby, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.
“Ask the Elders”: intergenerational dialogue on Egypt’s future
CAIRO–This evening, to conclude their two-day visit to Cairo, the Elders will take part in a televised discussion with young Egyptians on the momentous events that have changed their country – and their hopes and expectations for what comes next.
Half of Egypt’s population is under 25: this is the generation that led Egypt’s revolution, and will shape Egypt’s future. Moderated by TV host Yosri Fouda and broadcast live from the Cairo Opera House, the debate will be an opportunity to listen to the aspirations of Egyptian youth and discuss how they can build on the momentum of last year’s uprising and take their rightful place at the heart of Egypt’s democratic transition.
حوار بين شباب مصر و 'الحكماء' جيمي كارتر وماري روبنسون وجرو هارلِم برونتلاند بدار الأوبرا الأربعاء ٧م أون تي في لايف. أسئلتكم #AskTheElders— Yosri Fouda (@YosriFouda) October 23, 2012
[Translation: Dialogue between Egyptian youth and Elders Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson and Gro Harlem Brundtland – Opera House Wednesday at 7pm Online TV Live. Questions #askTheElders]
Young Egyptians are already posting their questions on Twitter using the hashtag #AskTheElders.
What do you want to ask Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson about Egypt’s democratic transition? Tweet @TheElders.
#AskTheElders what's the opportunity to MB and its party in case of Romny winning the elections? what would be the impact on Egypt— MOHAMED NABIL (@MNSABER) October 23, 2012
The event is being organised together with Young Arab Voices, a joint project of the Anna Lindh Foundation and the British Council, which develops skills and opportunities for youth-led debate across the Arab region.
More updates coming throughout the day!
Press conference: "Women's participation is essential for Egypt's democracy"
CAIRO - Mary Robinson speaking at The Elders' press conference.
Press conference: "Egypt is on a road to democracy that cannot be reversed"
CAIRO - Jimmy Carter speaking at The Elders' press conference.
Elders' statement: The Elders begin two-day visit to Egypt
Listening to the aspirations of today's youth is a particularly important focus for the Elders’ visit to Egypt, where half of the 85 million-strong population is under the age of 25. The Elders will hold a discussion with a panel of young people from across the country about the future of Egypt, and their role within it. Read the full statement here.
“Last year, Cairo's youth found strength in numbers and diversity. They said to one another, ‘if you go in the street, I’ll come with you’ – and soon they had filled Tahrir Square. It is also true that more than half of those aged 15-24 in Egypt are unemployed. Meeting their aspirations and finding opportunities for these young men and women will be one of the biggest challenges facing the country’s leaders.
“One of the missions Nelson Mandela gave us, as Elders, was to meet and listen to young people. As Elders, we have also learned the value of making way for younger talent. This is a message that we hope will resonate here, and help to emphasise that Egypt’s greatest asset is its people.”
Mary Robinson speaking at The Elders' press conference in Egypt.
Elders' statement: The Elders begin two-day visit to Egypt
Speaking at a press conference in Cairo, for the second part of their trip, The Elders argue that the drafting of Egypt’s new constitution is a critical moment to secure the political gains of the revolution and chart the way ahead. They hope that wide national participation and public debate will greet the constitution's first draft, due to be issued soon, ahead of a referendum. Read the full statement here.
“We understand the frustrations of those who may feel that change is coming too slowly. But change takes time. Egypt now has a democratically elected President and the military’s role has changed in a way that would have been difficult to imagine only a year ago. This is a credit to the persistence of the people and the statesmanship of President Morsi.
“Egypt is in the midst of a lively debate over its future constitution. Non-violent protests that take place almost daily are a further expression of the fundamental freedoms to which we all aspire. Change on this scale never happens overnight but the momentum of the past 20 months is a great source of hope and encouragement to us all.”
Jimmy Carter speaking at The Elders' press conference in Egypt.
Elders' statement: The Elders begin two-day visit to Egypt
CAIRO - Arriving in Egypt in the second part of their trip to the Middle East, the Elders emphasised their appreciation for the non-violent way in which the Egyptian people brought about the great changes that have swept the country since January 2011 and offered their support and encouragement for an inclusive, democratic transition. Read the full statement here.
Gro Harlem Brundtland:
“What Egypt has achieved in the past 20 months is a credit to the people of this country and an inspiration to millions around the world. We could not take our eyes off our televisions last year when Egyptians of all backgrounds took to the streets together to peacefully demand change. Our hearts rose even further when their demands for an end to dictatorship were met.
“During our visit, we look forward to hearing from many sections of Egyptian society about their expectations for the future – including on the forthcoming draft of the constitution. We are especially interested to ensure that we meet groups that often find it hard to make their voices heard, such as young people, women and minorities.”
Gro Harlem Brundtland speaking at The Elders' press conference in Egypt.
Egypt’s religious leaders promote inter-faith dialogue
CAIRO - During the Elders’ meeting this morning with Egyptian religious leaders and intellectuals of ‘Egyptian Family Home’, the group discussed the importance of their continuous inter-faith dialogue and cooperation. Speaking to journalists afterwards, Jimmy Carter praised the Grand Imam’s moderate leadership and noted that Egypt’s Christian leaders were grateful for his approach.
The Elders speak to journalists after their discussion with religious leaders and intellectuals at Al Azhar.
The Elders welcomed the influence of the ‘Egyptian Family Home’ group on political decision-making, including the drafting of Egypt’s new constitution. As President Carter noted: “These are not political leaders, but they speak with great authority for freedom, for equality under the law and before God.”
He added: “We have watched with great interest the evolution not only of the new government, but also of the new constitution.” President Carter, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Mary Robinson all acknowledged Egypt’s role as a leader in the Arab world, and expressed their hope that the teachings of both Christianity and Islam – peace, justice, equality and the alleviation of human suffering – would be reflected in the country’s new constitution.
The Elders meet religious leaders
CAIRO - The Elders landed in Cairo this morning and headed straight to Al Azhar - a prestigious seat of Islamic learning - to meet the Grand Imam, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb.
The Elders meet the Grand Imam, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, at Al Azhar.
Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson then joined a discussion with religious leaders and intellectuals from several denominations of the Islamic and Christian faiths at 'Egyptian Family Home', an inter-faith project that aims to build peace between Egypt's religious communities through a constant dialogue.
Arrival in Cairo
CAIRO - Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson have just landed in Cairo for the second leg of the Elders' delegation to the Middle East. The Elders will hear a range of perspectives from Egyptian leaders and civil society, and aim to lend their support to the country's inclusive, democratic transition.
More updates will be posted throughout the day on the Elders' activities, from meetings with Egyptian officials, religious leaders and women's organisations to a press conference scheduled for this afternoon.
Press conference: "Hope is fading for a two-state solution"
JERUSALEM - Mary Robinson speaking at The Elders' press conference.
Press conference: "We are no longer moving forwards, we are moving backwards"
JERUSALEM - Gro Harlem Brudtland speaking at the Elders' press conference.
Press conference: "We have reached a crisis stage"
JERUSALEM - Jimmy Carter speaking at The Elders' press conference.
Elders' statement: 'We are heading towards a one-state outcome'
The Elders also used their Jerusalem press conference to express their concern about the ongoing divisions between the leading Palestinian parties, Fatah and Hamas, which was evident again recently in Hamas’ boycott of the municipal elections in the West Bank on Saturday (20 October). They emphasised that unity is urgently needed so that the vital interests of the Palestinian people are properly represented, and to bridge the widening gulf between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Read the full statement here.
“The aspirations of Palestinians are being crushed, not only by the complete failure of negotiations with Israel but by a lack of unified political leadership. They deserve much better. Reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas remains an essential ingredient in Palestinian self-determination. The leaders have to be more attuned to the demands of the people, especially given the broader changes sweeping the region.”
Mary Robinson speaking at The Elders' press conference in Jerusalem.
Elders' statement: 'We are heading towards a one-state outcome'
During their two-day visit, the Elders toured Jerusalem to view the changing urban landscape and demography of the city; a result of policies designed to expand and deepen the Israeli presence and restrict the Palestinian presence.
“It has been very sad to hear of the considerable problems that long-standing Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem face in their everyday lives – from having to reapply every year for the right to stay, to businesspeople waiting years for licenses, to those who have lost their homes to settlers or demolition. The effect of this system is to create great suffering, and erode the diverse character of this city, which is so important for people of all faiths and traditions from all around the world.
“As a medical doctor, I was particularly affected by our visit to Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, a Palestinian model of excellence for the entire region which faces enormous difficulties in treating those people nearest to it from the West Bank – never mind Palestinians from Gaza – due to Israeli travel restrictions. It tragically illustrates the direct human impact of the present deadlock.”
Gro Brundtland meets patients and their relatives at the Augusta Victoria Hospital; the hospital provides vital specialist medical services to East Jerusalem residents, and Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza .
Elders' statement: 'We are heading towards a one-state outcome'
JERUSALEM - The Elders have concluded their two-day visit to Israel and the West Bank with a press conference in Jerusalem, saying that the two-state solution is in deep peril and may soon be out of reach. They urged for a fresh, concerted approach to explore all alternatives to the current stalemate in negotiations, stressing that a two-state solution is the only realistic path to lasting peace in the Middle East. Read the full statement here.
“We are heading towards a one-state outcome, which will fail to ensure the security and democratic rights of the people of Israel and renege on the promise of self-determination for Palestinians. The two-state solution is vanishing. We urgently need a fresh approach by all parties if a Palestinian state is to be achieved.
“The Elders share the view that the two-state solution is the only realistic path to peace and security for Israel and the Palestinians. But changes on the ground, including the construction of settlements beyond the Green Line and the growing isolation of East Jerusalem from the West Bank, make a Palestinian state unviable.”
Jimmy Carter speaking at The Elders' press conference in Jerusalem.
President Abbas to push for Palestinian recognition at the UN
RAMALLAH – Jimmy Carter, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Mary Robinson met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this afternoon, where they discussed the importance of continuing efforts to reach a two-state solution with the Israelis, as well as the need for reconciliation between the major Palestinian parties.
President Abbas assured the Elders that he has “firm plans” to go to UN General Assembly in November to seek recognition of the Palestinians as a ‘non-member observer state’, which the Elders encouraged.
Jimmy Carter and President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.
Elders to meet President Abbas, encourage UN observer status bid
RAMALLAH - The Elders are currently in Ramallah meeting Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority.
Speaking to journalists earlier today, Jimmy Carter expressed his hope that President Abbas would go through with the plan to bring the Palestinian bid for "non-member observer" status to the UN General Assembly. This, he said, might give Palestinians some tangible legal status in the international community.
East Jerusalem: the changes that are underming a two-state solution
JERUSALEM - Mary Robinson arrived in Jerusalem early this morning to join her fellow Elders Jimmy Carter and Gro Harlem Brundtland on their third delegation to the region.
The group were briefed on recent developments in East Jerusalem by Ray Dolphin, UN-OCHA’s Research Director for the occupied Palestinian Territories, before setting out to see first-hand the impact of some of these changes on the city.
The Elders heard how settlement expansion, the separation wall and complex systems of permits and identification cards are making daily life increasingly difficult for East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents – and for the West Bank residents who also depend on the city’s hospitals and other key services.
Mary Robinson, Jimmy Carter and Gro Harlem Brundtland speak with Hagit Ofran of Peace Now's Settlement Watch project.
At the Mount of Olives, looking over the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, Hagit Ofran (Director of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch project) described how Israeli settlement expansion was undermining the viability and territorial integrity of a future Palestinian state – and therefore of a two-state solution. However, she told the Elders, she believes that these changes are not irreversible; that the two-state solution still remains the only real path to peace.
Under Prime Minister Netanyahu's leadership, Jimmy Carter told journalists, Israel seems to be pursuing Eretz Israel: a de facto one-state solution in which the occupied Palestinian territories are subsumed. However, as Gro Harlem Brundtland stated, “the one-state solution is not a solution.” Mary Robinson emphasised that “a one-state solution would be totally disrespectful of human rights.”
President Carter expressed his hope that Israel would recommit to the two-state solution. Political courage, he said, is about doing what is right – even if it's unpopular.
“We’re here to assess whether the two-state solution is still a viable option”
JERUSALEM – The Elders met Israeli President Shimon Peres at his Jerusalem office this afternoon to discuss the status of the Middle East peace process. They had met him previously during The Elders’ first delegation to Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories in August 2009.
Jimmy Carter and Gro Harlem Brundtland meet with President Peres of Israel.
Speaking before the meeting, former US President Jimmy Carter noted that the The Elders were delighted to meet President Peres once again, who was "one of [his] heroes as a peacemaker", before expressing the Elders’ concern about the lack of recent progress.
Gro Harlem Brundtland said: "the Oslo accords have not been pursued in the way that they should. That worries me a lot. But the peace process needs to continue."
President Carter told journalists that the Elders would be meeting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah tomorrow, and with President Muhammad Morsi and other Egyptian leaders in Cairo later this week.
By then, he said, the Elders "hope to be able to assess whether the two-state solution is still a viable option or whether it should be completely abandoned and other plans made accordingly."
Jimmy Carter: "We hope to be able to assess whether the two-state solution is still a viable option or whether it should be completely abandoned and other plans made accordingly."
"Giving up is not an option"
JERUSALEM – This morning Gro Harlem Brundtland spent two hours with academics, businesspeople, youth and religious leaders to hear about the challenges faced every day by people living and working in Jerusalem – and how ongoing changes to the city are threatening the viability of the two-state solution.
A hidden reality
One academic referred to the words of the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish: “This is the city of the prophets.” Jerusalem, she said, should be a place of spirituality, respect and human values – and yet, behind the picturesque scenes of the old city, there lies a hidden reality.
The group spoke about the myriad ways in which Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem are regulated and controlled in their daily lives, from restrictions on accessing places of worship to the strict rules affecting where people can live, work and go to school. Many of them agreed that housing is one of the the most fundamental problems for Palestinians living in Jerusalem, who face home demolitions, limitations on building permits, or even the occupation of their homes by Jewish Israeli settlers.
An obstacle to peace
Dr Brundtland, who was Prime Minister of Norway during the Oslo Accords in 1993, acknowledged that that the two-state solution envisaged 20 years ago remains very far from being realised, and that developments in Jerusalem are a big part of this problem.
However, she told the group: “I am still an optimist – I don’t believe in giving up and sitting back and saying ‘this is hopeless, we give up’. This is not an option at all.”
Gro Harlem Brundtland at this morning's meeting with academics, businesspeople, youth and religious leaders from Jerusalem.
Gro Harlem Brundtland meets Middle East diplomats
JERUSALEM - It’s the first day of The Elders’ delegation to Israel and the West Bank. Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson have yet to arrive. Gro Harlem Brundtland has just joined a briefing on the role of the international community in realising a two-state solution.
She is speaking to:
- Robert H Serry (UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, and the UN Secretary-General’s Personal Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and to the Quartet);
- Hans Jacob Frydenlund (Norwegian Representative to the Palestinian Authority); and
- James W Rawley (UN Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process).
Welcome to The Elders’ live blog from the Middle East and Cairo
This weekend, three Elders will return to the Middle East for the start of a two-stage visit to the region.
Delegation leader Jimmy Carter will be joined in Jerusalem and Ramallah by fellow Elders Gro Harlem Brundtland and Mary Robinson, where the group will meet Israeli President Shimon Peres and President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, as well as a range of civil society members.
In Israel and the West Bank, the Elders wish to raise concerns about the future of the imperilled two-state solution, particularly in light of settlement expansion, and will explore how changes to the city of Jerusalem are affecting prospects for a sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
The Elders will then travel to Cairo for the second stage of their visit. Egypt’s political transformation is hugely important, not only for the country’s 80 million citizens but for the entire Arab world. During their visit the Elders aim to encourage Egypt’s inclusive, democratic transition and hear from leaders, civil society and young Egyptians about the some of the challenges they face.
We’ll be posting news and updates to this live blog – you can also stay up to date by following @TheElders on Twitter.