Land Center for Human Rights’ Workshop on:
“Democracy and Egyptian Peasants: What is after the Elections”
The LCHR has hold a training workshop in the Sa’id Association under the title of “Democracy and Egyptian Peasants: What is after the Elections,” on Saturday Feb. 11th 2006. The number of participants and attendants reached 167 from most Egyptian governorates, particularly representing the NGOS working in the countryside, in addition to a number of journalists, lawyers, researchers, urban NGO and human rights activists, and others interested in the issues of the Egyptian countryside. The participants consisted of 28 women and 139 men from 15 Egyptian governorates: 17 from Qina, 23 from Sohag, 30 from al-Biheira, 26 from Fayum, 24 from Cairo, 15 from Giza, 8 from Beni Soueif, 8 from Port Said, 4 from Aswan, 2 from Kafr al-Shaykh, 4 from Daqahliya, 3 from Qaliubiyya, 3 from Sharqiyya, 2 from Minya, and finally 2 from Alexandria.
The workshop consisted of five sessions followed by Q&A. Mr. Karam Saber, the Chairman of LCHR, commenced the first session by welcoming the attendants and presenting the mission of LCHR and its activities since 1996 till today. He also talked about the services that it presents to its beneficiaries from the Egyptian peasants to protect their legal economic, social, political rights. In the end of 2005, the Egyptian peasants experienced violent parliamentary election in which a lot of issues such as voting bribery and the hegemony of the NDP and the weak presence of the Egyptian left were raised. This workshop, Mr. Saber explained, meant to tackle the issue of political participation of peasants in the last elections, what they demand from the new deputies, and how to lobby through founding NGOs of local development in order to ensure a better level of awareness and participation in the political life and in development as well. Mr. Saber also presented his condolences to the families of the victims of al-Salam 98 ship and the attendants stood for a minute to express their feelings of sorrow and grief. He also presented the LCHR’s condolence to the family and friends of lawyer Adel Eid, a member of the LCHR’s board of trustees. Mr. Saber thanked Ambassador Mukhlis Qutb, the president of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), for contributing to the workshop, and commanded his efforts in publishing an excellent and neutral report on the elections. After that, Ambassador Qutb presented his paper on the role that the parliament deputies should play to fulfill the pressing needs of the poor citizen. Ambassador Qutb referred to that the NCHR’s job as an NGO is advisory in national human rights’ concerns. He tackled the issue of the compatibility of democracy and human rights, since human rights has been used as an excuse by international powers to interfere in the internal matters of smaller countries especially when human or other crises occur. Then he talked about the 2005 elections, stating that the percentage of political participation did not exceed 25 per cent out of the already small percentage of the registered voters that did not exceed 30 per cent. The political trends that work in Egypt today do not in fact represent the voters, because the political apathy of the Egyptian citizen. In addition, the candidates tend to focus on the narrow, local issues of their electoral area in their political platform rather than focusing on wide national issues, as if the People’s Assembly is a local representative body. Ambassador Qutb urged the parliament deputies to give their attention to national issues that concern all Egyptian citizens, such as constitutional development and amendments, supporting human rights through legal reforms, enhancing the international role of parliament through creating a link among parliaments and international NGOs that work on human rights. He criticized the absence of an active role for the parliament in resisting the hegemony of one power on the global system that imposed it on the UN and the international community to commemorate the Holocaust. He also tackled the negative aspects of the electoral system and the inappropriate representation of Copts, women, opposition parties, and other political trends. After that, Mr. Hamdin Sabbahi, a parliament deputy and the founder of the Karama Party, mentioned began his talk by stating that it honors him to be from a rural social background since he is from Hamul, Kafr al-Shaykh. He thanked LCHR for taking good care of the peasants, workers and fishermen’s issues. He affirmed that peasants are the most politically marginalized section of Egyptian society, nor the NDP or opposition parties give enough attention to their issues. The Egyptian peasant is politically inactive due to main two reasons: the lack of democracy in a despotic state that exercises oppressive politics, opposition parties are far from the peasant and his specific problems. Mr. Sabbahi then tackled the struggle of the Egyptian peasant to face Law no. 96 of 1992 that reversed the Nasseri land reforms in agricultural land tenure, especially their demonstration in 1997. He affirmed that peasants did play a crucial role in the last elections in preventing the NDP from using bribery and violence against oppositional candidates. He finally affirmed that he has great hopes that peasants will lead the rode to political change in the future of Egypt.
In the second session was head by Dr. Magdi Abd Al-Hamid – Chairman of the Egyptian Association for Enhancing Social Participation. In this session, Dr. Muhammad al-Sayyid Sa’id, al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Research, handled the issue of the development of political participation and democracy in Egypt from the ages of the Pharanoic and other kings and sultans till the present day. He talked about the different mechanisms of political participation that the Egyptian peasants and poor people have invented throughout history in fields and homes. He presented the hardships that peasants have faced especially during digging the Suez Canal through corvée. They now face forgery and bribery in the elections that eventually result in bringing deputies very far from their needs. Dr. Sa’id talked about the Nasseri period that introduced so many rights and advantages to the peasants, yet it deprived them from proper political participation. He called for the necessity of building a new constitution reflecting the people’s sovereignty and changing the despotic current political situation. Dr. Mostapha Kamel al-Sayyid then proceeded to talk about local political participation and the demonstrations of Kefaya and other political movements to pressure the government to carry out democratic policies. He pointed out that 76 per cent of those who are eligible to vote did not participate in the last parliamentary elections. The citizens do not trust the fairness of the elections, and compared the Egyptian situation to the European case for example. He mentioned the different venues of political participation through various sorts of elections. He stressed the importance of transparency in terms of funding political campaigns to reach fair elections.
The third session was head by Mr. Sa’id Abd Al-Hafiz, Chairman of the Dialogue Forum for Development and Human Rights. In this session, Lawyer Ahmad Sharaf – the Chairman of al-Adala Center for Human Rights- presented the concept of social and economic rights and the lower classes that struggle to obtain these rights in Egypt. These classes are marginalized and deprived from their basic rights, and the politics and economics of globalization add to their losses. He also mentioned international conventions and agreements and how they affect, either positively or negatively, the state of the poor’s human rights. He stressed the lack of proper national laws and regulations to protect the rights of the Egyptian citizen and the peasants and workers in particular, as the constitution itself deprives them from basic rights, which entails its amendment. He called for changing unjust national law to match international laws of human rights. He affirm that the policies of privatization and the agricultural land tenure law affected the basic social and economic rights of millions of workers and peasants, and called on the entire Egyptian society to struggle to end injustices created by the existing constitution and legal system. Similarly, Lawyer Ahmad Sayf al-Islam- Chairman of Hisham Mubarak Center for Law- explained the concept of social and economic rights. He talked about political accountability and monitoring the governmental work to decrease the degree of corruption in the system.
In the last session, the participants were divided into five training groups. Each group dealt with a particular issue and Mr. Mahmud Murtada – the Chairman of the Center for alternative development moderated the training process. The first group discussed the issue of export-led agriculture and how the unfair free trade agreements with Europe negatively affect the Egyptian peasant. The second group discussed the issue of land tenure and privatization of public-sector agricultural companies. The third group discussed the ramifications of applying Law no. 96 of 1992. The fourth group discussed water and sewage problems in most of Egyptian villages. The fifth group discussed public service issues in the villages. Upon finishing the discussions, each group presented the results it came out with and Mr. Saber concluded the workshop by thanking all the participants.
Address: 122 el Gala’a st-Ramsis Tower-Cairo
E-mail: [email protected] / [email protected]