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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Egypt: Success of transformation depends also on active civil society
Remarks at the Civil Protection Civil society roundtable ahead of the EU-Egypt Task Force
Cairo, 13 November 2012
Let me start by addressing three fundamental questions:
Why does civil society matter?
Where does it matter?
What needs to be done so that it can perform its role for the benefit of society?
I think the role of the Civil Society lies in generating ideas, being a bridge between society and the authorities, having an important role in monitoring and delivering on the reform process.
We in the European Union have tried to find certain answers, not saying that the EU is able to give all the answers to all the challenges of the historical changes in the region. But we have offered two things which we hope will deliver on transformation and change relations between our partner countries and the European Union:
1. Clear commitment to have a partnership not only with the authorities but also with the people, citizens, particularly through the Civil Society
2. The principle of more for more, delivering more support for more reform efforts
Empowering civil society in the countries of the Southern Mediterranean is very important. We are convinced that inclusiveness and sustainability of the transformation hinges on the empowerment of the Civil Society.
It is important to accept that nowadays, Civil Society has a much wider role to play than only in the area of human rights. Civil Society contributes also to areas such as consumer protection and the environment; in fact it is difficult to find areas where Civil Society does not offer an added value.
Arriving to Cairo, I am thinking about the new constitution which should reflect the aspirations of the Egyptian people for dignity and justice by ensuring respect for human rights and democratic values. To achieve that, the process has to be inclusive. To reflect the aspirations of the people, you have to listen to them and that could be done through Civil Society.
When speaking about the strengthening of Civil Society we need to have in mind also the role of the women in Egyptian society. The role they played in the revolution and in the initial stages of the transformation was remarkable. It is important to build on it and to allow them to remain an important actor and a part of the transformation.
Another important area is the reform of the security sector and we are calling for an end of impunity for acts committed by security forces against the demonstrators. At the same time we welcome President Mohamed Morsi’s blanket pardon for felonies and misdemeanors "perpetrated with the aim of supporting the revolution and achieving its goals". But still, I am concerned that hundreds of people remain imprisoned as a consequence of the actions of the military courts.
So, what needs to be done to empower the Civil Society in Egypt?
1. Create a favorable environment for civil society by adoption of a new NGO law according to international standards that ensures that civil society is able to operate free from government interference and consulted in policy decisions.
2. We need to be able to discuss everything and avoid any taboos in our interaction. If we have concerns about persecuting NGOs, we have to be free to talk about them and express those concerns.
3. Helping NGOs to strengthen their capacities. It brings advantages for the authorities, it is a commitment to the Egyptian people and we are ready to play our role in supporting the projects which have the biggest impact on the population.
You should know that it is not only us, but also other international actors who are interested to see the success of your transformation and strengthening of the role of Civil Society. And we are going to continue cooperating with them, be it third countries or organizations like the Council of Europe.
It is a huge task to address all the issues on the table but I am confident that through strengthening of Civil Society in Egypt and in other countries of the Southern Mediterranean, you will be able to deliver on the aspirations of the people in a much more sustainable way. Because transformation is about unlocking the potential of those people who were standing on the square and in the streets demanding changes, better lives and a more just society.