MENASource|News, Analysis, Perspectives

MenaSource logo

Follow MENASource:

Twitter RSS

Follow IranSource:


Egyptian woman voter

Partial results for single-winner races are being released today, with additional results expected after a run-off round on Monday, December 5. The Freedom and Justice Party issued a statement claiming that the FJP-led Democratic Alliance is leading the proportional representation races, followed by the Salafi Nour Party and the liberal-oriented Egyptian Bloc in third place. The FJP also asserted that the majority in the next People’s Assembly should have the authority to form a new government.  

Read More

Crowd in Tahrir Square

Late last night, clashes erupted between protesters and street vendors in Tahrir during which approximately 80 people were wounded. By the end of these skirmishes, the protesters had forced the vendors out of the square against the backdrop of calls saying, "The people want the cleansing of Tahrir!"

For the protesters, street vendors have been a thorn in their side, causing problems ranging from increased trash in the streets to starting fights and smuggling weapons into the square. Most protesters believe that some vendors have also received payments from the interior ministry to report on the activities in Tahrir and wait to receive orders to stir up trouble. Organizers in Tahrir have felt their presence taints the reputation of the revolution and decided in a meeting yesterday to form a community police force to expel them from the square.

Community police stand off to the side as a man in Tahrir Square breaks a rock to throw.

At 6 p.m., a group of nearly sixty lined themselves up and marched around Tahrir, led by protest organizers who stopped to ask vendors to leave. In an effort to remain fair, they told the vendors that they were welcome to return as protesters but their wares must remain outside. Observers expressed discomfort with the military-style display of force. Vendors felt intimidated and shouting matches between them and protesters raised concern. Organizers, however, continued to march their team after warning the vendors of the consequences of staying.

A few hours later, another patrol began with the community police force now dressed in orange vests and bearing large sticks. At one point the organizers lost control of their men when someone yelled, "Fight!" Full scale beatings broke out all around the square with any vendor who resisted. The "officers" also berated and intimidated observers who tried to take picture or film the crackdown. One protester threw a camera onto the floor and stepped on it. The entire scene seemed eerily similar to past incidents in which protesters have suffered abuse at the hands of state security officers.

The clashes finally dissipated, giving rise to the cheers and revolutionary chants heard around the square for the past ten days. But the dirty taste it left in their mouths seemed obvious as debates, rationalizations, and excuses could be heard within a number of groups trying to justify the dubious methods used to empty the square. After decades of mistreatment by state security, violence to maintain order seems to have become hard-wired in the Egyptian psyche. One can only hope that the change in the political atmosphere will help heal some of the psychological damage that contributed to last night's scene.

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: Tarek Radwan

Soldiers carry ballot boxes to counting stations

Port Said — The young Egyptian judge reopening his polling station shortly before 8 this morning took great trouble not only to carry out procedures correctly but to be seen doing so.  He looked frankly relieved to see international observers present, but would not open the door until at least one party agent was there to witness; as luck would have it, an agent of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) was close by.  The judge undid the padlocks and broke the seals—strips of cloth fastened with blobs of red wax—on the classroom door, over the slots in ballot boxes left in the room overnight, on packages of unused ballots.  After a quick sweeping of the room, which was littered with campaign materials from the previous day, the voting began again. Just outside the school, an FJP representative had set up a table with large poster.

In watching voters coming and going, sometimes it seemed clear which neighborhoods were Salafi strongholds due to the prevalence of men with short cropped hair and long, bushy beards, as well as women swathed in black, complete with face veils and gloves.  The Brotherhood men, on the other hand, often cultivate a more Western appearance, with neatly-trimmed beards (or just mustaches) and business suits, while the women always cover their heads but not often their faces.  Akram al-Shaer, the FJP’s candidate for an individual seat and probably the most prominent Brotherhood politician in Port Said, visited a polling station in the al-Manakh neighborhood, which struck me as having a heavy Salafi presence, while I was there this morning.  Those in attendance returned his cheery greeting with respect but without enthusiasm; his visit created no ripple of excitement in a room full of poll workers and voters.

But two villages I visited just south of Port Said—which border the Suez Canal and are part of the Port Said electoral district—were clearly Brotherhood territory.  In one village, Akram al-Shaer’s name and the slogan “Islam is the solution” were stenciled artfully on the exterior walls of house after house, although such religious slogans are legally banned in campaigns and are absent from the FJP’s campaign posters and other official materials.  As I was leaving a polling station in the village, an FJP representative confronted me over this fact, having noticed that I jotted al-Islam huwa al-hal (Islam is the solution) in my notebook.  Apparently fearing that this was the sort of thing that international observers write in their reports (actually the official monitoring involves keeping track of more technical things, such as whether ballot boxes were locked and whether voting was taking place in private or in public), he vowed to contest any such finding.

Nosy international observers apparently were also starting to get on the nerve of some other Egyptians involved in the elections by the end of a second tiring day at the polls.  While we were observing the 7 pm closing procedures at another polling place inside Port Said, an army officer entered the room and the previously-friendly supervising judge suddenly said it was time for us to go.  As we waited outside to watch the ballot boxes being loaded into a red pickup truck for transportation to the counting center, the army officer approached us and asked for our evaluation of the elections.  When we replied (per observer instructions) that we were not permitted to give our opinions, he replied with evident exasperation: “My men and I have worked very hard to give the Egyptian people the sort of free electoral process they have never experienced before; I hope you can appreciate that.”

We were all as exhausted as that army officer by the time vote counting began at a sports arena, some 12 hours after the polls opened.  But this was not a scene to be missed.  A military band played outside Mubarak Hall—at least that is what it used to be called until the name was removed from the front after the revolution—while hundreds of candidates, representatives, and their family members jostled each other, trying to get in past reasonably tight security.  The floor of the enormous hall was lined with long tables and folding chairs, which could barely accommodate the more than 500 voting boxes.  The poll supervisor and staff from each station opened and unpacked their own boxes (I recognized the team from the station I had visited just an hour earlier), while hundreds of candidates, their representatives, and civil society monitors observed from the bleachers above.

The audience periodically erupted into jeers, demands, cheers, or chants, almost as though it were indeed a sport taking place, using their collective vocal power to force a response from the floor below.  When one group of poll workers dumped the contents of a ballot box onto a table instead of unpacking it sheet by sheet, the crowd erupted into angry shouts.  When a hapless clerk used a pen to tick off ballots she had checked for completeness, dozens chanted alam! (pen) and pointed at her until she got the clue.  The biggest response I saw was when the man of the hour—yes, Akram al-Shaer—stepped down from the bleachers and began to wander around the vote-counting floor—very much out of order for a candidate--provoking furious calls for security intervention and chants of itla’! (get up) until he complied.

Al-Shaer’s individual seat race with George Ishak is expected to be announced as soon as tomorrow, but it will be weeks before the Port Saidis know which lists won the district’s four proportional seats.  Until then, the army, police, and printing presses of the city can take a bit of a break, while the weary judges move on to the runoffs and the next round of parliamentary elections on December 14.                

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: Associated Press

Ballot counting in Port Said

After following the two-day voting process as an official monitor, Michele Dunne captured this video footage of a ballot-counting session in Port Said.  After the close of polls on November 29, ballot boxes were transported in military vehicles to polling stations like this one, located at a sports facility that was once named “Mubarak Hall”:

Counting will continue through the night in the nine governorates that voted in this first round of elections this week, with the results for single-winner races expected tomorrow morning. However, many of the closest races will not be decided until Monday, December 5, when voters return to the polls for a run-off between front-runners in single-winner contests where no candidate won at least 50 percent of the vote.

Final results will not be calculated until next year, due to the long timeframe for the staggered voting process, which will be dragged out in three separate rounds. 

Results for the third of seats contested under the single-winner individual candidacy system will be announced after each of the three stages of the elections. However, for the remaining two thirds of seats (decided by proportional representation), results will not be calculated until after the final round of voting in January of next year.

Photo and Video Credit: Michele Dunne

Egyptian man votes

As voters cast their ballots in the second day of parliamentary elections, a dwindling number of protesters continued their sit-in in Tahrir Square and outside of the cabinet building, where they are demanding an end to military rule and condemning the appointment of Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri. Ganzouri is expected to retain between five and seven ministers from Essam Sharaf’s outgoing cabinet. 

Read More

Soldiers maintain order outside of a polling station in Alexandria

Egyptians have been patiently waiting since the early hours of the morning to cast their ballots on the second day of voting for the parliamentary elections, unfazed by the long lines even though their faces reflect their exhaustion with the deteriorating economic situation and continued political instability.

But not all Egyptians attribute such importance to the election.  Protesters in Tahrir Square, now entering the eleventh day of their sit-in, are watching the process skeptically, uncertain that elections will help fulfill their core demands: an end to the SCAF's military rule and the formation of a civilian "salvation" government. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the other Islamist parties - more organized than their liberal and leftist counterparts - are happy to see elections proceed on time, confident that they will dominate the next parliament and eager to define the rules of the new system on their own terms.

But it is clear from observing the first day of polling that there is a strong desire for elections to succeed, on the part of the Egyptian people as well as the SCAF, whose legitimacy has been severely undermined by the latest clashes in Tahrir Square.  Renewed confrontation between the people and the regime is starting to look like the second wave of the revolution that started last January, and is now continuing alongside the electoral process.

Clashes between demonstrators and the military and security forces subsided noticeably on the eve of elections, with both sides showing restraint in the interest of allowing elections to proceed smoothly. However, the relative lull in protests may be short-lived. Elections could escalate the antagonism and mutual distrust between the SCAF and the major political forces. If the SCAF succeeds in administering reasonably free and fair elections, the result would be to support the military's preferred transitional scenario, which would allow the SCAF to remain in power until presidential elections in June 2012.

Looking at the breakdown of candidates competing for the 168 People's Assembly seats that will be contested in the first stage of elections, Islamist parties clearly have a numerical edge over most of their liberal and leftist competitors. Among the 36 parties and coalitions competing in the elections, 7 parties account for 50 percent of the total candidates. Of these 7 parties the three with the most candidates are all Islamist: the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), with 135 candidates; 2) al-Wasat, with 112 candidates; 3) and the Salafi Nour Party, with 108 candidates.

In addition to the proportional strength of the Islamist parties in terms of their share of the candidate pool, the well-funded Islamists have a financial edge in disseminating campaign propaganda and are also working to mobilize voters with old-school patronage tactics, such as distributing food and gifts to voters, which continued illegally during the two-day voting process. And while a number of civil parties suspended their campaign activities for nearly a week during the clashes in Tahrir Square, Islamists continued campaigning at full-speed, announcing that they would participate in elections despite the unstable security situation.

While Islamist parties have been campaigning aggressively, civil and liberal parties are expressing concerns that the SCAF may be unable and unwilling to administer fair elections. This week, eleven human rights organizations issued a report documenting a range of human rights violations under military rule, confirming that the SCAF is replicating many of the same repressive methods used by the former regime, such as using the media to smear activists and human rights groups while exaggerating the threat of Islamic fundamentalists as a "scare crow" and only alternative to the authoritarian status quo. This "us-or-them" tactic is the same strategy used by Mubarak to retain the support of the U.S. government and resist calls for reform.

The authority of the elected parliament and its role in forming a new government could induce serious political conflict. Confident that its candidates will dominate today's elections, the Brotherhood is already maneuvering to shape the scope of the next parliament's powers.  Brotherhood spokesman Mahmud Ghozlan said on November 27 that the ruling military council "must task the party which gains the biggest number of seats to form the next government."

The SCAF, however, clearly envisions a more limited mandate for the parliament. SCAF member Mamdouh Shahin recently stated that the next People's Assembly will not have the power to form a government or cast a vote of no confidence, noting that the interim constitution issued in March transferred all executive authority - including the power to appoint and dismiss the cabinet - to the interim military leadership. Following the collective resignation of the Cabinet last week, Mohamed ElBaradei called for the formation of a "national salvation government" and offered to lead it, the SCAF rejected his proposal and instead appointed Kamal Ganzouri, a former official in Mubarak's government, as the new prime minister.

Despite signs that the SCAF is intent on limiting the powers of the next parliament, voters are still lining up by the thousands to cast their ballots. The dense crowds outside of polling stations are proof that Egyptians are fiercely committed to participating in the political process after nearly six decades of dictatorship, during which the public largely abandoned formal politics out of frustration with the lack of democratic reform.

Magdy Samaan is a freelance journalist and a 2011 MENA Democracy Fellow at the World Affairs Institute. Mr. Samaan has previously worked as a correspondent for the Egyptian independent newspapers Al-Shorouk and Al-Masry al-Youm as well as Al Jazeera, reporting on politics, religious minorities, and US-Egypt relations.

Photo Credit: Reuters

Egyptian voters wait in line

November 28, 2011 will go down in history as that day that Egyptians went out to vote in the first parliamentary elections since the fall of the Mubarak regime.

Watching the elections unfold on screens – whether computer, television or digital camera – you can see some differences from past elections, but at the same time, a lot of things are still the same. Despite some calls for boycotting or deliberately spoiling ballots, the first day of elections saw massive turnout. When I arrived at my polling station, the al-Shimaa primary school, I was stunned to see a 100-meter line outside the building. At first I thought to myself, “Egyptians, will stand for their country,” but as the day went on, I discovered an alternate explanation for the unprecedented turnout: the threat of an LE 500 fine for failing to vote.

Since I had not updated my national ID card in time for the elections, I had to vote in my old neighborhood in the Basateen area, an impoverished area adjacent to the much wealthier community in New Maadi. As a result of this demographic mix, I saw luxury cars parked alongside Tok Tok carts, the primary mode of public transportation for low-income Egyptians, outside of the polling station. 

Two lines extended from outside of the polling station, a shorter one for the elderly, and a longer line for everyone else. Two low-ranking military officers kept a close watch on the crowd.

As I listened to the voters around me, I was surprised by the hottest topic of debate. No, voters were not talking about the candidates or the future of the country or the Supreme Council of the Armed forces (SCAF); instead, they were arguing about how long it would take to get to the ballot box! One elderly lady complained that she had already attempted to vote twice on Monday but was dissuaded by the long line. She pleaded with one of the military officers to let her into the polling station. Impressed by the patience and persistence of the many voters who stood in line for hours, I was later a little disappointed to find out that many of the people around me were determined to cast their ballots not out of enthusiasm for the democratic process, but to avoid a harsh government fine.

One young women wearing a black abaya revealed her true motivation for voting: “If it wasn't for the fine, I won't be standing here!” When I asked her how she could be sure that the government will enforce the fine, she said that public officials had reiterated warnings about the fine on television in recent days. 

Since I have not lived in the Basateen neighborhood for seven years, I needed to catch up on candidate research. I asked the voters around me if they could recommend the name of a single trustworthy candidate who had won the respect and trust of the community. One name was repeated, a candidate who belongs to Muslim Brotherhood but is running as an independent. I was about to vote for him before I noticed his name and campaign ad on a flyer distributed by the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. Most of the other voters were unaware of the candidate’s affiliation with the FJP, and in general lacked knowledge about the campaign platforms and ideological affiliations of the people they were voting for. Candidates from the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) seemed to have made a strong impression on voters, with one woman reporting that an independent candidate affiliated with the NDP had been distributing candy to children during the campaign period.

In the early hours of voting, I was disappointed to see some of the same dirty tactics that tainted elections under Mubarak’s rule. But by the end of the day, I found renewed hope in the words of a humble, uneducated housewife, the mother of four girls: “I've been studying for these elections for two weeks; I talked to almost everyone I know… I asked men and women and looked carefully at the flyers and listened to the talk shows and I’m going to vote for the FJP, because they are the people who fought the former regime.”

This housewife's ideal candidate was someone who can move the country forward: “We are tired of poverty. I had to force my second daughter to quit school, in order to afford the education of my oldest daughter. My husband used to own a carpentry workshop but he was forced to close it when he couldn't pay the tax or afford the necessary safety equipment.”

Another topic of heated debate in the line was the relative extremism of Salafis relative to the Muslim Brotherhood. While the ideological differences between the two groups are not always clear, I observed one major difference in the campaign strategies of the FJP and Salafi parties: The FJP seems more willing to violate the ban on religious slogans and propaganda in campaigning. When I asked a man distributing flyers for the Salafi Nour Party to stop this illegal practice, after a brief argument he agreed to hand over his flyers to me. But when I made the same request to a woman distributing Freedom and Justice Party flyers, she flatly refused. After a heated debate in which she pointed to numerous other cars blasting religious propaganda from loudspeakers, I had to give up.

Never in my life have I encountered more interesting political discussions than the ones I heard in line at the polling station, tacking every aspect of Egypt’s transition: the timeline for elections, the presidential race, protests in Tahrir, and relations with the United States…

I heard views from across the political spectrum, ranging from Mubarak supporters to diehard revolutionaries. “I’m Filul,” one 35-year old woman bravely pronounced, using the label that refers to remnants of the former regime. “I love Hosni Mubarak and I’m here to invalidate my vote, because the revolution has made Egypt unsafe.”

Another woman predicted an inevitable victory by the Brotherhood: “I'm not going to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood, because they are going to win anyway. I will vote for the Salafis instead … At least we should have diversity in the parliament.”

A third lady made it clear that many voters are basing their decisions on personalities rather than party platforms. "I was going to vote for Kutla Masriyya (the Egyptian Bloc), but now that I know that Naguib Sawiris (a prominent Christian businessman) is leading the coalition, I’m not so sure.”

Unfortunately these discussions did not help my decision-making process when I found myself faced with a list of 130 independent candidates inside the polling station. Forced to choose only two of these names, I picked one candidate who was familiar to me, a human rights lawyer. I also chose a female Christian candidate, Samia Shamarden Masood Yousef, based on my belief that democracy is about guaranteeing the representation of minorities.

Finally, I left the polling station at 5 p.m., at which point the line was much shorter. I’m not sure whether or not the SCAF will keep its promise of protecting the elections, nor am I certain that my vote will be counted in a transparent manner. I saw no civil society observers at my polling station. My experience today convinced me that it wasn’t Tahrir youth activists who started the revolution; rather, it was the social injustice and corruption that forced an uneducated housewife to pull her daughter out of school. As long as this injustice continues; as long as demands for freedom, dignity and social justice are not met; as long as this housewife, and many other like her who are suffering in poverty are willing to spend two weeks researching candidates they hope will bring about a better future, I know that Egyptians will not stop working to build their democracy … Insha ‘Allah.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Sabah Hamamou is deputy business editor at the Egyptian newspaper, Al-Ahram. In 2006 she studied at Northwestern University as part of a fellowship for Arab journalists. She was a 2009-2010 Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan in 2009-2010. Ms. Hamamou is the author of the forthcoming book, Diary of a Journalist at Al-Ahram.


Sleeping child in Tahrir Square

A new Gallup poll reveals that most Egyptians are not enthusiastic about the recent resurgence of anti-government demonstrations, even though they may share protesters' frustrations with the slow pace of political change. In September, 84 percent of Egyptians said continued protests were a bad thing for the country. However, Egyptians still express strong support for the original protests in Tahrir Square, with 75 percent of Egyptians saying they support protesters who called for Mubarak's resignation last January.

The poll, based on interviews with 1,049 Egyptians conducted between September 16 and 23, also indicates that Egyptians are less optimistic about their future in the post-Mubarak Egypt than they were a few months ago. In September, 51 percent of Egyptians expected their lives to improve as a result of the revolution, down sharply from 72 percent in June.

Photo Credit: Reuters

A parliamentary candidate uses the symbol of a latop

The first day of parliamentary elections dawned cool and rainy, but warmed up by 8 am, bringing out Egyptian voters whose sunny mood matched the mild Mediterranean weather and the cartloads of neon-bright oranges and guava that festooned the streets of Port Said on November 28.

Read More


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