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Soldiers throw rocks at protesters

Cairo has once again erupted in chaos in and around Tahrir as security forces under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) sent troops to clear the "Occupy Cabinet" protests early Friday morning. Although the Egyptian Ministry of Health reports 99 wounded at the time of writing, activists in and around the cabinet building report approximately 160 wounded protesters being treated in makeshift field hospitals, ten of whom were apparently hit with live fire.

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Soldiers attack protesters

At least 173 “Occupy Cabinet” protesters were injured and two more killed as they clashed violently with military police trying to disperse a sit-in outside of the Council of Ministers Building. After protesters refused to vacate Qasr al-Aini Street, security forces used force to break up the sit-in with rocks and fire houses.

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New accusations of deliberate food poisoning at an anti-government demonstration reflect continued mistrust of the military, which saw its approval rating plummet from 90 percent last July to 43 percent in late November, despite assurances by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that it will transfer power back to civilians after a presidential election no later than July 2011.

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Bread protest in Egypt

Like most revolutions, Egypt’s uprising was fueled by economic grievances. Widespread frustration with several parallel phenomena -- the authoritarian regime’s hijacking of the economy, state- sponsored corruption, mounting inequality, monopolism and cronyism -- brought together diverse segments of society in shared discontent.

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Second round of parliamentary elections

Most polling stations have closed after the second round of parliamentary elections. Final results are not expected until December 17 or 18, but the Freedom and Justice Party’s Secretary General, Saad al-Katatny, is already predicting that the party will retain its lead from the first round.

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Second round of voting in Egyptian elections

Voting is in progress in nine governorates for the second stage of parliamentary elections, in which 3,387 candidates are competing for 180 seats. There were widespread reports of illegal campaigning outside of polling stations and scattered fights between supporters of rival candidates, particularly members of the Brotherhood's FJP and Salafi Nour Party.

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Egyptian Salafis

As newcomers to the formal political arena, Egyptian Salafi parties are the dark horse of Egypt’s parliamentary elections.

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Man walking by Egyptian election posters

3,387 parliamentary candidates are competing in the second round of voting this week. Representatives of the Revolution Continues Alliance, which includes six parties along with the Revolutionary Youth Coalition, say that the alliance learned from its losses in the first round and is staging a more organized and better-staffed campaign this week.

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Egyptian election posters

Egypt's political factions are preparing their supporters for a second round of voting in the post-Mubarak democratic parliamentary elections scheduled to take place on December 14th and 15th. According to the Egyptian Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, approximately 18.8 million Egyptians from Giza, Ismailiya, Sharqiya, Menoufiya, Suez, Beheira, Beni Suef, Aswan, and Sohag will have the opportunity to cast their ballots. In the wake of the unexpected domination by Islamist parties in the first round, the tri-polar political contest between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the Islamists, and the liberal parties will undoubtedly intensify and could possibly lead to localized violence in the second round.

The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), derived from the Muslim Brotherhood and the clear front-runner in this year's elections, has come under considerable scrutiny from liberals for its religious ideology and for violating the law banning campaigning ahead of voting. Yet, the surprising electoral gains by the Salafis’ Nour Party exemplify the distinct trend towards a more Islamist Egypt. The Salafis have vowed to follow a conservative path that many in Egypt fear would have a negative effect on foreign investment and tourism, and could severly impact the rights of women, minorities, and secular Egyptians by imposing a narrowly defined version of Sharia. Given the demographic of the governorates in the second round of elections, this trend is likely to continue. During the runoff phase last week, high tensions and even reports of threats of physical violence against FJP campaigners illustrated the divisions between the Islamist parties.

Liberal and leftist parties, still reeling from the last round's poor showing, have learned from the FJP’s strategies and seek to take a more aggressive approach this time around. One prominent liberal coalition, the Egyptian Bloc, has increased its door to door campaigning and plans to increase its presence at the polling stations to monitor suspicious activity and provide a counterbalance to the Nour and FJP organizers who may try to influence voters or judges. The Bloc has also stated it will campaign directly to voters at the polls despite the ban on this type of political activity. Some liberal parties have also decided to work with remnant politicians from Mubarak's now defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) - otherwise known as felool - to boost their standing and name recognition. Others, like the Revolution Continues, however, have rejected this strategy, preferring to lose than to reinstate any part of the former regime. 

At the center of all the political maneuvering stands the SCAF and now its newly appointed advisory council and Ganzouri cabinet. Although the SCAF has expanded the powers of interim prime minister Kamal al-Ganzouri to hold full executive authority except in issues related to military and judicial affairs until the presidential elections, the SCAF has carefully chosen the man least likely to buck its authority. Ganzouri’s appointment of Police General Mohamed Ibrahim -  the man responsible for the controversial clearing of Sudanese protesters from Mohandeseen in December 2005 - as Minister of Interior raises some alarm that strong-arm tactics may be used to quell protests that could arise over a number of issues ranging from the campaigning issue to the formation of the constituent assembly. Many Egyptians view the advisory council, a body in which the FJP declined to participate, as a fig leaf for unpopular SCAF initiatives aimed to preserve its power and authority.

The current context for the second round of elections clearly points to a highly charged climate. Will competition turn violent if rival political parties clash in front of polling stations? Will the security forces, still acting with impunity as seen in the response to protests in November, take matters into their own hands? If violence disrupts the voting process, how could that affect the results? The relatively peaceful first round may have cleared the way for the gloves to come off in the second - literally. Egyptians will find out the answers to these questions for certain on Wednesday.

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: Associated Press

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The SCAF’s newly appointed advisory council issued its first statement on December 11 and affirmed that only the parliament has the right to select the members of a committee that will draft the new constitution. SCAF member Major General Mukhtar al-Mullah suggested last week that the advisory council would provide input on the committee’s members.

1) Ongoing labor protests outside of the Planning Ministry have forced the Prime Minister Ganzouri’s cabinet to relocate from its temporary office in the planning Ministry to the Investment Ministry. Workers from the Damietta-based fertilizer factory MOPCO have been staging a protest outside of the Planning Ministry to demand that the factory be reopened. [al-Ahram, English, 12/12/2011]

2) Field Marshal Tantawi paid a visit to Tahrir Square on December 12 with the purported aim of ensuring the flow of traffic around the square. Hundreds of protesters are still camped out in the area next to the administrative Mogamaa building, where they are demanding a transfer of power to civilian leaders. [al-Ahram, English, 12/12/2011]

ADVISORY COUNCIL:

3) The SCAF issued a statement on December 12 insisting that the advisory council’s mandate will be limited to expressing opinions and consulting on national affairs, and its role will end with the election of a new president. [al-Masry al-Youm, Arabic, 12/12/2011]

4) The SCAF’s newly appointed advisory council issued its first statement on December 11 and affirmed that only the parliament has the right to select the members of a committee that will draft the new constitution. SCAF member Major General Mukhtar al-Mullah suggested last week that the advisory council would provide input on the committee’s members. [al-Ahram, English, 12/12/2011]

ISLAMISTS:

5) The Salafi Nour party will seek to enforce a ban on beach tourism and serving alcohol to Egyptians and foreign nationals, according to the party’s spokesman, Nader Bakar, who also said that the party plans to establish a chain of hotels in compliance with Islamic Law. [al-Ahram, English, 12/12/2011]

6) The Brotherhood is developing a “renaissance project” that will include short-, mid- and long-term visions for reforming administrative structures, the educational and healthcare systems and revitalizing the economy. Deputy General Guide Khairat al-Shater, who is spearheading the project, said that the Brotherhood is consulting with advisors from Turkey, Malaysia, South Africa and Singapore. [al-Masry al-Youm, English, 12/12/2011]

PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION:

7) An independent campaign supporting the presidential candidacy of Field Marshal Tantawi has been collecting signatures in several provinces and in Cairo’s Ramses Square. [al-Masry al-Youm, Arabic, 12/12/2011]

U.S. POLICY:

8) Senator John Kerry expressed support for the SCAF’s role in “protecting” the transition and called attention to the deteriorating economy, saying, “There is a need for an infusion of cash into the Egyptian governing process.” Kerry also visited the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party headquarters and met with the party’s leaders, who assured him that the party will respect Egypt’s international treaties and would not seek major changes to the constitution or investment laws.   [The Daily News Egypt, English, 12/12/2011] [al-Ahram, English, 12/12/2011]

NGO FUNDING:

9) A fact-finding commission appointed by the Justice Ministry to investigate the financing of Egyptian NGOs reported that over 300 civil society organizations have received foreign funding over the past six years. The commission was tasked with investigating NGOs that may have received funding through illegal channels or are operating without the required licenses. The ministry is examining all sources of foreign funding, not just the United States. [al-Masry al-Youm, English, 12/12/2011]

ECONOMY:

10) Egypt’s stock index dropped the most in nearly three weeks after Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri stated that austerity measures may be required to reverse the economic slowdown. [Bloomberg, English, 12/12/2011]

11) The Egyptian pound fell to its lowest level in nearly seven years, as the central bank appears to be allowing the currency to weaken gradually since it broke the 6 pound to the dollar barrier at the end of November. [Reuters, English, 12/12/2011]

Photo Credit: Reuters