‘This is Egypt’s Moment,’ Secretary-General Says in Cairo, Looking to Egyptians to Build Modern-Day Pyramid of Democracy in Heart of Arab World

21 March 2011

‘This is Egypt’s Moment,’ Secretary-General Says in Cairo, Looking to Egyptians to Build Modern-Day Pyramid of Democracy in Heart of Arab World

21 March 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

‘This is Egypt’s Moment,’ Secretary-General Says in Cairo, Looking to Egyptians

to Build Modern-Day Pyramid of Democracy in Heart of Arab World


Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks — “Listening to the People:  A Changing Arab World and the United Nations” — today at the El Sawy Culture Wheel Centre, Cairo:

Thank you for your warm welcome.  I am very impressed and overwhelmed by such a warm, wholehearted welcome.

I think this is a very vibrant, democratic society.  Everybody has freedom of expression.  I have been urging and stressing that everybody should have freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.  This is what I have been urging the authorities to allow.

During my time here I have experienced a different kind of welcome [laughter].  I have seen many people demonstrating near the Prime Minister’s office.  I was a little bit alarmed that they were welcoming me again, but I realized that they were welcoming your Prime Minister.

It is a great honour and pleasure for me to visit Egypt.  This is a very historic and exciting and dramatic time of change.  For that, I feel a sense of responsibility at how can the United Nations do more to help you and your people — the young, women and civil society — so that they can express their own will to the Government leaders so that the Government leaders can reflect their wishes and challenges in national policies.  That is the main purpose of my coming.

Another purpose of my coming is to demonstrate my firm solidarity, the firm solidarity of the United Nations and the international community.  You have received many other international leaders here, and I am one of them, but I convey the message of the United Nations to all of you, wishing you a more democratic, prosperous, more stable society of Egypt.

Egypt has been playing a very important role in this region, and your progress [towards] fuller democracy, fuller participatory democracy, will have a significant impact on countries across the region and even beyond this region.  That you should know, that while you are building your democracy and prosperous society, that you should also keep in mind that what you are doing will have a very important meaning to other parts of the world.

We have seen such situations in many places in this area, starting from Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere.  The most serious is taking place in Libya.  The Security Council has taken a very decisive and historic decision by adopting two resolutions under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter — 1970 (2011) and 1973 (2011) — authorizing all Member States of the United Nations to use “all necessary measures” including the declaration of a no-fly zone.

Decisive action has already been taken.  The main purpose of this action is to protect civilians, to save lives from indiscriminate attacks.  Using airplanes, helicopters, tanks — this is totally unacceptable.  This is a violation of international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and I would like to discuss with you today this very important situation, how we can work together to bring peace and stability and to bring fuller democracy, fundamental rights, and the fundamental principles of human rights.

You have changed; you have just entered into a new world from an old one.  When one age ends, another begins.  When the soul of a nation and a people, long asleep, awakens and finds its voice.  You, today, are that voice, the voice of change, the voice and face of Egypt’s future.

Friends and admirers of your great country cheer you on, sharing in your pride and the promise that Egypt is once again on the move.  Those who gathered on Tahrir Square inspired the world with a call for unity and change.  It was above all a moral call, sounding with exquisite clarity.  And you answered — from every corner of Egypt, from around the world.  Kullena masreyeen.  Today, we are all Egyptians.

I have come to Cairo to demonstrate solidarity, but more importantly to listen, to listen to your aspirations, to listen to your concerns.  What do you expect of the United Nations?  Or more broadly, the international community can help you.  This process towards democracy is Egyptian-owned, Egyptian-led.  Nobody can interfere in your future.  Nobody can interfere in your domestic political affairs.

I am here to offer a helping hand.  The United Nations has an accumulated experience and know-how, in the electoral process, constitution drafting, and promoting and helping in establishing rule of law and promoting human rights.  These are all what I am going to discuss with you.

Your victory came down to something older and far more deeply human.  It came down to courage:  the courage to stand for justice, to demand your rights and reclaim your dignity, to come together in the name of the Egyptian people to build a better future for all, young and old, women and men, Muslims and Copts, from the Delta to the upper Nile, and they changed Egypt.

Let us honour them.  At this moment, I ask you to please join me in a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in the name of freedom and human rights, in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world.  May their sacrifices not be in vain.

There is no going back.  Yesterday and today, I met with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, as well as your new Prime Minister and other senior officials.  All Egyptians look to them to discharge their responsibilities to the nation.  I commended the Council for their public commitment to a democratic transition.  But I also asked them to listen to the many voices of society in charting the course ahead.  I urged them to lift the state of emergency well before elections.  I emphasized the importance of fair and transparent elections, according to a mutually agreed road map.  I stressed the need for a transparent and inclusive national dialogue that spans the full spectrum of Egyptian society.

Your ancestors built the wonders of the ancient world.  We look to you, today, to inspire us once more, to build a modern-day pyramid of democracy in the heart of the Arab world.  This weekend, you took an important step. Millions of Egyptians turned out to vote in Saturday’s referendum - many of you for the first time. Now you must lay a firm foundation, including free and fair elections and a new constitution — grounded in universal human rights, the rule of law and political and social pluralism.

I am confident that you will quickly put in place other essential building blocks:  free and vibrant political parties; a fully inclusive Constituent Assembly; new programmes for social equity and inclusive economic growth; a renewed emphasis on quality education; open space for the civil society groups driving change; equal rights for women and minorities; full freedom of religion, media and assembly.

In all this, the United Nations can be your partner.  For a decade, we called attention to the problems.  The United Nations Arab Human Development Reports warned of the pressures building toward explosion.  Since 2002 we have been presenting these recommendations through our reports.  We have been a reliable development partner.  We have worked to create jobs, reduce food insecurity and save children from dying of preventable diseases.  We have sought to advance girls’ education and promote gender equity and women’s empowerment.  On gender equality and empowerment, I have emphasized to the leadership that this is a vital moment, now, before it is too late, you must do more to improve women’s empowerment and social status.

Yet clearly, we, too, must do a better job of listening and speaking out — in Egypt and elsewhere in the region.  That is my pledge to you today.  My message is that the United Nations is your United Nations.  We are as excited as you about the prospect of new space opening up, a new era of responsive, effective governance.  Your future is yours, and yours alone, but the United Nations stands ready to help in every way possible.

We have vast experience in assisting countries through delicate transitions.  In Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia — we have helped to organize free and fair elections and build transparent civic institutions.  This knowledge, these experiences, may prove useful.  Our people are ready to work with you if needed and if asked.

Already, I am urging the international community to provide ambitious economic and financial assistance to Egypt.  I am concerned that rising food prices will make it even more difficult for ordinary Egyptians to feed their families.  I want all Egyptians to have medical care and a decent education.  These are not luxuries.  They are human rights.  And they are rights that must be fully shared by those who have been disenfranchised for too long — women and young people.

For too long, Egypt’s young men and women have searched in vain for opportunities to exercise their talents and pursue their dreams.  Some have coined a name for this stage of life:  “waithood.”  Not quite adulthood, but rather a kind of limbo where young people spend their days in long unemployment lines:  waiting for a job, waiting to earn enough to marry and have a family, waiting to own a home, waiting for life to begin.

There is a different reality.  A future of education and invention, of freedom and good governance, of the empowerment of women and opportunities for young people.  I believe the people of Egypt and the region can create this future for themselves.  It is a future that we can help create together.  No more waiting for tomorrow, particularly for young people!

Let me close by saying:  your success is not for you alone.  Egypt is a model.  If you succeed here, the rest of the Arab world can hope.  Yes, the wind of change is sweeping in this part of the world — from Tunisia and Egypt to Bahrain, Yemen and beyond.   Egypt was fortunate that change came without greater violence.  This is a great tribute to your country and its people.

The situation in Libya stands in stark contrast.  The United Nations Security Council directed Member States to “take all necessary measures” to protect civilians and save lives, including the declaration of a no-fly zone.

On Saturday, in Paris, I met with world leaders to coordinate our plans for immediate and effective action. We will continue to do our utmost to end hostilities and find a political solution.  We put special emphasis on providing humanitarian aid to those in need.

Please know:  we take particular pride in the United Nations role in helping tens of thousands of Egyptians return safely home.  My hope is that an Egypt, reborn, can help produce a Middle East, reborn — a Middle East with dignity and justice for all, a Middle East that is prosperous and at peace.

The road ahead will be hard.  My own country, the Republic of Korea, also experienced a long and difficult transition.  After decades of military rule, it evolved into what it is today — a robust democracy and one of the strongest and biggest economies in the world.  There, too, at that time, students initiated the protests that set Korea on its current path.  I remember well.  I was a student of the University.  I was there, together with many students, shouting and yearning for democracy.  We came together in great numbers, which gave us strength.

You began writing a new chapter of your nation’s history.  I urge you to keep fighting — peacefully, without violence, but with passion and commitment for change.  Work with others — your fellow students, your family, your neighbours, your community and your nation’s minority groups.  Listen to others, including those you disagree with.  Remember that nothing great is built without cooperation, compromise and common cause.  Remember the call:  Kullena masreyeen.

This is Egypt’s moment.

Thank you very much.  Shukran jazeelan.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.