Same old story
Two months ahead of parliamentary polls and the debate in Washington over political reform and human rights in Egypt is heating up, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky
Last week the United States Senate saw a bill proposed based on a Congress resolution which calls for widening democracy in Egypt, and abolishing the emergency law.
The bill calls on the US secretary of state to "make human rights and democratic reform in Egypt a top priority in the ongoing relationship and dialogue between the US and the Egyptian government".
The bill also calls upon the US government to allocate more funds to observers monitoring parliamentary elections scheduled in October. And funds coming to Egyptian civil society from the US should no longer be subject to the approval of the Egyptian government, the bill said.
Debate over the draft ended with it being referred to the Foreign Relations committee for further discussion.
"This bill has a good chance to get a big number of votes," a leading US politician told Al-Ahram Weekly, who predicted it would gain approval by September for three reasons.
First, the bill was introduced by both Democrat and Republican senators.
Senator Russell Feingold, Democrat, and Senator John McCain, Republican, were the main sponsors, and it was co- sponsored by Democrat senators Robert Casey, Christopher Dodd, Richard Durbin and Edward Kaufman.
It also uses soft language in addressing Egyptian government policy towards human rights and democratic reform, and is a non-binding resolution, making it less likely that the administration will object to it being passed.
Last month Senator Robert Casey visited Cairo, where parliamentary elections and human rights topped his agenda in talks with Egyptian officials.
"Egypt will face two important sets of elections this year and the following one. I hope that this process will reflect the democratic will of the Egyptian people and should be conducted in a free and transparent manner," Senator Casey said after his visit.
Bahieddin Hassan, director of the Cairo Centre for Human Rights, told the Weekly that if the bill gains approval it will heat the debate in Washington on elections in Egypt.
He added that although the resolution makes no big demands and is non-binding, it would carry a degree of moral force and might encourage the US government to yield to pressure from the media and civil society.
Moufid Shehab, minister of state for legal and parliamentary affairs, said in a conference last week that Egypt has made tangible progress in protecting the human rights. It had amended laws and signed international agreements to protect human rights and stood firmly against any human rights violations.
"Khaled Said's case is a perfect example. We do not protect anyone who violates the human rights of any Egyptian citizen. Now there are two policemen on trial because they might have made mistakes that caused the death of Said," he said.
Shehab also asserted that the large number of sit-ins that, "we see every day in Egypt is an example of the democratic atmosphere Egyptians enjoy."
The Congress bill comes amid growing debate within Washington's civil society over US policy to Egypt, lent impetus by The Working Group on Egypt, an association of former senior officials that focuses on US policy towards Egypt in the coming two years.
The group sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in April urging her to "discuss with the Egyptian government US hopes that Egypt will hold genuinely competitive elections". The letter asked the US government to allocate adequate funds to directly support domestic and international monitors. The letter was published in many American papers along with op-eds supporting its proposals.
"The Egyptian government does not care about these debates in Washington, they know how to deal with them," says Wahid Abdel-Meguid, an expert at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
He added that he does not think the US government will pressure Egypt over the upcoming elections as both Washington and Cairo are distracted by pressing regional security issues.