STASBOURG, France, April 1, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — There is “not a verdict” yet, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmi told Foreign Affairs MEPs on Tuesday in response to their concerns over the recent sentencing to death of 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood. While acknowledging the difficulties of the Egyptian government in the current transition and the strategic importance of Egypt for the region and Europe, MEPs also raised concerns over the role of the military, the separation of powers and inclusiveness of the Egyptian democratic transition.
Mr Fahmi indicated that the Egyptian court has only submitted the case against the Muslim Brothers to the mufti (interpreter of the Muslim law) “to see if the death sentence should be applied” and ensured that “three levels of appeal” would apply to those sentenced “through the legal system”.
“You imagine how deceived, worried, shocked we are by the news” about the trials, said Mário David (EPP, PT), joined by other members concerns. The minister admitted that the case against the members of the Brotherhood was a “serious one”.
The current Egyptian government is working on “defining our political identity in the 21st century”, which “includes everyone who wants to be Egyptian and wants to take part in building this new country in a peaceful fashion,” Mr Fahmi said. Egypt “started incorrectly in 2011. Rather than developing the constitution first and defining our identity and then going into elections, we jumped into the election process” instead, he added.
Building a tolerant society
Reflecting on the minister’s pledge to build a “new” and “tolerant” Egypt, Ana Gomes (S&D, PT) said: “I don’t understand how you can move towards democracy if you put into the ghetto of clandestinely the Muslim Brotherhood.”
The minister defended banning the Muslim Brotherhood by arguing: “Their ideology is exclusive because it does not include those who are not members of the brotherhood” and pledged his government wanted to build an inclusive society instead.
Charles Tannock (ECR, UK) called on the minister to “lobby the authorities to drop the charges” against Al-Jazeera English staff and other journalists, arguing that they were not involved in propaganda.
“We are in a process of evolution. We need to determine what is allowed and what is not,” the minister replied, arguing that the press was “opening up” and asking for “more time.”
No moratorium on death penalty before legislative elections
“Mass death penalty does not work (…) Could a moratorium on the death penalty not help the Egyptians to get more together?” Johannes Cornelis Van Baalen (ALDE, NL) asked.
“We need to go through election process and see if the parliament wants to do that. Presently the death penalty is part of the law although I understand your concerns over the numbers”, the minister replied.
He also indicated that the date of the legislative elections must be announced by 16 July and the elections could be held at the end of the summer, between the end of August and beginning of October.
Role of military and separation of powers
On MEPs’ concerns over the role of the military, which has to approve the nominee for the post of the minister of defence and whose budget was qualified by MEPs as “opaque”, the minister replied that the constitutional provisions on the military were for “two election cycles”. “We do not want to politicise the military,” he stated.
As to criticism of appointments of up to one fifth of members of the parliament by the President, which according to MEPs does not respect the separation of powers, Mr Fahmi said that this constitutional provision was meant to ensure “better representation” of women and minorities in the parliament.
Egypt’s relations with Ethiopia and Sudan, namely over the use of water from Nile, were among the other subjects discussed during the debate.
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