Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

As Egypt's New President Takes Office, Human Rights Groups Want Their Say

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

As Egypt's New President Takes Office, Human Rights Groups Want Their Say

Article excerpt

Egyptian activists were angered when the country's new president, Mohamed Morsi, failed to meet with a number of demonstrators who had camped in front of the Presidential Palace in early July. They had hoped to express their goals for Egypt's future under his leadership.

Since Morsi assumed power on June 30, Egypt has been in a tug of war between the leftand the right over which direction their new government should take. Despite their differences, however, they do agree on one thing: access to the president. Activists have marched on the palace twice since Morsi took office, demanding that he follow through with his promise to free the some 12,000 political prisoners detained by the military junta over the past 17 months.

Morsi himself has shown a willingness to meet with activists, leaders and families of those killed during the 18 days of protests in January and February of last year that resulted in the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak and paved the way for Morsi to become the country's first-ever democratically elected leader.

For a man who has spoken of being a "humble servant" to the nation, the idea that his door is always open to grievances and ideas already has caused him difficulty. With activists pressing for meetings and insisting he respond to their every demand, it has not been easy for Morsi to focus on the day-to-day efforts necessary to bridge the growing frustration and schisms in the country.

According to Morsi spokesman Yasser Ali, this openness is part of the new president's persona. "We want people to feel like he is different than Mubarak and that this is a new era where the president listens to the people," Ali explained, "but we do have to maintain a level of separation so the president can do his work."

Morsi's agenda is as long as the list of failures leftbehind by his predecessor and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which acted as a caretaker government during the interim transitional period until Morsi took office. Among the country's most pressing needs are economic stability, jobs, parliamentary elections, and what is arguably the most urgent issue for Egyptian activists and rights groups: human rights.

Given the government's decades-long neglect of promoting, much less upholding, human rights, Morsi faces an arduous task. It is not one he will have to tackle alone, however. Days after he took office, a group of Egyptian rights organizations launched a campaign called "Our Rights in 100 Days" to monitor, provide recommendations to and establish accountability for the new president as he begins to form a government. …

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