Statement by the UN Resident Coordinator on the occasion of the 2011 United Nations Day
H.E Ambassador Ahmed Fathalla
Heads of United Nations Agencies in Egypt
UN Goodwill Ambassadors
I would like to express my appreciation to the Government of Egypt and His Excellency, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohamed Kamel Amr, for once again bringing us together to celebrate UN Day.
Dramatic events in Egypt this year have led to many new developments. A referendum on the Constitution was held in March. Elections for two new houses of Parliament are underway. Next year there will be a new Constitution and Presidential elections will soon follow.
All of these events are taking place because a revolution started on 25 January in which over 800 Egyptians died and thousands were injured in protests calling for change. This was not a revolution of hatred, but rather one of ideas. The people of Egypt spoke and they demanded justice. They demanded greater freedoms, and the right to participate more equitably in their own society. They demanded hope. They demanded fundamental change, not a variation on authoritarian rule.
In response to this call for change, all of Egypt is mobilising to face the challenges – including youth, workers and political parties. The Supreme Council for the Armed Forces is stewarding the country towards elections, while the Government has been active in addressing vital national interests such as the waters of the Nile. And Egypt continues to play its role as a regional power-broker as we saw in the Palestinian prisoner exchange deal and through its commitment to UN peace-keeping operations in Darfur and South Sudan.
The Government has picked up this call for change. It stated at the recent Deauville Partnership meeting that: “Egypt is determined to build a modern democratic state that values human rights, the rule of law, strong institutions … a better functioning market economy …. and [which] has a robust role in the international community”.
People are discussing the nature and direction of this “modern democratic state”. Dozens of new political parties have been created since 25 January. People are striking. People are voting in syndicate elections. And all of this invigorated political life is taking place with dignity and a sense of purpose.
Yet, as Prime Minister Sharaf said on the night of 9 October, there are elements that are seeking to destabilise Egypt at this sensitive time. The tragedy of the Maspero incident, in which Egyptian civilians and soldiers died, is a reflection of the need to remain unified and purposeful on the path ahead.
Egypt has not experienced political upheaval of this nature since the revolution of 1952. The country has entered unchartered waters.
And here is where the international community can help. Of course, every country is different, with its own unique character and requirements. While this is very much Egypt’s national project, the international community has a vested interest in seeing it succeed. Moreover, a successful transition to a more politically inclusive and economically prosperous Egypt can serve as a model to many who are watching.
At times of tremendous change there is a natural wariness of outsiders. At the same time, the leaders of a country in transition have a responsibility to their people for this unique moment in their country’s history. The burden of leadership is heavy, and it is the duty of all leaders to benefit from the experiences of others: to see what has worked and what has not worked; to avoid the obvious pitfalls; and to address the underlying causes that led to the popular demands for freedom, dignity and social justice.
As Prime Minister Sharaf said during the International Transitions Forum supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) this June, “while the details of democratic transitions will differ from one country and one historical moment to another, there are similarities and lessons learned which can guide us.” He is absolutely right. The actions taken now will have an impact - positive or negative - for generations to come.
The United Nations has just extended substantial electoral support to the Tunisian independent electoral body. We provided guidance for a Tunisian process that was transparent and inclusive. When the elections were held there was popular faith in the process and, consequently, the results have been widely accepted.
In Egypt, the UN and our international partners are willing and able to do more to help. Almost every government in the world uses outside technical expertise and it is this experience, this know-how that can help drive forward Egyptian initiatives that are crucial to the country’s transition to democracy. As the UN Secretary-General has stated, we are here “to help make the Arab Spring a true season of hope for all.”
The UN and our international partners have been on the ground in Egypt working to make a difference for decades. We will continue to work with the Government and our other national partners to put in place key building blocks for the transition, which have been identified by the Secretary-General as: “free and vibrant political parties; a fully inclusive Constituent Assembly; new programmes for social equity and inclusive economic growth; a renewed emphasis on quality education; open space for civil society groups driving change; full freedom of religion, media and assembly; and equal rights for women and minorities”.
On this last point, it is worth recalling the words of Michelle Bachelet, the Executive Director of UN Women, who remarked that in every stage of a transition, including elections and the drafting of a new constitution, it is essential that equal rights for all citizens are assured. And in this context, ensuring that women have equal opportunities for jobs and social services and access to political power is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.
Most, if not all, of the key development challenges facing Egypt prior to 25 January require continued engagement since progress in areas including more equitable economic development, social justice, decent work, human rights, and climate change, requires sustained capacity development and strong institutions – progress that is not susceptible to quick-fix solutions. While continued UN engagement on these structural development issues is taking place, I would like to mention a few of the recent initiatives supported by the UN relating to: the upcoming elections, special programmes for Upper Egypt, combating corruption, police reform, and the humanitarian response on the border with Libya.
We all know that democratic reforms are not limited to a ballot box. However, elections do constitute a key component in any transition – one that can either help consolidate the path to democracy or derail it. Political events in transition countries, including Egypt, highlight the importance of having elections that meet both international standards and people’s expectations. In this context, the credibility of the upcoming elections is of the utmost importance. The Egyptian people must have faith in the integrity of the electoral process, and the results must accurately reflect their political voice.
Since April, the UN has offered to provide technical assistance to help the upcoming elections meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people. A few days ago, the national authorities agreed to UNDP providing limited support in several areas, namely public outreach and voter education; the training of poll workers; the provision of some electoral supplies; and, in tandem with a project led by UN WOMEN, facilitating ID cards for the poor to enable them to vote. UNDP will also assist the High Electoral Commission to document lessons learned from the Parliamentary elections to help improve subsequent elections. Donor funding is required for this UN elections support programme.
Upper Egypt continues to suffer from high rates of poverty, unemployment, food insecurity, and chronic malnutrition, a situation that has been further compounded by the country’s recent economic downturn.
The UN is addressing the immediate needs of the population and long-term development issues, focusing on: employment and income-generating activities for youth and women; strengthening safety nets and social protection programmes; improving food security and preventing malnutrition; and enhancing social services.
Two joint UN programmes are currently getting underway in Upper Egypt. One is tackling the nutritional needs of women and children. It is being implemented by UNICEF and WFP with their Egyptian Government counterparts (including the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population, and National Nutrition Institute), and NGOs. A second focuses on income-generating activities for vulnerable population groups facing economic insecurity. In parallel with on-going work by FAO, it will be implemented by the ILO, UNHABITAT, UNWOMEN, the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with Egyptian Government counterparts, (Ministry of Local Development, the Ministry of Manpower and Emigration, the Social Fund for Development, the Agriculture and Agro-Industries Technology Center of the Ministry of Industry), and NGOs and business associations. Resources from the international community are required to expand the coverage of these two UN joint programmes.
One of the demands of protestors has been for a more accountable state that systematically addresses the issues of impunity and corruption.
Recently, the Ministry of State for Administrative Development, in cooperation with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the European Union, launched an initiative to combat corruption and money laundering, foster asset recovery, and ensure a solid framework for the implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption. We hope the Government will agree to expand this programme and encourage the participation of other development partners, both from the North and the South, who have valuable experience and resources to share with Egypt.
Police reform has been another key demand. On 4 March, Prime Minister Sharaf addressed this issue, calling for “a free country where opinion is not captured in prison cells and where the security of the citizen is a top priority.” Security sector reform is a crucial aspect in the transition to democracy, one that requires a transformation of mentality and a revised legal and procedural framework that accords full human rights to all citizens. As Prime Minister Sharaf said, the police force must work for the good of the Egyptian people.
Given the importance of this issue, UNDP and UNODC undertook a joint mission in June that worked closely with the national authorities to identify a set of confidence-building measures between the police and the public. The Ministry of Interior has communicated its interest in working with the UN in this area. We hope that we can get operational soon.
Humanitarian response on the border with Libya
While the work of the UN in Egypt is primarily focused on addressing development issues, we are also engaged in humanitarian work, including assistance to refugees in Egypt. Moreover, this past year, under the joint leadership of UNHCR and IOM, and with the assistance of UNICEF, WFP, WHO and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN led the international response to address the humanitarian and protection needs on the Egyptian/Libyan border, where some 320,000 Egyptians, Libyans and third-country nationals fled into Egypt.
Bringing together development partners
The UN is also playing an active role in facilitating coordination among development partners. This is being done within the framework of the Development Partners Group (DPG) that is chaired by the UN Resident Coordinator and which comprises thirty-four organizations and ten thematic working groups. One important example of this cooperative approach has been the coordinated response of development partners to the Government’s proposed social housing programme.
Those of us working on development issues in Egypt face the challenge of how to use modest levels of development cooperation strategically in support of inclusive national development processes that bring national and international actors together around a common agenda. This is in line with the aid effectiveness principles embodied in the “Cairo Agenda for Action”, which is already being used as a model for other countries. Here national ownership, clear lines of accountability and internal coordination within the Government are all crucial. We recognise that development cooperation is a “two-way street” with mutual responsibilities. Improving aid effectiveness means improving the dialogue between government and development partners to reach a common understanding in support of a limited number of development outcomes that are critical for Egypt.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the period ahead, we all hope that a new Parliament is successfully elected as the first step in the handover to a democratically-elected, civilian government. There will be opportunities and there will be challenges. The opportunities are there for Egypt to seize. The challenges can be faced with enhanced support from the international community for key transition issues, including those raised in these remarks.
For all Egyptians, and especially for the youth of today who are the hope of Egypt’s tomorrow, this is Egypt’s historic moment. We all want to see it succeed.
Thank you very much.