The contesting of the sentences handed down to 43 NGO workers last week needs to occur within a legal context, said Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Amr Darrag on Monday.
The minister spoke at a panel addressing democracy and development as part of the US-Islamic World Forum, hosted by the Brookings Institution in Doha.
“Egypt is a country that encourages civil society,” said the minister, a member of the Freedom and Justice Party. Darrag pointed to the fact that the trial had not been initiated under the current government, adding that the new NGO law which had been submitted by the presidency to the Shura Council showed “significant improvement” from the previous law that was in place under the previous regime.
Darrag claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood had been the most active NGO in Egypt in recent decades. “Our policy as a party and government is that civil society is one of the three main pillars that we depend on when it comes to development,” he said, identifying the state and the private sector as the two other pillars.
He was critical of the current framework of civil society in Egypt, saying, “when it comes to foreign aid or support… there is no compatibility between the real needs of the society and what that [support provides].” He called on the government to outline objectives so that civil society could more efficiently meet these needs.
The minister, who was part of the most recent cabinet reshuffle, said the government had a “two-fold mission” moving forward: dealing with long-term problems that resulted from bad governance and dealing with extensive problems related to Egypt’s tumultuous transition.
Darrag said that people’s high aspirations and expectations had been a difficult obstacle to overcome during the transition. The second obstacle, he said, was the existence of a “deep state” that was wrought with corruption.
“The previous regime left a deeply-rooted system of corruption and bad governance that is very [difficult to get rid of],” said Darrag. “The tools that used to be used for implementing all the bad governance and corruption are still there.”
He pointed to some crises facing the country, including fuel and electricity shortages, saying that there are “schemes and plans” that seek to exacerbate these crises, which are supported by extensive and unbalanced media coverage.
The international cooperation minister also criticised the lack of support coming from countries that had shown “enthusiasm about the Arab Spring,” saying that the enthusiasm had not translated into action.
Darrag stressed the importance of the IMF loan, because of the reforms with which it would come.
The member of the assembly that drafted Egypt’s constitution dismissed the idea of political consensus, saying differences would always exist and the issue was “managing these differences.”
He called the Supreme Constitutional Court’s dissolving of the People’s Assembly last year a “big mistake,” expressing his hope that there would be elections for the country’s House of Representatives by the end of the year.
Darrag also discussed the problem of corruption, considering it more of a “cultural” problem than a technical one. He warned that if a balanced approach was not taken to eliminating corruption that “no one will be working for the government and you will sacrifice a lot of experience that is needed for the reform process.”
He said a legal framework needed to be implemented by parliament that would also facilitate employment and inclusion of all members of society, especially the youth.
The minister addressed the role of the military in Egypt’s affairs, saying President Mohamed Morsi’s role in the removal of the Armed Forces from politics last year was welcomed across the country, including the military, which knew that its credibility could be damaged by participating in politics.
He maintained that the National Defence Council, chaired by the president, ensured adequate transparency in the military’s economic affairs, especially military ventures involved in civilian activities.