Archive for November 29th, 2011
* Election results expected to trickle out on Wednesday
* Islamists expect gains
* Muslim Brotherhood faces row with army over government
* Election follows violent protests against military rule
CAIRO, Nov 30 (Reuters) – Egyptians have voted in a parliamentary election that could bring Islamists closer to power, though the army generals who took over from President Hosni Mubarak have yet to step aside.
The Muslim Brotherhood, expected to do well in the marathon vote whose first stage drew millions to the polls, said the new parliament should form a government, setting it at odds with the military council which has only just named a new prime minister.
The election for the lower house is due to be held over three phases, concluding in early January. Early election results were expected to trickle out on Wednesday.
State television broadcast live footage of the vote count across Egypt, which has not seen an election this free since army officers overthrew the monarchy in 1952.
Though the Brotherhood went into the polls stronger than nascent secular parties, analysts say it is hard to predict the outcome given that most of the electorate are casting their ballots for the first time.
Election monitors reported logistical hiccups and campaign violations during the poll but no serious violence.
The outcome of the election in one of the Middle East’s most influential powers will help shape the future of a region convulsed by uprisings against decades of autocracy.
Though it did not start the Egyptian uprising, the Muslim Brotherhood has emerged as a major beneficiary of the revolt. The group is now eyeing a role in shaping the country’s future.
The Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood’s political wing established earlier this year, said Egypt’s new parliament should form the government.
“A government that is not based on a parliamentary majority cannot conduct its work in practice,” Mohamed Mursi told reporters during a tour of polling stations in the working class district of Shubra in Cairo.
“Therefore we see that it is natural that the parliamentary majority in the coming parliament will be the one that forms the government,” said Mursi, whose group was outlawed but tolerated under Mubarak, adding:
“We see that it is better for it to be a coalition government built on a majority coalition in the parliament.”
SCOPE FOR TENSION
It was only last week that the military council appointed Kamal al-Ganzouri, a 78-year-old veteran of the Mubarak era, to form a cabinet to replace the government of Essam Sharaf, which resigned in the face of protests against military rule.
A military council member said at the weekend the new parliament would not have the authority to dismiss Ganzouri’s government or form a new one. Yet observers question whether the council will be able to resist the will of a chamber elected in a fair vote, especially if voting carries on smoothly.
A senior figure in the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood said its FJP had done well in the voting so far.
“The Brotherhood party hopes to win 30 percent of parliament,” Mohamed El-Beltagy told Reuters.
The leader of the ultra-conservative Salafi Islamist al-Nour Party, which hopes to siphon votes from the Brotherhood, said organisational failings meant his party had underperformed.
But he told Reuters the party still expected to win up to half of Alexandria’s 24 seats in parliament and, nationwide, 70 to 75 of the assembly’s 498 elected seats.
In one of the military’s first reactions to the election’s first phase, General Ismail Atman, a ruling army council member, was quoted by Al-Shorouk newspaper as saying the poll showed the irrelevance of protests demanding an end to military rule in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and elsewhere.
The general said turnout would exceed more than 70 percent, though the Brotherhood’s Mursi said indications showed a lower figure of 40 percent.
The success of the first phase has deflected criticism faced by the military council, which has been under pressure from street protesters over what they see as the generals’ attempts to maintain power and privilege in the post-Mubarak era.
Last week was Egypt’s most violent since Mubarak was ousted: 42 people were killed in clashes triggered by the protests against the council.
Unidentified youths hurled petrol bombs near the square late on Tuesday. A Reuters witness heard gunshots and the state news agency MENA said two protesters suffered eye wounds which may have been caused by shots from a pellet gun.
An organiser of the protest said the trouble started when an unidentified group tried to enter the square.
Many Egyptians were worried the elections would be bloody. But there has been little sign of the thugs who were a feature of the rigged elections of the Mubarak era.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated Egyptians on the first stage of the election and “the generally calm and orderly manner in which voting took place”, a statement from his office said.
Les Campbell, of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, one of many groups monitoring the poll, said it was “a fair guess” that turnout would exceed 50 percent, far above the meagre showings in rigged Mubarak-era elections.
(af.reuters.com / 29.11.2011)
In it’s first electoral outing since it was formed MP made an indelible mark in Pakistan’s politics. The seat went to the ruling party. But MP won all the same.
The contest for this seat in Yazman – an impoverished rural tehsil in the Bahawalpur district – started when the incumbent unexpectedly passed away. MP had only 5 weeks to create awareness about the party amongst local people.
The election, held on 26 November, was characterized by widespread, organized and government sponsored rigging. Despite this, unofficial results indicate that more than 5000 votes were cast in favour of the MP candidate.
Details of MP’s campaign preparations are in a report written by Saud Khawaja – MP’s Middle East Coordinator. Saud spent several days in PP 275 to witness and record first hand MP’s election campaign. He prepared the report for the benefit of MP supporters in the Middle East. It is at this link.
We also include a report written by MP’s Chairman to senior colleagues the day after the election. This indicates, among other things, the extent of the rigging in the election. His report is at this link.
Icelandic parliament approves measure on United Nations’ annual day of solidarity with the Palestinian people; Palestinians reaffirm bid for UN membership.
Iceland’s parliament voted on Tuesday in favor of recognizing the Palestinian Territories as an independent state, the first Western European country to do so according Iceland’s foreign minister. The measure passed symbolically on the United Nation’s annual day of solidarity with the Palestinian people.
The vote paves the way for formal recognition by the small north Atlantic island, which led the way in recognizing the independence of the three Baltic states after the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991.
“Iceland is the first Western European country to take this step,” Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson told Icelandic state broadcaster RUV. “I now have the formal authority to declare our recognition of Palestine.”
Palestinian UN observer Riyad Mansour read a message from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at UN headquarters on the occasion of the day of solidarity with the Palestinian people. He reaffirmed the Palestinian’s bid for UN membership, saying it should complement peace negotiations, provided that Israel is prepared to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 borders.
Abbas said the Palestinians are not seeking “to delegitimize Israel” by applying to join the UN “but to delegitimize its settlement activities and the seizure of our occupied lands.” He added that sanctions imposed on them by Israel because the Palestinians won membership in UNESCO are “unjust” and that Israel has no right to withhold their customs and tax revenues.
The Icelandic parliament resolution allowing for the recognition of a Palestinian state within the pre-Six Day War borders of 1967 was decided by 38 votes in the 63-seat.
“At the same time, parliament urges Israelis and Palestinians to seek a peace agreement on the basis of international law and UN resolutions, which include the mutual recognition of the state of Israel and the state of Palestine,” said the resolution, proposed by the Icelandic foreign minister.
It also called on all sides to cease any violence and recalled the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.
Iceland’s recognition, however, is expected to amount to a little more than symbolic step as the Palestinian Authority strives to get United Nations recognition. Its quest for a seat at the international body has so far failed.
(www.haaretz.com / 29.11.2011)
* Party will not be able to force pace of change
* Seeds of dissent still there-analysts
RABAT, Nov 29(Reuters) – The election victory of Morocco’s Islamist PJD party will give it a chance to tackle the country’s social and economic problems – but it will not be able to force through change without the support of the still-omnipotent monarchy.
King Mohammed on Tuesday appointed Abdelilah Benkirane, the head of Justice and Development Party (PJD), as the new prime minister after the movement won 27 percent of seats in parliament, the largest share.
PJD’s strong showing, after years in opposition, came on the back of a host of promises from the party – to increase democracy, cut corruption and tackle inequalities by raising the minimum wage and other measures.
Analysts say the monarchy hopes the fresh faces at the top of government, and at least the appearance of change, will stave off the pressure for a more revolutionary transformation, inspired by uprisings across the Arab world.
But that does not mean the moderate Islamist party will get an easy ride when it comes to putting its promises into practice, in terms of actual legislation.
“PJD has drawn much of its appeal for having not been tried before. There is however the challenge of whether their new government will enjoy its prerogatives in full and that it will not await instructions (from the palace),” said Lahcen Achy, senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center.
The party has said it wants to form a coalition with the Koutla, a three-party secularist bloc that formed the backbone of the incumbent government.
PJD appeals to Morocco’s large body of conservative voters and its lawmakers are known for being the most active in a parliament traditionally plagued by high rates of absenteeism.
Faithful to its guiding principle of producing change from within the country’s institutions, the party snubbed protesters demanding less direct powers for the king and an end to corruption.
The party is loyal to the monarchy and backs its “divine right to rule”, a status that allows the king to enjoy sweeping powers in the military, security and religious affairs.
Constitutional changes approved in a July referendum should see the monarch giving up some powers to elected officials while keeping a decisive say in strategic decisions.
Mustapha al-Khalfi, a prominent PJD figure, said the reforms would make a difference but the balance of powers between the monarchy and the government was still not ideal.
“It (the reforms) provides for far better working conditions for the government than in the past. The government will now be held to account on specific responsibilities,” he said.
The devil would lie in the details of laws drafted by parliament to enact the new constitution, he said.
“The key challenge is to make sure democratic management of public affairs prevails over the authoritarian style … We expect manoeuvres that will seek to derail this process,” said Khalfi, referring to the possible actions of opposition parties backed by the palace.
PJD would not be able to do much to challenge the monarchy directly, said Lise Storm, a senior Middle East lecturer at Britain’s Exeter University.
“PJD will not be able to rock the monarchy’s boat at all. They never did in the past. There are also the parties with them in the coalition that will not want any boat rocking. PJD will try to get as much as they can without creating controversy.
“The PJD leaders are much more experienced and professional as politicians (than other parties). But things will not change a great deal. It will be a partnership. They will have to work with the monarchy and their coalition partners,” Storm said.
Morocco may have sidestepped the Arab unrest for now. But analysts say the seeds of unrest are there.
Youth unemployment is at 31 percent, nearly a quarter of the 33 million population live in severe poverty and access to basic amenities is uneven.
All that could boil over if the PJD does not manage to find a way to get its promised changes past parliament and the monarchy.
“The challenges are so big that PJD may be more vulnerable than ever before now that it is leading the government,” said Carnegie’s Achy.
“People are eager to see results. They will probably give the new government three to four months.”
(af.reuters.com / 29.11.2011)
Egypt wrapped up the start of its first post-revolution election on Tuesday after two days of peaceful voting hailed as a triumph for democracy in a nation at the heart of the Arab Spring.
On Monday and Tuesday, millions filed into polling stations in the capital Cairo and second-city Alexandria as Egyptians embraced new freedoms won by the toppling of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in February.
“The people have passed the democracy test,” headlined the independent daily newspaper Al-Shorouk on Tuesday, while the interim ruling military leaders expressed their “happiness” at proceedings.
“The election has been a huge success,” declared Ahmed Nashaat, a 29-year-old member of the leading Islamist party the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) as night fell in Cairo at the end of the voting.
Turn-out had been high, he said, security well controlled by the army and police, while there was “no vote rigging worth mentioning” – a stark contrast with the 30-year Mubarak era when abuses were widespread.
Analysts warned, however, that the country faced huge challenges ahead in its long, complicated and uncertain transition to democracy that is scheduled to finish only in June next year under the current timetable.
The vote on Monday and Tuesday in Cairo, Alexandria and other areas was the first of three stages of an election for a new lower house of parliament. The rest of the country follows next month and in January.
Preliminary results from the first phase that will give the first indication of Egypt’s political landscape – likely to be highly fragmented and ideologically split – are to be published on Wednesday.
The FJP, the party of the formerly banned Muslim Brotherhood, a moderate Islamist group, is expected to emerge as the largest power in the new lower parliament when final results are published on January 13.
The backdrop to the vote had been ominous after a week of protests calling for the resignation of the interim military rulers who stepped in at the end of Mubarak’s rule. Forty-two people were killed and more than 3,000 injured.
Egypt’s stock market closed up 5.48 percent on Tuesday as investors welcomed the stability after weeks of falls caused by the political upheaval and unrest.
Successful first stage
The successful first stage of the election was a boost for army leader Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who insisted voting should go ahead despite the unrest last week.
The army “played the election card to stabilize the country in the face of pressure from the street,” said Tewfik Aclimandos, an expert at the College de France, a leading academic institute.
Tantawi “expressed his happiness at the way the process was carried out and the high turnout, especially among women and the young,” said Ismail Etman, a member of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
Protesters last week had again occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo, the epicenter of protests against Mubarak, but this time they were calling for the resignation of Tantawi and his fellow generals.
The demonstrations stemmed from fears that the junta, initially welcomed as a source of stability after Mubarak’s fall, was looking to consolidate its power and was mishandling the transition period.
Figures for the turn-out for Monday and Tuesday have not been officially given, but Etman from the SCAF estimated it could reach up to 70 percent – unprecedented in the Mubarak era.
The election “might very well be seen as a positive step in Egypt’s transition,” wrote political commentator Issandr El-Amrani, referring to the “public buy-in” to democracy and “a symbolic shift” from the army to parliament.
He warned, however, about the “incompetent” organization of the long and complicated election process, as well as the myriad uncertainties surrounding the army’s future role and the transition process.
Les Campbell, of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, one of many groups monitoring the poll, said earlier it was “a fair guess” that turnout would exceed 50 percent, far above the meager showings in rigged Mubarak-era elections.
The United States and its European allies are watching Egypt’s vote torn between hopes that democracy will take root in the most populous Arab nation and worries that Islamists hostile to Israel and the West will ride to power on the ballot box.
They have faulted the generals for using excessive force on protesters and urged them to give way swiftly to civilian rule.
A senior figure in the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood said its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) had done well in the voting so far. “The Brotherhood party hopes to win 30 percent of parliament,” Mohamed El-Beltagy told Reuters.
Each of the three stages of the election for the lower house of parliament will be followed by a run-off vote a week later.
Once final results are published on January 13, the country will then head into another three rounds of voting to elect an upper house, in a process widely criticized for its complexity.
The stakes are high for Egypt, the cultural leader of the Arab world – and the conduct and results of the election will have repercussions for the entire Middle East at a time of wrenching change caused by the Arab Spring.
Whatever the outcome, nine months of turmoil have plunged Egypt into economic crisis as growth slows, investment and tourism shrink, and foreign reserves dwindle, limiting any government’s ability to satisfy soaring popular expectations.
(english.alarabiya.net / 29.11.2011)
For example, proposals to limit foreign funding to local non-governmental organizations, changes in nomination procedures for Supreme Court justices, and the recent proposed amendment to the libel law (which the left views as anti-free speech legislation) have placed the anti-democratic trends at the forefront of the public’s consciousness.
It is vital that these current anti-democratic bills enter the public discourse. But if, even after the resistance we are witnessing from the diminished Israeli left, these bills are passed, an anti-democratic threshold will be publicly and undeniably crossed in Israel.
It is also important to place these bills in the context of anti-Arab laws that have been introduced all along, but explicitly and extensively since the 2000 “October events” (when Palestinian citizens staged mass demonstrations against the killing of Palestinians in the occupied territories at the start of the second intifada).
These new laws will reduce already limited avenues for Arab political participation within the Israeli system: parliamentary elections, NGOs’ active participation in political life, and resorting to Israel’s legal system, particularly the High Court of Justice.
As to parliamentary participation, some Arab elites are having second thoughts about the value of such participation altogether, because Arab members of Knesset have very little to show their constituencies in a system in which the tyranny of the ethnic majority limits the scope and potential of political achievements.
In the last elections, Arab voting decreased to a historic low of just above 50 percent. The steady decline is expected to continue and the voices that call for election boycott will gather force. Whether the government succeeds in disqualifying some Arab parties (because their platforms call for Israel to be “a state of all its citizens”, not a Jewish state), or a majority of Arab citizens actively boycott the elections, the effect is similar: Israel’s claim to be a democracy will be seriously damaged.
As to NGO activity, it is true that some civil society organizations are funded by European and American foundations. These organizations, all working under the watchful eyes of the Israel Ministry of the Interior, compensate somewhat for the imposed ineffectiveness of the Arab political parties.
But the foreign sources of funding raise many eyebrows within the Arab community itself as to the strings that come with funding, the representativeness of such organizations, and the mandate of their activities in the name of the community. Hitting these organizations will further shrink the space allowed for political activity within the Israeli system.
As for the third area of political participation, the resort to the legal system, it is clear that some of the leading organizations working in this area are doing outstanding work. But the value of their work is also being questioned by the community, as many of their legal achievements are of limited actual value because the overall political system makes sure to neuter them either by blocking the implementation of High Court rulings or by introducing new legislation that renders the rulings irrelevant. Some are worried that the resort to the legal system is only helping Israel’s claim to democracy in return for effectively very limited results.
It is imprudent to expect that Palestinian citizens — a highly politicized indigenous national group of about 1.5 million citizens and about 20 percent of the population of Israel — will just cease to seek equality and dignity because Israel sets limits on their diverse forms of political participation or keeps legislating that it is not their state but rather the state of the Jewish people.
By doing so, Israel perhaps hopes to get an acquiescent group that will accept collective inferiority in its own homeland. Why Israel believes this is possible merits further study. For now, it is important to see the options that will remain open to Arab citizens once these new laws pass, and the consequent implications for Israel.
The deadlocked struggle for equal citizenship will become inextricably connected with the other deadlocked causes of the Palestinians: ending Israel’s colonial rule, statehood, and achieving the return of the Palestinian refugees. There is an increasing awareness among all Palestinian groups that the major obstacle to peaceful and equal relations between Israeli Jews and Palestinians is the very project of an exclusive Jewish state that Israel is seeking to legislate and obtain Palestinian recognition of.
Historically, Arab citizens’ acceptance of parliamentary participation immediately after Israel was established helped legitimize Israel on the world stage as an apparently democratic state. The historical circumstances of this implicit deal in which Arab citizens participate in elections in return for being able to escape the fate of other Palestinians — ethnic cleansing — are still silently in force. If the possibilities of even shallow and questionable forms of political participation are now diminished, the foundations of this implicit deal will change and both sides will be seeking new terms.
The implications for the appearance of democracy in Israel are far-reaching, and the doors of other forms of political participation for Palestinian citizens, such as civil disobedience, will start to be opened. Furthermore, those groups that seek to redefine the conflict as no longer being one for two nation states but rather a struggle for human rights, equality, and dignity for all in a single democratic state will be strengthened.
The author is founding director of Mada al-Carmel – The Arab Center for Applied Social Research in Haifa. A version of this op-ed appeared on the website of the bitterlemons family of publications and is republished here with permission.