United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo, Egypt, on Sunday, 20 March, after having departed an international conference on Libya that had taken place in Paris the previous day. He immediately went to the Foreign Ministry to meet the country’s new Foreign Minister, Nabil Abdalla El-Araby.
The two men then held a press conference, at which the Secretary-General said that he had come to Egypt to listen to the Egyptian people following the transition in which Hosni Mubarak had stepped down from the presidency. He said that the United Nations stood ready to help the people of Egypt as they move forward with their democratic transition. And he also noted the discussions that he and the Foreign Minister had held on the changing situation in North Africa and the Middle East, and in particular the violence in Libya that had prompted the passage on 17 March of Security Council resolution 1973 (2011), which authorized the use of “all necessary means” for the protection of civilians in Libya.
Later, at his hotel, the Secretary-General met with the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Egyptian politician Mohamed ElBaradei, with whom he discussed the situation in the country.
The following day, the Secretary-General received an update on the situation in Egypt from the United Nations country team. After that, he heard from a wide range of civil society leaders. He informed them of the experience the United Nations has had in helping out different societies that face democratic transitions.
The Secretary-General then went to see the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Amre Moussa, and they discussed the dramatic events sweeping across the Arab world. Much of the conversation focused on Libya, the Secretary-General told reporters afterwards. He noted that the support of the Arab League had figured prominently in the Security Council’s adoption of resolution 1973 (2011). Now, he said, it is imperative that the international community continue to speak with one voice, since thousands of lives are at stake.
The Secretary-General also strongly condemned the recent use of live ammunition by Yemen’s security forces against demonstrators in Sana’a and appealed to all concerned in Bahrain to exercise maximum restraint and create an environment conducive for credible reform there.
After departing the League of Arab States, the Secretary-General briefly witnessed a demonstration opposed to the armed strikes against Libya. At a press conference later in the day, he was asked about being surrounded by protestors and replied that he welcomed protest, as long as it was neither violent nor threatening.
The Secretary-General went on to meet first the country’s interim Prime Minister, Essam Sharaf, and then the head of the Supreme Military Council, Field Marshall Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. He discussed the path forward for the democratic transition in Egypt and the ways in which the United Nations can help if asked to do so. He asked Field Marshall Tantawi about the timetable for the transition and was assured it would be upheld.
In the afternoon, he met with a range of youth leaders who had been involved in the protests in January and February that led to the end of the previous regime, and he told them that they had made history by showing the power of non-violent resistance to make revolution. Speaking to the young leaders and others at the El Sawy Cultural Wheel Centre, he praised the efforts made by Egyptians to forge a new path for their society. And he also met with family members of some of the people who had died during the demonstrations that brought about the change of Government. (See Press Release SG/SM/13464)
At a press conference that evening, the Secretary-General expressed his admiration for the tremendous achievement by the Egyptian people as their non-violent resistance had paved the way for a new democracy in which all Egyptians — regardless of religion or gender — could participate. The United Nations, he promised, would offer its expertise in fields from electoral support to constitutional reform to development assistance to support that transition, as requested.
He then left Egypt for Tunisia on Monday evening.