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The Success of Egypt's Democratic Transition Depends on Respect for Human Rights, Upholding Rule of Law, and Protecting Civil Society, Says Ros-Lehtinen

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, made the following statement at a Joint Subcommittee hearing entitled: "Human Rights Abuses in Egypt." Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

"Thank you very much Mr. Smith, thank you for your leadership throughout the years on any issue related to human rights and thank you for shedding some light on this terrible human rights abuse that is going on in Egypt. It is an honor to hold this hearing with you, thank you sir.

During the Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood-led era, we witnessed a steady increase in human rights abuses perpetrated by the Islamist government as Morsi began to solidify his power and crack down on fundamental freedoms of Egyptians. There was a precipitous increase in the arrests of journalists, a widespread crackdown on opposition demonstrators, wanton disrespect for the rule of law, and an overall deteriorating state of human rights throughout Egypt.

Then, this past July, the people of Egypt grew tired of Morsi's oppressive regime and its blatant disregard for human rights and again took to the streets en masse. Since Morsi's removal from power, Muslim Brotherhood supporters have terrorized the Egyptian people with violent protests, and the end result has left hundreds killed and many more injured. The Egyptian military has responded in kind, and the interim authorities have moved to initiate restrictive assembly laws.

And though the military has taken some steps to keep Egypt safe and secure -- such as conducting operations against al-Qaeda in the lawless Sinai -- the general security situation, restrictions on civil society and a lack of the rule of law and respect for human rights demonstrate that Egypt still has a long way to go toward creating a truly democratic society.

While Egypt's interim government has said that it is protecting religious minorities, we still see attacks against Coptic Christian community all the time. Though the government may not outwardly incite these attacks, it fails to provide the adequate protections to prevent them from happening. Christians have seen a drastic increase of attacks against them as they have been scapegoated by Morsi supporters.

Horrifying reports of attacks against Christian communities, and of young Christian girls being abducted and forced into marriage with radical Islamists, depict the grim reality that Christians are currently facing in Egypt. But Christians aren't the only groups that continue to suffer; Other religious minorities, such as Jews, Baha'is, Sufi Muslims, Shiites, and others have been targeted by extremists, and women's rights are woefully inadequate.

While the latest draft constitution in theory has provided more rights, in practice it is so left open to interpretation, thus not necessarily affording any more rights to those groups who need protection the most. The committee tasked with drawing up this new constitution was not truly representative of the interests of all Egyptians -- of the fifty members, only five were women and only four were Coptic Christians. It is the duty of the interim government to help shepherd Egypt toward a new dawn of democracy.

In order for Egypt to return to the path toward democracy, the new constitution must protect the rights of women and religious and ethnic minorities, everyone's human rights must be recognized, and the political party process must be allowed to take root with free, fair and transparent elections. I hope that the new draft constitution will be implemented in a way that adequately addresses these concerns and is not just simply a document that can be thrown out at a moment's notice -- the ideals enshrined in this document must be the bedrock foundation that can inspire a country that is in danger of losing its way.

A successful democratic transition in Egypt can only occur once those protections are respected, are solidified and enforced. In addition, Egyptian authorities must pardon the 43 NGO workers - many of whom are American citizens - who were unjustly convicted and sentenced earlier this year, and allow the NGOs to operate without fear of government reprisals as they help to support civil society.

The path to democracy is a difficult one, but it would be a tremendous accomplishment if the people of Egypt can implement the democratic reforms they have called for and realize a free and functioning civil society. Without a strong basis in democracy, any elections will fail to achieve the democratic results we all hope and pray to see in Egypt. And I thank the Chairman, again, for the joint hearing."

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