Visiting Egypt, Ban urges country to serve as inspiration for wider Arab world

Egyptians protesting in Cairo. Photo: Ramy Raoof

20 March 2011 – A successful transition in Egypt towards greater democracy can inspire the rest of the region, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, urging the country to continue with its recent reforms by holding fair and transparent elections soon, upholding the rights of women and minorities and encouraging the development of a free press.

In his first visit to Egypt since long-standing leader Hosni Mubarak was toppled by popular protests in January, Mr. Ban pledged that the United Nations would help the country as it “walks this very difficult, very important road? towards fuller democracy and more participatory democracy.”

The Secretary-General held talks today in Cairo with many senior officials, including Foreign Minister Nabil el-Araby, and tomorrow he is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Ezzad Sharaf and the country's High Council of the Armed Forces.

Today's talks focused in part on yesterday's referendum, in which Egyptians voted on a number of proposals for constitutional reform, including reducing the number and length of presidential terms and altering the criteria for eligible presidential candidates. Media reports indicated an extremely high voter turnout for the referendum.

Mr. Ban told journalists in Cairo that he would stress during his visit that there must be “transparent and inclusive national dialogue that spans the spectrum of Egyptian society,” as well as the staging of free and fair elections on a mutually agreed timetable.

“These are the key expectations of the Egyptian people and also by the international community,” he said. “Other essential steps include free and vibrant political parties, new programmes for social equity, equal rights for women and minorities, a free press [and] open space for civil society groups driving change.

“Egypt's success will be first and foremost for Egyptians to decide and share, but, given the country's standing in the world, a successful transition can inspire the rest of the world.”

Popular protests have swept North Africa and the Middle East in recent months and the long-term regime in Tunisia also fell earlier this year. Mr. Ban said “we are at a historic moment. Democracy is on the march across the Arab world, and the United Nations stands ready always to work together with the Egyptian Government and people for a better world and better region here.”

The Secretary-General said the UN was able to assist Egypt with its social and economic development, including the promotion of further tourism, as well as technical support for elections expected to be held later this year.


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