Q&A in Egypt with Assistant Secretary Michael Posner

Cairo, Egypt

See also: Statement by Assistant Secretary Posner in Egypt

Question: Your view of the transmission of power from the SCAF now rather than at the end of June? The second question is about the NGOs not being registered.

Assistant Secretary Posner: On the first question on democratic transmission, that issue and many others are in the hands of Egyptians. There is a process, as I mentioned in my opening statement, which includes the People’s Assembly and the Shura Council and the election of the new president. There is a new constitution about to be debated. Those are parts of a democratic process, but it is ultimately up to the Egyptian people to decide on the sequence and process for that to happen. With respect to the NGOs, I would just say that we start from a premise of universal principles of human rights, that people in this society and every society have the right to speak freely, to assemble, to associate. In every civil society, NGOs play an important role as countries move towards sustainable democracy. We very much urge that there is a process here that opens up a space for NGOs, especially Egyptian NGOs, to be able to speak and work freely and express their views, and participate in the life of this country.

Question: We understand that a number of Americans working for NGOs have been barred from travelling. Do you know how many Americans have been barred from travelling and what is your response?

Assistant Secretary Posner: My response begins by saying that we very much viewed the situation of the four American organizations as part of the broader discussion about the role of NGOs in society. There are international NGOs like those four and there are local Egyptian associations. All need to have the ability to operate openly, freely without restraint on the content of their work. The government has the right to make sure they are transparent and that they are operating in an accountable manner financially, but they should be able to operate freely in terms of what they do. I am not going to get in to details of any one these organizations except to say that there are cases are in the courts that are being investigated so we leave that to the courts to address. But we are greatly concerned that organizations like IRI, NDI, and Freedom House, which have long worked in this country and around the world, should be able to operate like they do in many places around the world .

Question: What about the American citizens not being able to travel?

Assistant Secretary Posner: I don’t actually have the number in front of me. I am not going to get into that. You can ask IRI or NDI about their own situations.

Question: There was a statement by the State Department, which said that the U.S. administration was going to offer assistance to Egypt. How fast will this happen and are there conditions on the aid, especially after the raid on the NGOs?

Assistant Secretary Posner: Let me broaden the answer to that. There was an amendment to a recent appropriations bill in the Congress that requires the State Department to provide a certification to Congress on several aspects of the transition to democracy. That will happen sometime in the months ahead. There is no specific date. The issue of freedom of association is part of that group of categories that we are going to report on. That process is under way, but as I said, there is no set date for the report to be filed. The last point is that the certification…we need to resolve that issue or certify before the foreign military assistance can be provided.

Question: Can you clarify when this report will be given to Congress, and if the NGO issue isn’t resolved will it affect the foreign aid that’s expected for the military this year?

Assistant Secretary Posner: The certification requirement does not have a date attached to it, but since there is a link to our forthcoming aid, that will determine when our report will be submitted. The NGO issue is very much a part of that package and, as you know, there has been considerable attention in Congress to the restriction on NGOs. So we are very much engaged in trying to encourage progress on that issue.

Question: Are you going to balance your support to civil society in Egypt? In the last 4 or 5 years you supported only the liberal wing instead of supporting other wings and balancing your support with the Islamic wing. Will you continue with this policy or will you balance your support?

Assistant Secretary Posner: I take exception to the premise of your question. We don’t here or anywhere support particular political parties or persuasions. We support the growth of democracy, and the growth of democracy broadly includes issues like the openness of government to allow civil society to operate. Free press, empowerment of women, rule of law, transparency, accountability. Those are the building blocks that are very important for any society to be creating to make democracy real. For example, when NDI or IRI come to Egypt as they come to 60-70 countries around the world, they are not coming to support one group or another. They are providing technical assistance and skills that are available across the board to those that want to participate in the democratic process.

Question: According to Reuters, U/S Hormats said that they were going to accelerate aid to Egypt after the parliamentary elections. Does the travel ban against the NGO employees have an impact on the aid?

Assistant Secretary Posner: Let me try to separate a couple of things here. I said in my statement and it is important to us that we continue to have a strong relationship and partnership with the Egyptian government. One of the challenges we face is the need for the Egyptian government and for Egyptians to have a strong, stable economy. So we are trying to do what we can as one country but also as a part of a global economy system to strengthen economic support to allow Egyptian s to thrive. On a parallel track, we are trying to pursue the transition to democracy and the Congressional certification draws particular focus on those issues. Obviously any action that creates tension between our governments makes the whole package more difficult. But right now we are determined to provide, to make sure through the IMF and other sources that we provide the kind of support that Egypt needs in the short term. And at the same time encourage the democratic transition that is so important to this country’s political and economic well being.

Question: inaudible

Assistant Secretary Posner: When I travel around the world, I am always asked to make comparisons and I never do between countries. What we see here, is a beginning of a democratic transition, which includes a new parliament where the Muslim Brotherhood has won the most seats and we are engaging in conversations with them with the hope that we will find common interest, and that they will be willing and able to operate in a way that promotes a democratic process forward. We have had some initial conversations. I met with one member of the FJP this morning and those discussions will increase as the days go on.

Question: Could you shed a little more light on the certification process? And what benchmarks are they using?

Assistant Secretary Posner: I should say that the State Department did not draft the law, the Congress drafted the law, but it talks in broad terms about steps to a democratic transition to civilian rule. It talks about freedom of association, it talks about rule of law, and there is a separate provision that talks religious freedom. It is a broad panoply of elements that lead to a democratic transition.

Question: Where does the Middle East peace process fit into U.S. foreign policy now?

Assistant Secretary Posner: The Middle East peace process has always been and continues to be an important part of our foreign policy. We continue to support the Quartet principles, we continue to support the two-state solution, we continue to urge negotiations. It has been important, and it continues to be important. There are clearly moments of frustration, but we will continue to pursue it.

Question: (inaudible)

Assistant Secretary Posner: Ambassador Hale and others work on this full time. I am not involved in the day to day, but we are trying, as you say, in this Arab Spring, the Arab Awakening, to be dealing with many things at the same time and this is an important piece of it.

Question: (inaudible)

Assistant Secretary Posner: Let me answer the first piece about our concern about religious freedom. I was here in January 2010, just after the people were killed in front of a church in Nagi Hammady. I spoke out about that then, and we continue to raise concerns about the slowness of the process to provide accountability. There are cases now that are being prosecuted, but we have continued to raise our concerns about the violence and to call for accountability in all of those cases. With regard to the funding, I would say that Congress has taken the initiative to say, and it is the prerogative of the Congress to say, that our future military aid will be conditioned on a democratic transition, and we want to do that in a way that is encouraging of an Egyptian process which allows Egyptians to participate. Again this is about Egyptians, not about the United States, but our desire to see democratic transition is very much shared by a great majority of Egyptian people. I think this should be viewed as a way to reinforce the aspirations of Egyptians to live in an open and free democratic society where their dignity is respected.

Question: What will be the next step of the U.S. to solve the situation in Syria?

Assistant Secretary Posner: It is hard to both be in Egypt for four days and to keep track of everything that is going on in Syria, but let me say a couple of things. We are very mindful and appreciative of the attention the Syrian issue has received from the Arab League in recent weeks. We are desirous of working in partnership with them, and there is certainly a hope and expectation that we can proceed to the UN Security Council soon, for the issue to be raised. My colleague, Jeffrey Feltman, who is the Assistant Secretary for the Middle East region, spent the last few days in Moscow discussing these issues with the Russians. We obviously have had a different view. We very much hope that, given the tragedy in Syria and the fact that so many innocent people have been and continue to be gunned down and killed, the international community can come together and take the next steps that will allow a return to a more peaceful situation and that Assad, which we said repeatedly, must go.

Question: You said you met with civil society but you haven’t said anything about meeting with SCAF or government?

Assistant Secretary Posner: What I said is that I did have meetings with the government. I met with both the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs, which has the administrative oversight of NGOs. I also met with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So I did meet with the government and the agencies that are directly involved in the NGO issue. My purpose in coming here — this is my fourth visit here in the last couple of years — my purpose is to get a broad picture of human rights, to figure out how we can help advance human rights and support Egyptians who are working on these issues. I paid particular attention to the situation of NGOs and in particular human rights and democracy advocacy associations.

Disclaimer: The Office of Policy Planning and Public Diplomacy, in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, of the U.S. Department of State manages this site as a portal for international human rights related information from the United States Government. External links to other internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views or privacy policies contained therein.