Al-Ahram Weekly Online   25 - 31 August 2005
Issue No. 757
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Monitoring the monitors

By Amr El-Choubaki

The Presidential Elections Committee has refused to allow civil society groups to monitor the elections. Its decision triggered a wide-ranging debate among Egypt's political classes. The debate, and the legal wrangling that surrounds it, poses a number of important questions concerning the monitoring of elections, whether by locals or foreigners.

There may be procedural reasons for the committee's refusal to allow civil society to become involved in monitoring though it is no secret that the regime has been consistent in its opposition to any non- governmental monitors. Egypt is in obvious need for a new political culture, one in which monitoring is seen as a national task and not as one portending smears. Monitoring is the backbone of any democratic process. The performance of the executive branch and of public institutions must be open to oversight by parliament and by civil society.

Many in Egypt still harbour doubts about the seriousness of civil society groups. Yet others claim that these groups have a foreign agenda. But this is a non-issue. We should not be in the business of splitting hairs over what is foreign and what is not when it comes to universal norms. Instead, we should look at the issues involved. Civil society has been fighting the violation of human rights and the rigging of elections and has supported democratic practices. Is this a non-Egyptian agenda?

We need transparency in this country, and we need to stop accusing civil society of acting as some kind of foreign fifth column. To err is human -- and this goes for the government as well as for civil society and its institutions. Democracy needs its own corrective mechanisms, and they require oversight and accountability. We must stop worrying about who monitors what and start worrying about democracy, human rights and transparency, the things that really matter.

This week's Soapbox speaker is an analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

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