The Elders

Independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights.


Egypt in transition: Elders visit Cairo

In October 2012 the Elders travelled to Cairo for the second part of their Middle East visit. They met President Morsi, religious leaders, young people and civil society representatives, expressing their support for Egypt’s democratic transition and encouraging all Egyptians to join the spirited debate about their country’s future.

Upon arriving in Cairo, the three Elders made a first stop at Al Azhar, the principal centre of Sunni Islamic learning. They spent time with Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb (pictured here) and several intellectuals and leaders of other religious denominations, who together make up the ‘Egyptian Family Home’ interfaith group.

The Elders welcomed the group’s moderate, inclusive influence on Egyptian society. As President Carter noted: “These are not political leaders, but they speak with great authority for freedom, for equality under the law and before God.”

Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson visited the Foreign Ministry to meet representatives of the Human Rights Council and of the Constituent Assembly, which is tasked with writing Egypt’s new constitution.

They were encouraged to hear how the constitution-drafting process is progressing, noting how quickly the transition is taking place. As Jimmy Carter later remarked to journalists: “The United States declared our independence in 1776, and it was only 12 years later that we finally got our constitution approved.”

At a press conference on the first day of their visit, the Elders congratulated the people of Egypt on the progress of their political transition since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak last year.

They emphasised the importance of including all voices in the drafting of Egypt’s new constitution and encouraged all Egyptians to embrace the spirited debate taking place about their country’s future.

Jimmy Carter: “We understand the frustrations of those who may feel that change is coming too slowly. But change takes time. Egypt now has a democratically elected President and the military’s role has changed in a way that would have been difficult to imagine only a year ago... Change on this scale never happens overnight but the momentum of the past 20 months is a great source of hope and encouragement to us all.”

The Elders met Secretary-General of the Arab League Nabil ElAraby to discuss several issues on their agenda, from relations between Sudan and South Sudan to the threats to the two-state solution in the Middle East.

Lakhdar Brahimi, member of The Elders and currently the UN and Arab League Joint Special Representative for the Syrian crisis, joined the meeting to discuss the latest developments in Syria.

After meeting Nabil ElAraby, the four Elders held an impromptu press conference outside his office at Tahrir Square. Lakhdar Brahimi confirmed to reporters that the Syrian government and many rebel groups had agreed to a ceasefire over the 4-day Eid al-Adha holiday that began that weekend.

The Elders congratulated President Mohamed Morsi on the successful political transition in Egypt. In a meeting at the President Palace in Cairo, they also emphasised the importance of ensuring that all Egyptians are included in the process of determining their country’s future.

Having just travelled to Cairo from Jerusalem, the three Elders also discussed Egypt's role in the Middle East peace process with President Morsi.

Among their meetings with Egyptian civil society, the Elders heard from Wedad Demerdash, a mill worker and union leader from the cotton-producing city of Mahalla.

She told the Elders that while the revolution had brought some improvements to working conditions, workers overall did not feel that they had benefited from the political transition as much as the Muslim Brotherhood – despite the labour movement having played a key role in the popular protests that led to the end of the Mubarak regime last year.

In partnership with Young Arab Voices, the Elders took part in a live, televised debate with young Egyptians at the Cairo Opera House. Watched by millions of people across Egypt, the Elders answered questions from audience members and Twitter users.

At the end of the discussion – which ranged from Egypt’s youth unemployment crisis to its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict – Mary Robinson commended the young Egyptians in the audience for being so engaged in debating the future of their country. “It is wonderful to see there is no hesitation to stand up and speak by the young women here!” she added.

Watch the video.

Photos: Jeff Moore | The Elders