Emergency Measures Must Be Temporary, Says EP Delegation

Emergency Measures Must Be Temporary, Says EP Delegation
Special powers given to a government to handle a specific emergency situation must always come with a time limit, said the chairperson of the European Parliament (EP) Delegation for relations with Mashreq countries Beatrice Patrie Wednesday.
The delegation is in Egypt for the ninth EP-Egypt Interparliamentary Meeting.
Asked by Daily News Egypt whether she subscribed to the view posited by head of the National Council for Human Rights Boutros Boutros-Ghali — whom the delegation had met on this visit — that a balance must be maintained between security and civil liberties, Patrie said it was a question all European countries struggled with.
“This is a question which is on the agenda of all European countries, because you have to contend with security questions related to terrorism. Striking a balance can be a very delicate and subtle exercise, but it should never disregard individual rights,” she said. “The difficulty lies in where to stop, where to draw the line.”
Powers given to governments for this purpose can sometimes “inhibit or hinder respect for human rights to be granted to all citizens. So when dealing with laws of these kinds which are laid down for governments to deal with various specific situations, the very nature of these special laws is that they are temporary, they must be provisional in nature and therefore limited in time.”
The EP delegation had met with a plethora of state and non-state actors during its four-day visit, and had encouraged the Egyptian government to continue the reform process it had announced during the last presidential and parliamentary elections.
“We realize that the emergency laws in Egypt have been in force for too long and 10 years can hardly be called an exceptional provisional situation,” Patrie said. “Egypt has internal security issues to contend with, this is why the government is working on this permanent legal provision which will be an anti-terrorism law.”
Emergency law has been implemented in Egypt since the assassination of former President Anwar Sadat in 1981.
The delegation however, welcomed the efforts of decentralization and strengthening the role of women in the reform process but also called for greater political participation of opposition parties and the assured independence of the Egyptian judiciary.
Miguel Portas, member of the delegation and the only EP member from the leftist Portuguese party Bloco de Esquerda, told Daily News Egypt that he cannot predict the future of these parties “because it depends on the political evolution of the country. They are parties [facing] difficulties in exerting their mission. Some of them are not legal and not illegal, others have limits.”
Asked specifically about the Muslim Brotherhood, Portas said “We have listened to a lot of opinions about the climate of confrontation between the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood, and different kinds of analysis about this.
“We have listened also to one deputy [an MP] from the group and his points of view. In the Arab world we have the obligation as Europeans to listen to all the points of view and we are against discrimination by religious factors. And this is true in Egypt, in Palestine, in Lebanon or in Jordan.”
Patrie however was adamant that the delegation, and by default the European Parliament, was not in the business of telling other countries what to do.
“We consider ourselves to be partners with Egypt and as partners, we do not believe it is up to us to give our partner country good or bad points. We are here to work; we are not here to give lessons to anybody. We are here to support what has been achieved.”
Last year relations became strained between Egypt and the European Parliament after it had passed a resolution condemning Egypt for human rights abuses and the continued incarceration of former presidential candidate Ayman Nour. The delegation also denied that it had requested or attempted to visit Nour, stating they were not mandated to do so.
The delegation met during the course of its visit with Egypt’s Parliament Speaker Fathi Sorour, Shoura Council leader Safwat Al-Sherif, Pope Shenouda and Grand Imam of Al Azhar Mohamed Sayed Tantawy.
They also met with representatives of opposition parties, the Muslim Brotherhood and various NGOs.
Patrie pointed out that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had come up many times in the discussions and reiterated the EP”s stance against the blockade of Gaza and for the two-state solution.
The European Union (EU) considers Hamas a terrorist organization but Portas pointed out that opinions held within the union and the parliament were far more wide-ranging.
“I was an electoral observer of the 2006 elections in Palestine. In my opinion they were the most democratic elections in the Arab world; to me this was very clear,” he said, “And in the European Parliament I and a lot of others are against the blockage of the elected [Hamas] government after the elections.”
“The view of the European Union is balanced, it is not the position of the Bush administration and it is a position with evolutions,” he added. “We have a lot of resolutions in the European Parliament in the last two years which condemned the continuation of the settlements, the situation in Gaza and the detentions.”
The reason for the divergence in opinions was derived from the makeup of the union itself, Portas explained.
“It”s necessary to understand that the international policy of the union is not a direct [result] of the European parliament. The parliament can make reports but they are declarations, not imperative resolutions.
“The international policy is a responsibility of the 27 governments and they are obliged to unanimity in their decisions, and now you can understand the positions of the EU particularly towards the Arab world are very ambiguous. They are always the compromised positions between more Atlantist governments and governments with an open mind about the Mediterranean sea and the rights of its people,” he said.