MENASource|News, Analysis, Perspectives

MENASource
MenaSource logo

Follow MENASource:

Twitter RSS

Follow IranSource:

Twitter


daliaziada.jpg

While the protest in Tahrir Square enters its eleventh day with the aim of bringing about an end to military rule, thousands of Egyptians are engaged in a parallel democratic exercise: voting in Egypt’s first post-revolutionary elections. Today, Egypt is writing an important line in its history, as the Egyptian people proudly decide their own political destiny for the first time in their seven thousand years of history. I cannot stop thinking about how this parliamentary election may change the future of Egypt for the better or – God forbid – for worse. It all depends on the actions of Egyptian voters over the next 48 hours.

One can hardly predict the results of the first parliamentary elections since the historic nonviolent revolution that has changed the lives and attitudes of the Egyptian people forever. It is equally difficult to estimate the real influence of the current protests on the attitudes of voters. At the same time, it is clear that these elections will have extraordinary significance for Egypt’s political landscape, drawing a new map of the power centers and interest groups that will dominate the domestic political scene for the forseeable future and could also transform political dynamics across the Middle East region as a whole.

As a candidate for the People’s Assembly, I am running for the Downtown Cairo district on the list of Eladl (Justice) Party. Eladl is a party recently founded by young revolutionaries who decided to build on the success achieved with Mubarak's overthrow by transferring the spirit of activism to the political decision-making arena. I joined Eladl Party as a founding member and director of its women’s organization in April. At that time, the decision to run for elections was not on my wish list because I did not meet the minimum age requirement for candidates (30 years old). In July, however, the SCAF issued a new regulation that decreased the minimum age for eligible parliamentary candidates to 25 years old. At that point, my party leaders and I started to think about the possibility of moving me from the realm of civil society to formal politics.

The decision to run for parliament was not an easy one for me as a human rights activist, a young revolutionary and above all a young woman who lives in a society that hardly accepts women in leadership positions. Entering the world of politics was not an easy decision, neither for me nor for other young candidates with backgrounds in civil society activism.  Stepping out of the role of monitoring and evaluating the performance of public officials and decision-makers to become a decision-maker oneself requires as much courage as our grandparents had in crossing the Red Sea behind Moses – a leap that only true believers can make. Those who decided to run and those who will vote at the polls tomorrow are true believers in democracy who represent the glorious future of Egypt and will help this country move beyond its painful legacy of authoritarianism. These parliamentary elections are as valuable and necessary as the revolution itself.

Although there are certainly plenty of dirty games being played in the world of politicians, the best thing about electoral campaigning is that it allows you to intimately communicate with fellow citizens whom you might not have the opportunity to meet under ordinary circumstances.

Of course, not all interpersonal interactions on the campaign trail have been positive ones. Over the course of my campaign, I have had to deal with death threats sent to my cell phone and filthy attempts by my rivals to distort my image by spreading false rumors about me, claiming that I am not patriotic enough because I work for an American non-governmental organization that I am not a devout Muslim because I encourage women to stand up for their rights, and because I am passionate about creating understanding and dialogue between the West and the Muslim world.

While campaigning has not always been easy, the experience has come with many positive results. Interacting directly with voters has brought me satisfaction and personal growth, as well as the confidence to be an effective leader. Although I have had years of experience working with grassroots networks as an NGO professional, I was always in the position of being a provider or a teacher. Now through my election campaign, I have found myself in a student’s role, learning from the many people I encountered who did not hesitate to share with me the minute details of their lives and encouraged me to speak my mind and overcome my fears. Each one has a unique story and creative ideas that inspired me to change from within.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned from my voters is that winning a parliamentary seat is not as important as winning the hearts and minds of your own people.

Dalia Ziada is competing in the November 2011 parliamentary elections as a candidate for the Eladl Party, a new party founded by young revolutionaries to affirm a moderate Egyptian religious and political ideology.

Photo Credit: Olivia Arthur, Time Magazine

Freedom and Justice Party rally in Port Said

This Mediterranean city is poised to host an electoral battle between Islamists and secularists that is emblematic in many ways of what is happening throughout Egypt.  Although there are thirteen electoral lists competing for the four proportional representation seats allocated to Port Said, the same few came up over and over again in conversations with activists and domestic civil society observers.  On the Islamist side of the spectrum, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP, Brotherhood) and Nour Party (Salafi) are the contenders.  The Wasat Party (moderate Islamist) also has made a positive impression.  Among the non-Islamists, the Wafd has a long history here but its reputation has been tarnished by decades of political deals with Mubarak and his predecessors.  The Free Egyptians (liberal) also reportedly have gained popularity.  Several observers predicted that no party would sweep the district but that four out of these five would get the seats, perhaps two Islamist and two secularist—which might be more wishful thinking than hard analysis.

Some aspects of the campaigns in Port Said over the last few weeks are appealing and innovative, while others are troubling.  Parties have done the usual distribution of pamphlets and posters, but some (particularly Nour) have been more creative—for example, setting up kiosks in many of Port Said’s seven neighborhoods in which a volunteer with a laptop will help a puzzled voter locate his or her correct polling station and get a quick lesson in how to vote.  FJP reportedly has done a great deal of door-to-door campaigning, always bringing male and female volunteers to provide separate briefings for family members according to sex.
 
The uglier aspect of the campaigns—use of sectarianism—also is unfortunately emblematic of a larger issue in Egypt.  The FJP and Nour have made extensive use of mosques as campaign platforms, and imams reportedly have used Friday sermons to warn that voting for a non-Muslim or even a non-Islamist is sinful.  Christians reportedly have been instructed in churches to vote for the Free Egyptians, while Nour reportedly has gone around town tearing down that party’s posters.
 
But the real danger of sectarian confrontation here surrounds one of the two individual seats rather than the proportional seats.  George Ishak, the Christian founder of the Kifaya movement and an avowed secularist, is in hot competition with Muslim Brother Akram al-Shaer.  Each apparently has a significant phalanx of youth supporters who have been facing off at campaign events, and local observers fear the competition could turn violent and openly sectarian if the two candidates go to a runoff.
 
Young people are active in Port Said, as elsewhere in Egypt, and I heard from those I met today much frustration.  Ahmad, a young local activist who was limping painfully from two bullets he carries in one leg from last week’s clashes in Tahrir, said mournfully of the contest to begin tomorrow:  “These are not the elections we fought for, but it is my duty to go and serve as a domestic monitor in the hope that someday we can make the process better.”  He worried that the FJP was creating an image of Islamist invincibility by exaggerating the size of electoral gains in Tunisia and Morocco, and complained bitterly that the liberal parties were hurting their chances of capturing the youth vote by running “all old people.” (In truth, by the look of the campaign photos there are few if any candidates under 40).  Ahmad said that some of his fellow activists would boycott the elections due to continued military rule, and that others who go to vote will wear black as a silent protest in solidarity with “the martyrs of Tahrir.”
 
Another question is whether ex-National Democratic Party candidates will gain any seats.  Ibrahim Darwish, a former military officer running for the Shura Council within the newly-established “National Party” (al-Hizb al-Qawmi), thought that his fellow citizens would make their choices primarily based on the reputations of the specific candidates on each list.  His party had carefully chosen physicians, teachers, and civil servants with a record of public service, and he was proud that his was the only list to place a woman second.  Offering a view contrary to that of most other observers, Darwish said Islamists had turned off the public by overspending on campaigns, leaving the typically-independent Port Saidis with a feeling that they were being bought.  “Most voters are still undecided,” he concluded.
 
In fact, many things are still undecided about these elections, apparently including how ballot boxes will be secured overnight on Monday—a major source of concern for parties and civil society groups, who fear that thugs will overcome security officers to get access.  Today I heard at least three different plans for what will happen:  boxes will be sealed and secured in place, or they will be gathered into a central room in each polling station, or all will be gathered into one central place in the district and then redelivered the next morning.  One rumor I heard today is that the FJP is so worried about its votes being discarded on Monday night that it has instructed its base to turn out on Tuesday only.        
 
Michele Dunne is the director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and an official observer of the first stage of the parliamentary elections. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 
Photo Credit: Ikhwan Web
Campaign posters

Protesters continued their sit-in outside of the Cabinet building for a third day straight to protest the appointment of Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri and demand an immediate end to military rule. Field Marshal Tantawi warned that the military "will not allow troublemakers to meddle" in the polling process, set to begin on November 28. Meanwhile, Mohamed ElBaradei announced that he is willing to drop his presidential bid in order to take charge of a national salvation government.

PROTESTS:

1) The crowd in Tahrir Square thinned considerably on November 27 as rain began to fall. Protesters continued their sit-in outside of the Cabinet building for a third day straight to protest the appointment of Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri and demand an immediate end to military rule as well as the formation of a national salvation government. [The Guardian, English, 11/27/2011] [Al-Masry al-Youm, Arabic, 11/27/2011]

2) The Revolutionary Youth Coalition and 23 other political groups have called for a “salvation million-strong protest” in Tahrir Square on November 28 to demand that power be immediately transferred to civilians through the formation of a presidential council and national salvation government. The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, and the Salafi Nour Party all announced that they will not participate. [Al-Masry al-Youm, English, 11/27/2011]

SCAF: 

3) Speaking at a press conference on November 27, Field Marshal Tantawi confirmed that elections will begin on time and promised that the military’s role will not be changed in the new constitution. [al-Ahram, English, 11/27/2011] 

4) Field Marshal Tantawi warned of “extremely grave” consequences if the current unrest does not end quickly.  Tantawi stressed that elections will proceed on time and said the military "will not allow troublemakers to meddle" in the polling process. [VOA, English, 11/27/2011]

5) SCAF member Ismail Othman announced that 95 percent of the armed forces will be deployed to maintain order and security during the polling process. [Al-Masry al-Youm, Arabic, 11/27/2011]

ELECTIONS:                                               

6) The first stage of elections, which will last until December 5, is set to begin on Monday, November 28. Although the High Electoral Commission has not provided figures for the total number of candidates contesting the first round, unofficial estimates indicate that 2,362 independents and 193 party-based candidates will compete for 168 seats. Eligible voters in the first round account for approximately 35 percent of the total number of registered voters, estimated to be around 50 million. [al-Ahram, English, 11/27/2011]

7) A spokesperson for the Coptic church denied that it was directing Christians to vote for particular candidates. In a sermon on November 27, Pope Shenouda urged Copts to vote for "a suitable candidate," whether Muslim or Christian. [The Guardian, English, 11/27/2011] [Al-Masry al-Youm, English, 11/27/2011]

8) The Salafi Nour Party and Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party failed to coordinate on individual candidacy races in the final days before the start of elections, after the parties formed a committee two weeks ago with the intent of backing the strongest Islamist candidate in each district to avoid splitting the vote. Plans for coordination fell through after the FJP refused to withdraw support from a number of its candidates. [Al-Masry al-Youm, Arabic, 11/27/2011]

NATIONAL SALVATION GOVERNMENT:

9) Mohamed ElBaradei announced that he is willing to drop his presidential bid in order to take charge of a salvation government and “guarantee trust and neutrality during the transitional period.” [Al-Ahram, English, 11/27/2011]

HUMAN RIGHTS:

10) An investigation conducted by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) reveals that security forces deliberately targeted the eyes of protesters while attempting to disperse the crowd in Tahrir Square using birdshot pellets and rubber bullets. Kasr al-Aini Hospital alone reported 60 eye injuries, and EIPR’s report claims, “The high rate of eye injuries leaves no doubt as to a pattern of intentionally aiming birdshot pellets and rubber bullets at the eyes of demonstrators.” [EIPR, English, 11/27/2011]

Photo Credit: Al Jazeera

Campaign propaganda from the Ittihad Party

Cairo—A couple of noteworthy examples of campaign propagnda I came across today, less than 48 hours before voting is scheduled to begin on Monday, November 28:

Read More

Cairo -- Electoral systems are slippery things.  Political players often try to grab hold and point them in one direction or another to obtain an electoral advantage, and sometimes regret their decisions later—witness the famous 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, in which Fatah shaped a system to its liking only to find out it played to the strengths of Hamas.  A day of meetings to discuss the system that Egypt will use for its first post-revolutionary elections left me with a number of questions about technical points that might prove important:

Read More

Mohamed ElBaradei in Tahrir Square

Clashes broke out again after Central Security Forces attacked thousands of protesters staging a sit-in outside of the Cabinet building to condemn the appointment of Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri. The SCAF announced on November 25 that each stage of the parliamentary elections will be held over two days instead of one to avoid "overcrowding and security issues." Meanwhile, the head of the High Electoral Commission revealed that the SCAF is considering postponing the first round of voting in Cairo and Alexandria, and ten of the judges commissioned to supervise the elections have decided to back out of their commitment, saying that elections should be delayed in light of the current unrest. 

Read More

egypt-protest08_luv1ghpd.jpeg

As a Cairene surrounded by the intensity and dynamism of the second wave of mass Tahrir protests, one tends to forget that other parts of the country are fighting their own battles that, although, smaller in scale, are just as intense and significant to those residents fighting for their rights. After only three days in Alexandria, I could not help but feel that the people were fighting a more difficult battle in the war that is Egypt's revolution against the old regime. The uphill struggle facing revolutionaries here involves the media and local politics.

While news agencies - both national and international - focus on the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces' (SCAF) dealings with the protesters and political factions in Tahrir, only a few heads turn to Victor Emanuel Square at the end of Smouha street outside the office of the Central Security Forces' (CSF) office. The hundreds of protesters pale in comparison to the thousands present in Tahrir. The fewer CSF officers available to deal with the demonstrations, however, results in a heightened sense of fear as they respond with arguably more ferocity. With hardly any consistent reporting and a systematic effort to break mobile phones and confiscate recording devices, protesters face an authority trying to maintain their level of impunity. Despite only three confirmed deaths, the intensity of the injuries witnessed rivals those seen in Tahrir, including broken arms, internal bleeding, concussions, lacerations, and of course gas inhalation.

The other factor at play involves the leanings of a substantial portion of the population towards the Islamist parties. Many in Alexandria do not entirely trust the Muslim Brotherhood to represent their interests, but few can argue the fact that its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) remains one of the most organized political groups with one of the strongest campaigns. Those who would not choose FJP candidates tend to lean towards the Salafis and their Nour Party. With expectations that Islamist parties will win a large portion of parliamentary seats, many of their supporters in Egypt's second largest city resent the protesters and argue that they have intentionally engineered the demonstrations to interfere with the elections timetable. 

Sadly, the resulting dynamic leaves Alexandria's revolutionary youth vulnerable to brutal authoritarian tactics by security forces with little support from their local neighborhoods. Nonetheless, approximately three thousand demonstrators gathered in front of al-Qaed Ibrahim Mosque to attend the "Million Man March" that took place this Friday, marching to the military headquarters in the north of the city, spending hours calling for freedom from oppression. Despite a lack of organization and internal support, those in Tahrir would no doubt admire their tenacity and national pride ... if only someone could see them!

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: LA Times

Field Marshal Tantawi with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta

The Egyptian street has erupted once again.  As before, people around the world are riveted by the surge of protests rocking Cairo, Alexandria, Assiut, Ismailia, Mahalla, Mansoura, Suez, and elsewhere. What is particularly breathtaking about the recent events is not only the rapid spread of the uprising, but the (previously unthinkable) demand to end 60 years of military rule in Egypt.  This makes the ouster of Mubarak look like child’s play in comparison. It also places US officials in an even bigger dilemma than before. After all, a single dictator is replaceable. But the institutionalized power of the Egyptian military may be less easy to bend.

Back in February, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen praised the professionalism of the Egyptian army in their handling of the mass uprising, as they largely respected the right of the people to protest. American officials like to take at least partial credit for the restraint exercised by the Egyptian army. They believe that US military aid to Egypt buys the US influence, just as they believe that training Egyptian officers in American military academies instills them with democratic values.  This narrative is comforting, not to mention self-congratulatory. Perhaps this is why few seem interested in subjecting it to empirical scrutiny.

I consider myself very fortunate to have lived in Egypt for several years and to have been in Cairo throughout the entire period of what has become known as the “Egyptian Revolution.” I saw with my own eyes how, when army tanks rolled into Tahrir on January 28, Egyptians celebrated the soldiers as liberators. But things have changed. One week into Egypt’s “Second Revolution”, more than forty people have been killed and thousands have been injured. Many more languish in prison, and over 12,000 civilians are being tried in military tribunals. The recent violence is but the culmination of months of human rights abuses that have become increasingly macabre. In March, women who dared to stage a demonstration on International Women’s Day were subjected to forced “virginity tests.” In April, junior officers who openly protested against the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) were shot on Tahrir. In October, Coptic Christians who were demanding that their churches be protected, were run over and dismembered by armored personnel carriers. One may well ask what has become of the ‘professionalism’ of the US-trained Egyptian army?

In response to the most sustained violence since February, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Tuesday: “We call on all sides to exercise restraint.” The only problem is, one side uses tanks, rubber bullets, and live ammunition, while the other side jerry-rigs cooking pots into makeshift helmets. Should the protesters abstain from their home-made self-protection devices? Or shout their demands for freedom and civilian rule a little less loudly?

If the Obama administration was truly interested in “restraint” being exercised, it could in fact do more than issue inane statements.

From 1948-2011, Egypt has received $71.6 billion in foreign aid from the United States, including $1.3 billion annually in military aid from 1987 until now. Despite all the uncertainties of the so-called “transitional phase,” the Obama Administration has already requested $1.3 billion for the next fiscal year.

While the SCAF gladly pockets this American money, it regards any American (or other outside) support for civil society as “foreign interference.” Foreigners are only allowed to support the Egyptian military, not Egyptian civilians.

The SCAF along with several cabinet ministers began a veritable witch hunt this past summer against youth activists, in particular the April 6 movement, accusing them of receiving foreign funding. Apparently the Egyptian military, which likely receives more external funding than any other institution in the country, saw no irony in their attempting to delegitimize their youthful critics by accusing them of receiving support from foreign donors. The Ministry of Justice was instructed to conduct an investigation into the matter. In their recent report, which did not receive much attention due to the ongoing events, they found that the April 6 movement has not received any foreign funding. Leaders of the April 6 movement are now demanding that the SCAF publicly apologize.  But the Supreme Council is far from acknowledging any wrongdoing about anything.

On the contrary, the generals continue undeterred in propagating the outlandish lie that “foreign forces” are behind the uprising, peddling the exact same line as Mubarak, and shamelessly attempting to incite xenophobia.

Although some members of Congress have supported placing conditions on US aid to Egypt, the Administration has consistently blocked this, fearing it will alienate the SCAF. In a press conference in Cairo on September 28, Secretary of State Clinton praised the military, saying “We also believe that the army has played a very stabilizing, important role during this period…” She then went on to say: “I want Egyptians to know that the Obama Administration opposes conditionality and do not believe that’s in the best interest of our relationship.”

During the “first revolution”, I took hundreds of pictures on Tahrir, many of which contained messages directed to the United States. One of them read, “US aid killed our people.” Another read: “USA: support the people, not the tyrant.” One of the most blunt was a sign stating simply: “America: F**k your aid.” Egyptians were angry back then, but now they’re outraged. If the United States continues to unconditionally support the military junta, it will lose the Egyptian people.

Amy Austin-Holmes has been an assistant professor at the American University in Cairo since 2008, where she teaches classes on social movements, revolutions, and US foreign policy. She has a PhD from Johns Hopkins University and an MA from the Freie Universität Berlin. Her book manuscript Contentious Allies: Social Unrest and the American Military Presence in Turkey and Germany 1945-2005 is under contract with Cambridge University Press. 

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Mideast_Egypt_Electio_Lea_s640x402.jpg

The SCAF continues to insist that parliamentary elections will begin on time November 28.  Whether that actually happens or not might be determined by the size and character of the protest that is now beginning in Tahrir.  Revolutionary groups have promised a “millioniya” (million man march); that is hard, but not impossible, to carry off when the Muslim Brotherhood is not participating.  But even if the demonstration is short of a million, if there are tens of thousands in Cairo and also in other cities demanding a new political timetable, it is hard to see how polls can be held on Monday.

Read More

Kamal Ganzouri with Hosni Mubarak in 1997.

The SCAF has appointed 78-year-old Kamal Ganzouri as Egypt’s new prime minister. Ganzouri previously served as Mubarak’s prime minister from 1996-1999. A military source said that Ganzouri will be tasked with forming a salvation government to replace Sharaf’s cabinet, which collectively resigned last week. Protesters have overwhelmingly rejected news of the appointment, with thousands rallying outside the cabinet building chanting anti-Ganzouri slogans.

Read More