Monday, January 30, 2012

Good article on El Baradei's resignation

Check out this great article written by my former student John Ehab. It is about El Baradei's decision not to run for the presidency in Egypt. 

Following the high Islamist turnout in Egypt’s parliamentary elections, Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director of the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, and a major political player in the Egyptian revolution, withdrew from the upcoming presidential race. 

"My conscience does not allow me to run for the presidency or any other official position unless there is real democracy," ElBaradei said in his statement announcing his decision. He added that those who are currently holding power in Egypt, the Security Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), are no better than ousted former President Hosni Mubarak. 

One of the most important factors that effected ElBaradei’s pullout was the decision to establish the new constitution after the presidential elections, leaving the president’s role undefined until after the office is filled. 

"It is a great loss, but an honorable political stance," says George Ishak, prominent Egyptian opposition figure and member of the National Association for Change (NAC), which ElBaradei founded. 

Ishak anticipates that the military council and the Islamists, who make up around 70 percent of the newly elected parliament, will coordinate to back a candidate. “The two groups might surprise Egyptians by proposing a surprise candidate that will please both the Islamists and the SCAF."
Whether ElBaradei’s decision will limit the chances of secularists or liberals, it will not affect the influence that the Nobel Prize winner has had in helping build youth networks active in the Egyptian public sphere.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Reflections on the January 25th Revolution: A Luta Continua

One year ago, I  had just moved to Cairo, unsure about what was going on,  just trying to get adjusted to the new city, and the new country.The Egyptian Revolution changed my life.  I have always been a "democrat" and an activist at heart, and it revived my soul to live through a nation fighting for freedom. I think that the Arab Spring will play the role in my life, that the Civil Rights movement and African decolonization played for a previous generation.

I have had to leave Cairo. I am now in Little Rock, teaching at the Clinton School of Public Service. I will be returning to teach in Cairo this June. However, Egypt is still close to my heart, and I will try my best to comment and report on events with an eye to my experience during the Egyptian Revolution.

I teach a class called the dynamics of social change. As we have seen, a year into the Revolution, there is lots of work to still be done. That is, in and of itself, not a bad thing. Please remember that the French Revolution took nearly twenty years to complete. I have mentioned earlier in this blog that many countries that have gone through democratic transitions recently, including Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa often experienced long periods of partial transition. Thus, it would be realistic to assume that Egypt has a good ten to twenty years ahead of it before the democratic transition is complete.

That being said, Egypt has made remarkable, and bold strides. Unlike most Western commentators, I am fairly optimistic about the results of the recent parliamentary elections. It is impressive that elections were held. They were not completely free and fair, but neither were they totally rigged. The fact that the Islamists won is encouraging in the sense that the electorate did elect a completely different group into power than held power during the Mubarak government.

The reforms that need to take place in order to consolidate Egyptian democracy now are many. A valid constitution needs to be written by a process most of the electorate views as fair. The strength of the parliament vis a vis the executive needs to be established. Egypt, which has been ruled by the military since at least 1952, must now adjust to more civilian leadership, and a graceful exit be provided to the SCAF. Secular and liberal parties, newly born in the Revolutionary fires of last year, must establish themselves, and create a viable social base.

When I was in college in the late 1980s, and we were waiting for the end of apartheid, we used to say "A Luta Continua":  The Struggle continues . . . There is a relationship between liberation movements in all times, and all regions. We are watching, Egypt.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Egyptian Parliament convenes amid protests

Egypt's lower house of Parliament, the People's Assembly, convened yesterday, Monday the 23rd of January. It's opening was contentious, as protesters rallied to demand an end to military trials, a handover of power to civilians, and retribution for martyrs.

Doctors marched from the Doctors Syndicate on Qasr al Aini Street. Meanwhile artists and intellectuals held a march from the Cairo Opera House. The so-called "Creativity Front" demanded protection for freedom of creativity.

As many as 2000 protesters lined the street leading to Parliament, which was protected by iron gates, riot police the Central Security Forces, who were in turn protected--somewhat oddly in my view--by hundreds of Salafis and MB members.

Noha El-Hennawy comments that it is not clear how powerful the parliament is in relation to the ruling military council. The MB Democratic Alliance holds 235 seats (47%), the Salafis 135, the moderate Wafd 38 and the Egyptian Bloc 35. There are 498 seats. A variety of independents, including NDP remnants, hold the remaining seats.

Supreme Constitutional Court Vice President Tahani al-Gebali states that the military council still holds the right to ratify or veto bills. This right comes from the temporary constitution in place which was partly written by military decree last spring.

Despite its drawbacks, the Egypt Independent observes that this is the "first fairly elected legislative body in nearly six decades." (Noha El Hennawy, "Egypt's New People's Assembly Swears in Today, but Powers Are Dubious," Al Masry Al Youm, January 24, 2012)

Egypt's Parliament voted Mohamed Saad al Katatny of the Freedom and Justice Party as People's Assembly speaker during its first session. Katatny received 399 votes. Before donning the mantle as speaker, Katatny served as secretary general of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Freedom and Justice party. In his first speech, he stated tat "We want to build a new Egypt: a constitutional, democratic and modern Egypt." (Staff "Egypt's New Parliament elects FJP figure as speaker," Egypt Independent, January 24, 2012.)

Elections for the Shura council will begin later this month and end in February. The two chambers are slated to choose a 100 member panel to draft a new constitution, although at this point, anything could happen.


Egyptian State of Emergency Ends

The head of the SCAF, Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, stated in a televised address that he has decided to lift the state of emergency.  

The state of emergency, which has been in place for over 30 years, is being lifted as of tomorrow, to mark the anniversary of the January 25th Revolution. The state of emergency was extended, and indeed expanded, even after the Revolution by the ruling military council. 

Tantawi stated that the law may still be applied in cases of "thuggery," although it is utterly unclear what that means. Arguably, the SCAF could be accused in many cases of thuggery itself over the past year.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The New Year Creaks In

Dear Readers

I do not know how you feel, but I feel exhausted, and the New Year has barely begun.

I think it is very interesting that El Baradei has withdrawn from the Presidential race. The cynics might say that he did it because he was not popular with the grass roots. Who knows? I really admire El Baradei, and I think he is exactly what Egypt needs, but then again, I am not Egyptian, so who am I to say?

He may be able to do better work on the outside as part of the "loyal opposition." I admire the crucial role he played in the Egyptian Revolution. There is plenty of work to be done to keep the Revolution on track, and keeping the SCAF honest as the transition continues. I think that El Baradei, with his global view, and intellectual, yet warm and compassionate persona (I have met him)  is the right person to hold the transitional council to task.

Heba Afify, El Baradei's Withdraw from Presidential Race Egyptian Independent, (January 15, 2012)

He has vowed to focus his efforts on organizing youth and concentrating on the basic demands of the Revolution, including Bread, Freedom and Human Dignity.  I think El Baradei will be Egypt's Gandhi.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Considering the Talk of the Nation

Dear readers

I saw this story on NPR.   One Year Later, Arab Spring Still Reverberating    

I like Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, but it felt like she phoned this one in a little bit. It is so hard to do flyby journalism and get it right.

For example, the Muslim Brotherhood did not win a "crushing victory." 45% is not a crushing victory. The Freedom and Justice Party was conservatively expected to get 30% of the vote. They exceeded expectations by 15%.

The lesson here, I think, is that suppressing, or attempting to quash extremist groups is a mistake. This oppression of the MB, which began under Nasser, allowed the group over 50 years to organize and strategy. It is not a surprise that their well oiled machine performed against brand new parties that were formed in March. The new government should take note and allow parties of all brands and stripes, no matter how distasteful, to organize and run.

As my colleague Hamid Ali and I said in a recent editorial in the Daily News Egypt,  A Return to Common Sense Politics the more surprising fact, really is that these brand new parties have done as well as they said. Taken together, as I have mentioned in previous posts, moderate and secular parties won 25% of the vote. That is impressive. Of course, Al Wafd, which I place in the moderate category, was part of the loyal opposition under Mubarak. I was surprised Al Adl did so poorly. I was also surprised that the RCA refused to join the Egyptian Bloc coalition. That is a mistake by the secularists, in my view. In unity, there is strength.

The real test will come when parliament starts operating. There are two crucial issues in my view. The first issue is 1) can the parliament act as an effective check on the executive? and 2) Will parties like the FJP and Al Nour be able to deliver on a platform? Winning is one thing. Delivering is another.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Some smart thinking by A. Rahman Hussein

Here is a great post by my colleague Abu Rahman who sometimes writes editorials for Al Masry Al Youm.

Ten Reasons for Pessimism; Ten things that Need to Change

Here are some tasty excerpts. . .

The anniversary is coming up and with the new year behind us it’s a time to take stock. And looking back, despite the incredible highs, there are many causes for pessimism, for how things haven’t yet worked out as many thought. Here are just ten:

1- SCAF: Many reasons for pessimism are inextricably linked with the ruling council of military men that have taken over affairs of the country in the transitional period. There are enough to have their own separate numbers on the list but one reason that must be included is the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces itself.

Under this heading is a plethora of human rights abuses and examples of mangled dealings of a botched transition period. Violence against protesters is enough to be considered the norm, a barrage of abuses and thousands of civilians subjected to speedy military trials.

Add in a constitutional declaration that granted the council sole executive powers even though that was not voted for on the referendum, the delay in holding elections until pressure form the street brought them forward and a preciousness that makes the council skittish about any form of criticism.
Not to mention a media war and a slew of accusations against protesters for being conspirators, funded by foreign enemies (that have never been revealed) and turning Egyptians against Egyptians. Otherwise known as incitement. Factor in the events of Maspiro 9 October when military APCs ran over protesters and recent events at the cabinet that saw great army brutality against Egyptians of all ages, and a death toll that keeps rising.

And it ends with no manner of accountability whatsoever. No one from the military has yet to be held accountable for the numerous infringements of peoples’ lives this year. The ruling elite is above the law, just like it was in the days of the dictator.

Keep reading here Sibilant Egypt

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Overview of People's Assembly Results, Round 3

Dear readers

This is a report on parties I care about, mainly secular and liberal. The rest of the news will keep you apprised of the Islamists, right? 

  • FJP holds 45.20% of seats, Al Nour, 25.20% of seats. Therefore together the Islamists hold about 70% of the seats in the lower house.
  • Al Wafd with 9% of seats, Egyptian Bloc with 7% of seats, RDP coming from behind with nearly 3% of seats beating out Revolution Continues (the bad boys of the left) with 2.34% of seats. The moderate Islamists Al Wasat with 2 percent. So according to my calculations, liberals and moderates currently hold about 23% of seats, which is not bad at all if they vote as a bloc.

427 of 498 seats in Egypt's lower house of Parliament, the People's Assembly, have been determined.

As many as 71 Seats remain. 45 seats will be determined from runnoffs from round 3. 14 list based seats are subject to a re-vote in Aswan district 1 and Cairo district 1. 12 seats need a re-vote for individual candidacies in Cairo district 1, Alexandria's district 3, Assiut districts 2 and 3, and Sharqiya districts 2 and 5. Runoffs will be conducted on January 10th and 11th.

Revolution Continues did surprisingly well in Daqhaliyya with 12% of votes, winning one seat on list one and one seat on list 2, and one seat on list 3. Three seats total were one by the RCA. Egyptian Bloc trailed with 2.62% of the vote, winning no seats.

In Gharbiya, Egyptian Bloc won a total of 2 seats. Al Wafd won 4 Seats. 

In Minya, unfortunately, NDP remnants getting some play with 1 Seat going to the Freedom party. Al Wasat wins 1 seat, Egyptian Bloc wins 2 Seat, and the old school opposition, Al Wafd, carries 1 seat, as does the moderate Islamist Al Wasat.

In Qalioubiya, Al Wafd with 2 Seats, Egyptian Bloc with 1.

In Qena, Al Wafd with 1, and extremely confusingly, the SDP which is part of the Egyptian Bloc, with 1 seat. Three seats go to (bad) NDP cover parties.

Marsa Matruh, nothing for secular or moderate parties. In New Valley, the Nasserists make a showing with 1 seat! The RDP with 1 seat in North Sinai. I need to look into this group, but I believe they are affiliated with Sadat's son. South Sinai, Wafd, and RDP in the house.

More thoughts soon. ~WMB

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Music as Social Activism in Arab Spring

Dear readers

As I assemble my thoughts on the most recent round of Egyptian elections, let's take a few minutes to listen to this amazing story I heard on NPR yesterday.

Here is the story in print

"Rapper's Imprisonment Tests Moroccan Reforms."

Here is an excerpt

"He is better known as El-Haqed — "the defiant one" — which describes lyrics explicitly critical of Morocco's social ills and the country's monarch. It's an attitude that also describes the young protesters of the February 20 protest movement. His supporters charge that this trial is an attempt to silence him — and them."


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Happy New Year 2012

It has been quite a year! 2011 came in with a bang.

Let us hope that 2012 is a year for democracy, diversity and tolerance in Egypt.

Next up, election reporting.