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The High Electoral Commission (HEC) has announced the final results for the first round of Egypt’s Shura Council (upper house) elections. As expected, Islamist parties swept the elections: The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Salafi Nour Party and independent candidates came ahead in all governorates except in Cairo where two female candidates will be competing against FJP candidates in the re-runs.

While the strong showing by Islamists is consistent with their decisive victory in the recently concluded elections for the People’s Assembly, a major difference between the lower and upper house elections is the drastically reduced voter turnout observed thus far in the latter. Starting in November, Egyptians turned out in record numbers (62 percent of eligible voters) to participate in elections for the lower house of parliament, the People’s Assembly. In stark contrast to this dramatic turnout, however, the first stage of elections for the upper house (Shura Council) – lacking legislative powers and perceived as politically ineffectual – has been largely ignored by apathetic voters feeling fatigued by months of elections, runoffs and re-runs.

Political parties, as well, seem to have written off the Shura Elections – except for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and Salafi Nour Party – whose posters and campaign workers were widespread in Cairo and the twelve other governorates that voted on January 29 and 30. After a disappointing performance in the People’s Assembly elections, liberal parties seemed to have little energy for recouping their losses in the upper house. In addition, the larger geographic size of the Shura districts may have been overwhelming to smaller parties that exhausted their campaign resources in the People’s Assembly elections.

Another potential explanation for low voter turnout this week may have been growing calls from major political figures – including former presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei and Salafi presidential candidate Hazem Abu Ismail – for the cancellation of Shura Council elections altogether and elimination of the upper house, to expedite a transfer of power to civilian leadership.

Egypt’s Shura Council is composed of 270 members (50 percent of whom must satisfy the worker/farmers quota requirement). Of these 270 members, two thirds (180 members) are elected -- 120 members through party-list races and 60 through the individual candidacy system – and 90 are appointed. The process for electing the Shura Council has already seen some modifications under growing pressure for an expedited transfer of power. Earlier in the elections season, the High Electoral Commission (HEC) decided to eliminate of one the three phases of Shura polling and conduct elections in two stages instead, to shorten the transitional period. In the face of rising opposition and anti-military protests, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has also agreed to let the next elected president make these 90 appointments, rather than the military, meaning that the parliament will not be fully formed until after the presidential election expected by the end of June.

The first phase of Shura Council elections on January 29-30 included 13 governorates: Cairo, Alexandria, Assiut, Red Sea, Daqahliya, Gharbeya, Fayoum, Menufiya, El-Wadi El-Gedid, Damietta, Qena, North and South Sinai. Run-off voting for undecided races will take place on February 7, followed by the second phase of voting for the remaining 14 governorates: Giza, Bani Suief, Sharkya, Ismailia, Suez, Behira, Sohag, Aswan, Menya Kalyoubia, Matrouh, Luxor, Port Said, Kafr el Shiekh, scheduled to take place on February 14-15.  

In addition to proposals for the cancelation of Shura Council elections and elimination of the upper house, several other factors contributed to low voter turnout and boycotting:

  • 1) First of all, Egyptians appear to have been tired and deterred from voting by demonstrations in Cairo on the anniversary of the January 25 uprising last week, which continued for several days until the start of polling on January 29. In addition, many non-voters were already exhausted from the hectic elections schedule this fall, after previously turning out for three separate rounds of voting for the upper house, three corresponding run-off rounds, and a series of re-runs for invalidated races.
     
  • 2) Second, there is widespread recognition among Egyptians that legislative power is held exclusively by the People’s Assembly while the Shura Council is perceived as a largely ceremonial and toothless body that lacks the power to make laws. Under Mubarak’s rule, the Shura Council was largely dismissed as an ineffectual advisory council without real decision-making powers, and the public remains overwhelmingly skeptical of the Shura’s political importance.
     
  • 3) A third factor contributing to low turnout was significant boycotting by eligible voters who are demanding that the SCAF transfer power to civilians and refused to participate in any elections conducted under military rule, insisting that the polling process would inevitably be flawed and unfair.  Those who participated in the boycott view the Shura Council as a political pawn of the SCAF and demand that election results be nullified. 

These factors combined were a recipe for low turnout and reflect rising disillusionment with the SCAF-administered electoral process, as widespread street protests express escalating demands for an immediate end to military rule. The low rate of participation in elections this week provides further evidence that Egyptians are losing faith in the SCAF’s ability to administer a successful democratic transition and are more concerned about expediting a power transfer to civilians than voting in yet another round of elections for an upper house that many believe has no reason to exist.

Salem Mostafa Kamel is an Egyptian legal advisor to the Carter Center’s office in Cairo and previously worked for the global telecommunications firm, Alcatel-Lucent. He majored in law at Ain Shams University and is currently pursuing a Masters degree in international and commercial law at Indiana University. Mr. Kamel’s views are his own and do not represent the Carter Center. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 Photo Credit: Associated Press

 

 

229216-egypt-soccer-riots.jpg

Senior officials in Port Said and the Egyptian football association have been sacked in the wake of riots on February 1 at a football match that killed 74 people. The governor of Port Said resigned, while the city's director of security and head of investigations were suspended and are now in custody. 

DEADLY SOCCER RIOT:

1) Senior officials in Port Said and the Egyptian football association have been sacked in the wake of riots on February 1 at a football match that killed 74 people. The governor of Port Said resigned, while the city's director of security and head of investigations were suspended and are now in custody. Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri told an emergency session of parliament that the head of the football association has been sacked and the board dissolved, with its members referred to prosecutors for questioning.  Egypt's public prosecutor has ordered the questioning of 52 people arrested after the riots. The governor of Port Said and the head of security are also to be questioned. [BBC, English, 2/2/2012]

2) In an emergency session of the People's Assembly on February 2, MPs accused the interior ministry of failing to stop soccer-related violence in Port Said and dispatched a fact-finding committee to the Suez port city to investigate the incident. Parliament's youth and national security committees blamed the interior ministry for the security failure, calling for his dismissal and that of Egypt's public prosecutor. Several MPs also demanded the dismissal of the interior minister and a major overhaul of the interior ministry, which they blamed for Wednesday's football clashes. [al-Ahram, English, 2/2/2012] [al-Masry al-Youm, Arabic, 2/2/2012]

3) Hardcore soccer fans known as “Ultras” have accused the police of intentionally letting rivals attack them and joined thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square on February 2 before marching to the nearby Interior Ministry to protest the police inaction and call for retribution for the 74 people who died in the soccer-related clashes. [Wall Street Journal, English, 2/2/2012] [al-Masry al-Youm, Arabic, 2/2/2012]

4) The Muslim Brotherhood attributed the violence that erupted following a soccer match in Port Said to the work of an “invisible” foreign hand in an official statement. “This confirms that there is invisible planning that is behind this unjustified massacre.” The statement also accused the Egyptian authorities of negligence and added, “We fear that some officers are punishing the people for their revolution and for depriving them of their ability to act as tyrants and restricting their privileges.” [Bikya Masr, English, 2/2/2012]

 SHURA ELECTIONS:

5) The High Electoral Commission (HEC) has announced the final results for the first round of Egypt’s Shura Council (upper house) elections. As expected, Islamist parties swept the elections: The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Salafi Nour Party and independent candidates came ahead in all governorates except in Cairo where two female candidates will be competing against FJP candidates in the re-runs. [Aswat Masriya, English, 2/2/2012]

U.S. POLICY:

6) The United States expressed its deepest condolences after soccer-related violence in Port Said. "We express our deepest condolences to the Egyptian people on the tragedy in Port Said which resulted in scores of dead and wounded," said State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the violence and their families.” [Arab News, English, 2/2/2012]

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Protesters outside PA building

Members of the FJP-led Democratic Alliance won in votes for all but two of the committees in the People’s Assembly, led by speaker Saad al-Katatny. Senior Brotherhood leader Essam Al Erian became chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and chairmanship of the Defence and National Security Committee went to Abbas Mokheimar, a Brotherhood member with a military background. 

PROTESTS:

1) Several thousand protesters marched to the People's Assembly building on January 31 where they accused the Muslim Brotherhood of forming an alliance with the SCAF and chanted, “The people want the fall of the Brotherhood.”  Hundreds of Brotherhood members forming “human shields” prevented the protesters from advancing and claimed that anti-revolution gangs were threatening to destroy the parliamentary headquarters. Brotherhood MP Mohamed al-Beltagy met with coalition representatives and youth activists on February 1 in an attempt to diffuse the confrontation. [al-Ahram, English, 2/1/2012] [The Daily News Egypt, English, 1/31/2012] [al-Shorouk, Arabic, 2/1/2012]

2) Parliamentary Speaker Saad al-Katatny announced the formation of a parliamentary committee to receive complaints and assess the demands of protesters outside of the People’s Assembly building. [al-Youm al-Saba’a, Arabic, 2/1/2012]

3) 39 political parties and movements have called for a sit-in outside of the parliament on February 9 to demand justice for the victims of the revolution and call for the presidential nominations period to open on February 11. Participants include April 6, the Revolutionary Youth Union, the Revolutionary Youth Coalition, Kazeboon, the Popular Movement for the Independence of Al-Azhar, the liberal Egypt Freedom Party (founded by MP Amr Hamzawy), the moderate-Islamist Wasat Party, and the Islamist Egyptian Current Party. [al-Ahram, English, 2/1/2012]

ELECTIONS TIMELINE:

4) After the SCAF-appointed Advisory Council recommended that the military move up the date of the presidential election to May, members of the Advisory Council reported that the SCAF has rejected the proposal and will stick to the current timeline with elections promised by the end of June. [al-Masry al-Youm, Arabic, 2/1/2012] [al-Ahram, English, 1/31/2012]

 5) The National Association for Change (NAC) announced a new initiative calling for the election of an interim president – who would only serve for a one-year term –within two months of February 11. The NAC initiative also calls for the dismantling of the Shura Council and the cancellation of ongoing Shura polls with the aim of speeding up the transitional phase. [al-Ahram, English, 2/1/2012]

 PEOPLE’S ASSEMBLY:

6) Members of the FJP-led Democratic Alliance won in votes for all but two of the committees in the People’s Assembly, led by speaker Saad al-Katatny. Senior Brotherhood leader Essam Al Erian became chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and chairmanship of the Defence and National Security Committee went to Abbas Mokheimar, a Brotherhood member with a military background. Committees of planning, industry, economy, manpower, Arab affairs, housing, culture, transport, human rights, health, legislation, education, complaints and religious affairs are now headed by MPs either directly affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood or belonging to parties in the Democratic Alliance. [Gulf News, English, 2/1/2012]

7) MPs representing the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the "Revolution Continues" coalition, along with several independent MPs, walked out of the parliamentary session on January 31 to protest a perceived bias on the part of Speaker Saad al-Katatni regarding the latter's choice of speakers during the assembly's eighth and ninth sessions. [al-Ahram, English, 2/1/2012]

8) Presidential candidate Amr Moussa met with Parliamentary Speaker Saad al-Katatny to congratulate him on his new position and called for consensus-building. Moussa said that Egypt’s next president will bear responsibility for forging an understanding between Egypt’s political forces to rebuild the country. [al-Masry al-Youm, Arabic, 2/1/2012]

 US-EGYPT RELATIONS:

9) Justice Minister Adel Abdelhamid Abdallah announced that he has sent back a letter from U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson that asked for an end to a travel ban on Americans being investigated for alleged illegal funding of pro-democracy groups. [Reuters, English, 2/1/2012]

10) Saad al-Katatni, speaker of the People’s Assembly, met with Ambassador Anne Patterson on February 1. On Tuesday, several parliamentarians – including independent MP Mostafa Bakry – slammed the US ambassador for allegedly sending a letter directly to the residence of Justice Minister Adel Abdel Hamid regarding recent raids by judicial authorities on certain local NGOs and the subsequent detention of a handful of American employees of those NGOs.

ECONOMY:

11) Egypt plans to offer 13 billion Egyptian pounds ($2.2 billion) in treasury bills and bonds over the next week after receiving aid commitments from the European Union and World Bank. Egypt raised 4.55 billion pounds at debt auctions in the past week, or 30 percent of its goal. [Bloomberg, English, 2/1/2012]

Photo Credit: al-Arabiya

Egyptian protesters after January 25
Political coalitions led by the Revolutionary Youth Union as well as women’s groups are organizing mass marches on January 31, dubbed, “Determination Tuesday,” converging on the parliament building to demand an end to military rule.

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Dr. Mona Makram-Ebeid

Pressure from protests in Cairo this week has made a noticeable dent in the military’s determination to stick to its previously announced transitional timeline, specifying the formation of a constituent assembly in March and a transfer of power to a civilian president through an election promised in June. In the presence of calls for a radically abbreviated transitional period with the presidential election process starting in February (a proposal widely dismissed as naïve and practically infeasible), the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is now considering concessions on the timeline and has asked its appointed civilian Advisory Council to weigh in on the possibility of shortening the transition.

On January 30, a member of the Advisory Council, Dr. Mona Makram-Ebeid, told me that members of the civilian body are amenable to moving the presidential election date up to May, “but no sooner.” Shortly after our interview, the Advisory Council was expected to convene for consultations with the SCAF, and Dr. Ebeid said she hopes the process “will be able to bring about a rapprochement, with compromise on both sides.” 

Although the Advisory Council has been critiqued as a puppet of the SCAF designed to create the illusion of power-sharing with civilians, Dr. Makram-Ebeid’s reputation for integrity and independence has endeared her to protesters, who nominated her for their Council of Trustees of the Revolution last year.  A former parliamentarian for the Wafd Party, Dr. Makram-Ebeid has earned the respect of the street, but is not afraid to push back on some of the more extreme revolutionary demands and “virulent attacks on the army” that she considers unrealistic, distasteful and potentially destructive. “The immediate transition that the street wants is not only impossible but catastrophic and unconstitutional,” she said.

But while she fears that the proposals put forward by protesters are “fraught with danger,” she was quick to acknowledge that their momentum and frustration cannot be dismissed. “At the same time, we can’t continue as if nothing has happened in the presence of the violent anger emanating from the street,” Dr. Makram-Ebeid said.

The “power of the street” demonstrated on January 25 last year was no surprise to Dr. Makram-Ebeid, who observed back in 2009 that popular protests were "increasingly becoming a force to contend with." Today, she believes protesters are wrong in their fear that Egypt’s democratic transition will fail unless the military leaves power now -- as opposed to June. The pressure and scrutiny flowing from the street will ensure that “no one, not the military or any other power,” can monopolize the political process now. “The time of monopoly is finished,” she said.

Over the past week in Cairo, I saw firsthand the force of public opinion and vigilance described by Dr. Makram-Ebeid in my attempt to document the debates and disagreements over Egypt’s future constitutional framework, a mission that has taken me on a whirlwind tour from Tahrir Square to the Supreme Constitutional Court to shwarma stands.  Prevailing wisdom may hold that constitutional development is the exclusive domain of the intelligentsia and political elite, and that citizens outside of these privileged circles have neither the interest nor knowledge to weigh in on philosophical debates over the values and structure of the new constitution. However, my conversations in Cairo this week thoroughly debunked that myth: Some of my taxi drivers this week spoke more passionately about the constitution than lawyers and constitutional scholars I interviewed.

The theme that dominated my six days in Cairo was the rapid spread of political awareness at all levels of Egyptian society, and its unknown – but undeniably significant – implications for the emerging pluralistic landscape.  While not everyone was happy about continued protests in Tahrir Square, everyone acknowledges that the street cannot be ignored.  The lingering demonstrations in Cairo are a deeply polarizing phenomenon: Some of my interviewees criticized the protesters as an economically malignant annoyance, while others glorified them as the engine of democratic reform and the gate-keepers of political legitimacy. But whatever the value judgment on the “Tweeps,” “kids,” or “revolutionaries,” – as they were variously labeled – it is clear that for better or worse, their opinions and initiatives continue to push the boundaries of public discourse and are contributing to the palpable spread of political consciousness across Egyptian society.

As Hisham Kassem, one of the great pioneers of Egyptian independent media, described the phenomenon to me, “In the past, Egypt was an apathetic population of 80 million people Egyptian who didn’t care:  Now, we have 80 million opinions.”  The challenge, Dr. Makram-Ebeid, will be to incorporate these diverse and oftentimes dissonant voices in the process of negotiating a new and democratic social contract without derailing the transition itself: “We are in a terribly volatile and very concerning situation, and I fear that all options are fraught with danger,” she said.  

 Mara Revkin is the assistant director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and editor of EgyptSource.  She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cartoon Credit: al-Masry al-Youm

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