The Elders


Egypt in transition: Elders visit Cairo

In October 2012 the Elders travelled to Cairo for the second part of their Middle East visit. They met President Morsi, religious leaders, young people and civil society representatives, expressing their support for Egypt’s democratic transition and encouraging all Egyptians to join the spirited debate about their country’s future.

Upon arriving in Cairo, the three Elders made a first stop at Al Azhar, the principal centre of Sunni Islamic learning. They spent time with Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb (pictured here) and several intellectuals and leaders of other religious denominations, who together make up the ‘Egyptian Family Home’ interfaith group.

The Elders welcomed the group’s moderate, inclusive influence on Egyptian society. 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.”

Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson visited the Foreign Ministry to meet representatives of the Human Rights Council and of the Constituent Assembly, which is tasked with writing Egypt’s new constitution.

They were encouraged to hear how the constitution-drafting process is progressing, noting how quickly the transition is taking place. As Jimmy Carter later remarked to journalists: “The United States declared our independence in 1776, and it was only 12 years later that we finally got our constitution approved.”

At a press conference on the first day of their visit, the Elders congratulated the people of Egypt on the progress of their political transition since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak last year.

They emphasised the importance of including all voices in the drafting of Egypt’s new constitution and encouraged all Egyptians to embrace the spirited debate taking place about their country’s future.

Jimmy Carter: “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... 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.”

The Elders met Secretary-General of the Arab League Nabil ElAraby to discuss several issues on their agenda, from relations between Sudan and South Sudan to the threats to the two-state solution in the Middle East.

Lakhdar Brahimi, member of The Elders and currently the UN and Arab League Joint Special Representative for the Syrian crisis, joined the meeting to discuss the latest developments in Syria.

After meeting Nabil ElAraby, the four Elders held an impromptu press conference outside his office at Tahrir Square. Lakhdar Brahimi confirmed to reporters that the Syrian government and many rebel groups had agreed to a ceasefire over the 4-day Eid al-Adha holiday that began that weekend.

The Elders congratulated President Mohamed Morsi on the successful political transition in Egypt. In a meeting at the President Palace in Cairo, they also emphasised the importance of ensuring that all Egyptians are included in the process of determining their country’s future.

Having just travelled to Cairo from Jerusalem, the three Elders also discussed Egypt's role in the Middle East peace process with President Morsi.

Among their meetings with Egyptian civil society, the Elders heard from Wedad Demerdash, a mill worker and union leader from the cotton-producing city of Mahalla.

She told the Elders that while the revolution had brought some improvements to working conditions, workers overall did not feel that they had benefited from the political transition as much as the Muslim Brotherhood – despite the labour movement having played a key role in the popular protests that led to the end of the Mubarak regime last year.

In partnership with Young Arab Voices, the Elders took part in a live, televised debate with young Egyptians at the Cairo Opera House. Watched by millions of people across Egypt, the Elders answered questions from audience members and Twitter users.

At the end of the discussion – which ranged from Egypt’s youth unemployment crisis to its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict – Mary Robinson commended the young Egyptians in the audience for being so engaged in debating the future of their country. “It is wonderful to see there is no hesitation to stand up and speak by the young women here!” she added.

Watch the video.

Photos: Jeff Moore | The Elders

Middle East live blog

From meetings with leaders and civil society to a live, televised debate with young people, this live blog shows highlights and behind the scenes photos and videos of the Elders’ activities during their visit to Israel, the West Bank and Egypt in October 2012.

On the Web
Analysis: Gulf Islamists irked as monarchs back Egypt's generals… via @reuters
RT @AlArabiya_Eng: #Egypt’s draft charter allows Mubarak era figures back into politics… via @AlArabiya_Eng
Egypt: What poll results reveal about Brotherhood's popularity…
"How the Power of Protest Died in Egypt - The Daily Beast"…
Former US President Jimmy Carter talks on #Egypt and why democracies need time to grow #EldersS2N | Tonight on #South2North
"Egypt’s power vacuum is radicalizing the Sinai Peninsula"… via @washingtonpost
@nytimes #Egypt: Many Egyptians Fight on Streets to Restore #Revolution’s Goals. @nytimes:… | #mideast #arabspring
Democracy a Double-Edged Sword for Women… #feminism #arabspring #egypt #women @ghazalairshad
Article - Islamists & Democracy: Cautions from Pakistan… #arabspring #democracy #tunisia #egypt #islam
@YosriFouda Women fighting a brick wall 4 their rights what could possibly change b/f seeing a woman president of Egypt #AskTheElders
#Egypt: “there is no revolution without the participation of #women or without their security”… via @nytimes
The new #arabspring movement, taking the region by storm to fight #climate change.… #unfccc #qatar #egypt #cop18
Mr Carter, Do u think Egyptian elections will be fair after cancelling Judicial full supervision in 10 years by constitution? #Asktheelders
The Lede Blog: Crowdfunding Citizen Journalism in Cairo… #Egypt #Arabspring
#Egypt Despite the Arab revolt, women remain shackled to past - Sydney Morning Herald: Sydne...… #Tahrir #ArabSpring
Nathan Brown on the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian democracy…… #Egypt #MB #ArabSpring
Nathan Brown "Egypt’s Constitution: Islamists Prepare for a Long Political Battle"…
Islamist #Morsi faces difficulties in handling the economy. Will the military return in #Egypt? #ArabSpring…
12% of MPs in Egypt were women in 2010. In 2012 it was 2%. Have women been failed by the #ArabSpring?… @TrustWomenConf
Women's Rights Post Arab Spring- Part I Egypt:… #VAW #ArabSpring #Egypt
@YosriFouda What constitutes a successful democratic transition? Can #Egypt truly shed its authoritarian past? #AskTheElders
RT @RawahBadrawi: Critical, clear, unbiased, an absolute must-read for all: :International Crisis Group : Egypt Conflict Alert http://t. ...
#Egypt Salafists vow more protests for Sharia-based constitution - Ahram Online: Ahram Onlin...… #Tahrir #ArabSpring
Taking power through technology in the #ArabSpring @rameshmedia discusses #Egypt's digital battle @AJStream.… #fb
Draft Egyptian Constitution Adopts a Role for Religion… #Egypt #Arabspring
Egypt’s stake in the Syrian revolution… via @egyptmonocle
Egypt’s president faces balancing act…
When Lieberman said this, people guffawed at him. Egypt may be more dangerous than Libya (or Iran) @BeytenuEnglish…
Egypt's new president vows unity, but powers are limited…
Unbelievable numbers, this is the highest numbers of protesters on the streets in the history of Egypt #Jan25 2012
One year after Egypt's uprising - Is #Jan25 a celebration or protest?… #Egypt #Tahrir #NoSCAF
RT @ASE: The fact that women received less than 2 percent of the vote in #Egypt parliament is discouraging in #2012. #EgyElections #jan25
Dear Elders (24 Nov 2011) Before we start, we would like to express our gratitude to your important work and we humbly address you, our global elders, some of you the heroes of our youth, to help us, who feel helpless in our suffering. In our tradition, we too have the village elders, which we call "shimagele", they are highly respected in our culture and their influence and wisdom is able to tackle relationship troubles, village disputes or murder. But we find ourselves in a situation that has crippled our people, the young and the old, the farmers and intellectuals, those who have remained in the country as much as those who live abroad. We are today writing to you with a plea to hear the cry of a people, a people who were once beautiful, proud, hard working, honest, kind, and full of hope, and who are now oppressed, tortured, trafficked, imprisoned, enslaved, killed. A broken people. A crying country - called Eritrea. Eritrea is listed among the first three countries for human right violations alongside North Corea, it comes last on RFS's list of press freedom (175th out of 175), it is referred to as Africa's worst dictatorship and the biggest open prison. Almost the entire nation has been enslaved, the majority of youth is either in indefinite military service or in indefinite "social" service, they work hard, unable to start a family or to fulfil their dreams and aspirations, they are paid by the government about US$35 a month. Our university has been closed several years ago (probably due to fear of an uprising from there), the last year of high school now takes place at the military school, if you fail the exams you continue in the military if you pass, the government decides what you study. There are reportedly more prisons than schools in our country and if you are still free, rules will imprison you: - If your child crosses the border to flee, parents are often made accountable and are asked to pay a high sum of money, if they cannot pay they are imprisoned regardless of their old age. - There is no private sector except for a few small shops, hotels, and tea houses, and if you want to renew your license and you have children abroad, you can only renew after your children have made payments to the Embassy in their respective host country. - Farmers are not allowed to store their harvest, everything gets confiscated and then small portions are distributed equally to each farmer, the rest is probably sold by the government to other entities. - All private medical surgeries have been closed, it was claimed doctors were making money out of their patients, now the few hospitals are completely overcrowded and one has to pay more just to be seen than it cost to see a private doctor. People hardly survive, in fact if it was not for their relatives living abroad most of them would be ending in extreme poverty. But the worst is yet to be mentioned: In 2001 many of our cabinet ministers, who were former freedom fighters and who had brought independence alongside the leaders of today's dictatorial regimes, are slowly dying a cruel death in desert prisons. Imprisoned with them journalists of our former private press. Among our government ministers two women, both mothers to small children at the time. We know now (from a former prison guard who managed to flee)that they have stayed in hand cuffs for all these years even during the night, locked up in solitary confinement for 10 years not even allowed to speak to the prison guards, no bed, no medical attention, no adequate nutrition. We know now also, that sadly about half of them, around 20 (all named), have died a horrible, slow death. The remaining are set to be mentally impaired, blinded, or unable to walk. They fought for freedom, independence, and justice and yet they were tortured to death by their own comrades, simply for calling openly for democratic reforms and overdue elections. But there are tens of thousands more that have landed in prison, underground or in construction containers in the desert. No one knows where they are or what their crime was. The head of our Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios, who can only be replaced following his death or unlawful action (to be decided by the church council) was taken off his post and put under house arrest, he is not allowed to see any visitors and is said to be in bad health. His crime: He preached about freedom and love and asked the government not to interfere in church matters. The list goes on and on... Another tragedy: Hundred of Eritreans are now being kidnapped and horribly tortured by human traffickers in the Eastern Sudan and moreover, in the Sinai desert of Egypt. Just a few days ago, Channel 25 reporters showed the discovery of a fresh mass grave in the Sinai desert, the majority of those killed were Eritreans, as the kidnappers actively target them. The kidnappers brutally torture the mostly young Eritreans, by burning them with hot iron, cutting off body parts or threatening them to cut them open alive to take out their organs, they do so during live phone calls to relatives in the US and Europe, to make them pay the ransom. Those who cannot paid are killed or used as sex slaves, Israel's hospitals have recorded a sharp increase in abortions from refugees, gain most of them Eritrean, coming through Egypt's Sinai desert. And here it comes: the ransom payment from the relatives in the West is made in most cases to ERITREAN agents inside Eritrea or in the USA/Europe, and it is clear that these agents are government agents who yet again found a way to raise foreign currency income. In the meanwhile, the Western governments have signed a resolution at the UN Security Council for sanctions against Eritrea's leadership over its support to Al-Shabaab. But while the sanctions have been passed, they are yet to be enforced properly: Eritrea's leader are still travelling freely all over the US and Europe spreading their propaganda among their supporters and continue to increase the suffering of those in their hands. Moreover, Western Governments stand by and watch, as the Eritrean Embassies in their countries organise festivals, concerts, conferences, collecting money and taxes, and making a huge profit, although exactly those activities were named in the UN Security's monitor group report as a main source of income for Eritrea's dictatorship and the support to Al-Shabaab. We fail to see the consequence. There is no family in Eritrea that is not affected, no heart that is not full of sadness and despair (except for a few supporters who continue their intimidation campaigns abroad). We have fought hard during our 30 years of independence (1961-1991) and have won independence against all odds, but now our enemy is who were once our brothers and heroes, and it took us years to admit it and to come to terms with that. Now we are slowly rising, our community is waking up in all corners of this world, making noise, campaigning, fighting for real freedom, peace and justice in our beautiful country. But we are running out of time to save thousands and tens of thousands of lives. We therefore humbly ask you to support our journey to freedom and justice by any ways you may be able to or feel to be appropriate. Or, if we are allowed to suggest, by 1) Asking Western governments to stop the dictator's money making mechanisms and networks to continue in their respective countries. 2) Asking Sudan and Egypt to hunt down the brutal human traffickers (locations are known, even TV crews, including Al Jazeera filmed the enslaved), Israel to support the victims, and the UN and Western governments to increase pressure on Egypt and Sudan to stop this inhumane cruelty, further because ransom payments are made by US/European citizens. (added in a follow up e-mail 3. We would like to add urgently among our suggestions for the Elders to use all their power to call upon the Eritrean government to release all prisoners of conscience and religious presecution, in particular the famous G15 (government cabinet) and journalists.) We thank you for your kind consideration and know that you have to choose your cases carefully, as you cannot take up all injustice in this world. If you are able to help our people the timing would be very good, as finally our people are standing up against injustice in our country, but we need some support. Please, if you can, listen to the cry of a people who like many of you have fought for their freedom since 1961 and when they finally got independence they found themselves in a new and more brutal set of chains. We thank you. Sincerely, A group of concerned Eritreans


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