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Tahrir Square, January 25 2012

Security forces and military personnel are noticeably absent from Tahrir as tens of thousands pack the square on January 25 for celebrations and demonstrations commemorating the anniversary of the revolution.

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Egyptian workers protest

One year after the revolution triggered by the slogan, “Bread, Freedom and Social Justice,” Egyptians have gained some freedoms – despite the continuous crackdown on civil society and activist – but so far they have seen little progress toward the goals of achieving social and economic justice.

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March on Washington

It is a striking coincidence that the first anniversary of Egypt’s January 25 Revolution – which unseated longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak – will take place only days after the United States commemorates civil rights icon, Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Egyptian Emergency law

Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi announced today on Egyptian state television the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) decision to lift the state of emergency, to take effect on the anniversary of the January 25 revolution, “except in cases involving thuggery.”

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Mohammed Badei and Tantawi

The final results of the People’s Assembly elections have been formally announced, confirming that Islamists now enjoy an overwhelming majority in the first freely elected parliament in Egypt since the 1952 revolution.

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Al-Katatni of the Muslim Brotherhood, speaker of Egyptian People

It is wearisome when observers of the Middle East want to begin conversations with a debate about whether what we are seeing is an Arab “spring” or an “awakening;” whether the unrest that has taken place should be called a “revolt,” an “uprising,” or a “revolution;” whether it is proper to refer to Arab “transitions” when we do not know what the ultimate destination will be.

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First parliamentary session

Egypt’s newly elected 508-member People’s Assembly convened for its first session on January 23. New parliamentarians took their constitutional oaths berore voting to elect a new parliamentary speaker (Brotherhood member Saad al-Katatny, winning with 399 votes) and two deputies (voting is still underway).

Official results for party list-races were released on January 21, confirming the Islamist parties’ sweeping victory: The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) won 127 seats (38 percent) and the Salafi Al-Nour Party won 96 (29 percent) of the 332 seats allocated for party lists. 

Final results overall, including individual candidates, showed that Islamist parties won around 70 percent of the seats in parliament:

  • The Brotherhood-led Democratic Alliance won 47 percent, or 235 of the 498 elected seats parliament
  • The Salafi Nour Party came in second with 25 percent, or 125 seats
  • The liberal Egyptian Bloc coalition won 9 percent of the seats in parliament
  • The Wafd Party secured around 9 percent of the seta
  • In addition to the 498 seats contested in the elections, the SCAF appointed 10 representatives, including two women and several Coptic Christians.

Muslim Brotherhood member Saad al-Katatny, elected speaker of parliament on January 23, is the first Brotherhood member to hold such a high-ranking position since the movement’s founding in 1928. He had been expected to win at least 346 votes (the sum total of 213 FJP deputies and an additional 22 members of the Democratic Alliance plus the votes of 121 members of the Salafi Nour Party. Al-Katany resigned as secretary general of the FJP shortly after his nomination for the post of speaker. In the video below (Arabic), deputies argue over the four candidates -- al-Katatny, Wasat Party's Essam Sultan, the Egyptian Bloc's Magdy Sabry, and the independent Yousef al-Badry -- nominated for speaker of parliament. 

 

 Photo Credit: The Daily News Egypt

Video: al-Masry al-Youm

Islamists in Egyptian People

Egypt’s newly elected 508-member People’s Assembly convened for its first session on January 23. New parliamentarians will take their constitutional oaths, followed by the election of a parliamentary speaker and two deputies.

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Brotherhood leaders

Despite widespread speculation to the contrary, the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing -- the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) -- has consistently ruled out the possibility of forming any strategic alliance with the Salafist Nour Party. Although the two parties have been indiscriminately – and incorrectly -- lumped together as "Islamists" by some observers, the FJP has been keen on maintaining its distinctly moderate outlook by focusing on nationalist alliances instead of ideology-based ones and prioritizing public policy over religious agendas.  

The Muslim Brotherhood, much like other parties, was caught off guard by the Salafis electoral gains in the latest People's Assembly elections. With almost a quarter of the seats, the Nour Party came in second to the FJP, and the former’s leader has been nominated for the influential post of deputy speaker of the People’s Assembly, scheduled to convene for its first session on January 23.

A challenge for the FJP now is to maintain its inclusive policy toward other parties without falling into the trap of ideological polarization, and without excluding the Salafis either. The FJP’s track record throughout the transitional phase has proven that it is not seeking strategic alliances with the Salafis nor with other Islamist parties per se, but rather cross-ideological coalitions that can achieve "consensus." The FJP’s commitment to coalition-building gave rise to the Democratic Alliance for Egypt (DAE) in the months following the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, a coalition that started with 13 parties from across the political spectrum aimed at uniting diverse parties around a common political agenda. The DAE was later converted into a powerful electoral coalition which garnered 47 percent of the seats in PA elections. As the only non-ideological coalition competing in the last elections, the DAE offered a middle-of-the road alternative between the secular-dominated Egyptian Bloc, and the Salafi coalition led by Nour Party.

Furthermore, the FJP sought to allay fears of an "Islamist Government" by insisting on its intention to form a coalition government. This would be based on the 11 parties currently in the DAE together with other parties and independents expected to join FJP's coalition from outside the alliance. This indicates that FJP still abides by MB's old—yet still valid—motto "Participation rather than Domination." Based on the same logic behind the traditional slogan, the FJP has stated that it will not field a presidential candidate affiliated with the Brotherhood.

The same applies to the FJP's proposed parliamentary agenda. Unlike its Salafi counterparts, the FJP does not seem to be preoccupied with the strict application of Sharia law. The party is fairly confident that the majority of Egyptians support the second article of the 1971 constitution, which states that "the Principles of Islamic Shariah are the main source of legislation," and that the majority of secular parties also agree with that article. Therefore, the FJP has prioritized socioeconomic reforms that constituted the core of the Revolution's demands.  The FJP is aware that what matters most to the millions of underprivileged Egyptians who voted for the party is not simply the reinstating of religious values in society, but more importantly how an FJP-led government would be able to alleviate their deteriorating economic conditions caused by decades of authoritarian and corrupt rule. 

Moreover, the FJP has offered a set of reassuring gestures concerning its adherence to the civil and democratic state. In a recent article outlining the vision of the party, Mohamed Morsi, FJP Chairman, reiterated that one of his party's goals is the "establishment of the modern Egyptian civil, constitutional state, based on freedom and democracy," after highlighting twelve challenges perceived to be the party's priorities, on top of them "the principles of liberty and equality" as Morsi states. The party also emphasized respect for press freedom after rumors that accused the FJP of seeking to restrict freedom of expression in the media. In addition, following the latest raids on Egyptian NGOs – following accusations of illegal foreign funding – the FJP denounced the crackdown, stressing "the importance of the role played by civil society organizations in monitoring government actions, assisting it in reaching the public, and preventing its security forces from returning to the policies and practices of oppression and injustice and tyranny that prevailed in the days of the defunct former regime, by monitoring the actions and movements of these forces, and conveying this information to the public in a completely transparent process."  

While the above examples provide ample evidence of FJP's willingness to undertake the role of a responsible political player in post-revolutionary Egypt, it is yet to transform words into actions as it gears up for the establishment of Egypt's long-awaited democracy. The enormous challenges ahead require national consensus and unity towards achieving the goals of the revolution. Apparently, the FJP is aware of the delicate balancing act that is needed to build a politically and ideologically inclusive coalition, and is therefore treading very cautiously. 

Sondos Asem is a political commentator affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and a leading voice in Egypt’s social media sphere. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow Sondos on Twitter @SondosAsem. 

Photo Credit: BikyaMasr

"Those traitors who take US money want to ruin the country!"

The latest insult to Egyptian non-governmental organizations -- still reeling from the most recent raids that took place on December 29 -- has come in the form of a new draft law put forth by the interim government to regulate the activities of civil society groups and associations. Mohammed al-Demardesh, Legal Advisor with the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs, announced the proposed "Law on Associations and Foundations" on January 18, intended to replace the highly controversial and restrictive Law No. 84 of 2002 governing the formation, funding, and operation of civil society organizations. Rights groups have reacted strongly to the proposed law, condemning the closed discussion surrounding its submission.

On January 19, nine Egyptian NGOs issued a joint statement rejecting the regulations, warning the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) against supporting Mubarak-era policies that would inevitably produce yet another confrontation with the Egyptian people. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) also held a meeting with civil society representatives and rights groups today to discuss the failings of the current draft and propose an alternate law that would allow NGOs to operate freely.

The proposed draft law, essentially a resubmission of a March 2010 draft by former Mubarak-era Minister of Social Solidarity Ali al-Moselhy, remains problematic in many respects. The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law’s (ICNL) Legal Advisor for the Middle East, Kareem Elbayar, summarized his initial observations:

May eliminate the legal basis for many human rights organizations as well as other groups. A number of Egyptian human rights organizations organize as civil companies. Under the draft law, they would be required to register as associations or foundations. This could be problematic, because under the Law on Associations and Foundations the government has broad discretion to deny registration. Even if the groups manage to register, they would be subject to the restrictive provisions of the law, including provisions limiting access to foreign funds and affiliation with foreign organizations. (Preamble, Article 3).

Requires approval of the Ministry of Social Solidarity before an Egyptian organization may affiliate with a foreign organization. (Article 12).

Restricts foreign funding of Egyptian associations and foundations as well as domestic fundraising; both require the approval of the Minister of Social Solidarity (Articles 13, 14).

Limits associational activities. Associations will only be allowed to work on issues related to “social welfare and development and enlightenment of society” as defined by the Ministry of Social Solidarity, and will not be allowed to work in more than two issue areas without permission from the government (Article 9). The government may interpret the promotion and defense of human rights as falling outside of the permissible fields.

Raises the minimum number of founders of a new association from 10 to 20, and the minimum initial endowment for foundations to LE 100,000 (Article 1), making it more difficult to register new organizations.

Mandates registration of all associations and foundations (Preamble Article 3), and imposes criminal penalties on individuals who establish unregistered groups.   

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) released a press statement accusing Mubarak loyalists of using revenge tactics against watchdog organizations. The resubmission of the draft law apparently occurred after a meeting last week between Kamal al-Ganzouri, SCAF-appointed Prime Minister, Faiza Abul Naga, Minister of International Cooperation, and Ali al-Moselhy. Although Mohammed al-Demardesh assured the public in an interview with al-Shurouq newspaper that the “law was not finalized and open to amendments,” he made it clear that all groups, “whether religious or development based, would be subject to oversight.” The Ministry of Social Affairs has offered a 15 day time period during which it would accept comments on the draft law.

This latest development seems only to reaffirm the belief that the old Mubarak regime remains alive and well during the transitional period. Nasser Amin, executive director of The Arab Center for Independence of the Judiciary ‎and the Legal Profession among the NGOs raided in December, believes that NGOs will continue to struggle so long as organizations have to fight a government that undermines democracy and human rights groups in the country.

With the newly elected People’s Assembly-- granted a powerful political mandate by the 60 percent of Egyptians who voted in the elections --  set to convene its first session on January 23, 2012, it will fall to these representatives to change the tone on the discourse surrounding NGOs operating in Egypt and bring it in line with international standards. The incoming parliament has a public duty duty to challenge legislative attacks on free expression and free association. It must also work with civil society groups if Egypt hopes to see any advancement toward implementing an institutional and legal framework that protects internationally guaranteed basic rights, a fundamental goal of the revolution. 

Click here for full text of draft NGO law (PDF)

Tarek Radwan is an Egyptian human rights activist specializing in international law and conflict resolution. He has worked for Human Rights Watch's MENA division and the United Nations mission (UNAMID) in Darfur as a Human Rights Officer. He currently provides consulting services on civilian protection and Middle East issues.

Photo Credit: Palestinian Pundit

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