Friday, April 27, 2012

Egyptian Presidential Election, Protests, and the Politics of Drafting the New Constitution

An Egyptian girl street vendor displays dairy products for sale under electoral posters in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, April 23, 2012
Well folks, it is a busy news day in Egypt!

There is a big protest in Tahrir. It was called by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis. I like the concept, which is demanding a handover of power to civilians. I am less sanguine about the people who called it. The Free Front for Peaceful Change has refused to participate, saying the Islamists are hijacking the protests after abandoning the streets for months.

A Constituent Assembly to write Egypt's new constitution is being put together. A mediation committee has been established to end the impasse over the Assembly's make up, according to the Egypt Independent. So far, the parties in the mediation have agreed to grant 15 seats to the FJP ( Muslim Brotherhood) 7 seats to the Nour party (Salafis), and 4 to the Wafd party (center secular) out of the 40 seats to be occupied by political parties. If those numbers are correct, 26 seats have been chosen, leaving 14 to be filled by other political parties. It is not clear what algorithm has been used to date to fill the seats. A court ruling in March determined that the Constituent Assembly had to be reformed due to its lack of diversity. As someone outside this mediation, my concern is that it is not clear whether women, bedouins, Christians, leftists, secular persons, or new parties that are not Islamists are on this Assembly. There is a lot at stake here. If the new Egyptian Constitution is not well written, then it will be very difficult for Egypt to emerge into a full-fledged democracy. Check out an article that gives some insight into this process.

With regard to the Presidential election, the National Association for Change is attempting to agree on a single revolutionary candidate. Leftist lawyer, Khaled Ali is a human rights advocate who has been on the approved list of candidates. He has said he will waive his candidacy if a consensus candidate is chosen. The National Association for Change has stated that they support the following principals: the civilian democratic nature of the state, the guarantee of full citizenship rights without discrimination on the basis of religion, race or gender. The Association also said these ideas need to be included in the constitution. If the candidates fail to agree among themselves, a "committee of wise men" will be put together to make a binding choice, if the candidates fail to agree. On the gender equality piece, I hope a woman is on the committee.

With regard to the Mubarak approved choice of presidential candidates, Ahmed Shafiq, Hosni Mubarka's last prime minister , says he has the military and political experience to lead Egypt into a new democratic era. Huuhhh? I thought you were with the guy we fired last January 25th, Ahmed? He was disqualified by the Political Isolation Law, which banned former Mubarak officials, then 48 hours later, the Presidential Election Commission reinstated him. Shafiq has close military ties, and is certainly someone the SCAF (the ruling military junta) knows well, and would be comfortable with.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Update on Egypt's Presidential Election

«أبو الفتوح» يعقد مؤتمرا لتدشين برنامجه الانتخابي
Presidential Candidate Aboul Fotouh

Dear readers,

wow, I almost fell off the grid! I have not facebooked, blogged, or done much of anything but teach, write and care for my family over the last few months. But I am trying, I am recommitting, and renewing to the blogosphere.

So where were we? Oh yes, democratizing the new Egypt. That is the ticket. Well, things are a little tough these days. We are coming up on a presidential election in Egypt. The Presidential elections are scheduled for May 23-24th. In the meantime, the Daily News of Egypt is going out of business, which is a real blow to objective reporting in the region. Daily News Egypt: Final Words
On April 17, ten presidential hopefuls in Egypt were disqualified from contesting the Presidential election by the head of Egypt's election commission. The head of Egypt's Election Commission is Farouk Sultan. The disqualified include Hosni Mubarak's former spy chief Omar Suleiman, Muslim Brotherhood Khairat el-Shater, Ayman Nour and Hazem Abu Ismail.

Suleiman apparently failed to get enough endorsements from 15 provinces. Shater was barred because he was imprisoned under Mubarak. Although the MB is not my cup of tea, Shater's expulson is particularly unfair because Shater was imprisoned for a political crime under Mubarak. Abu Ismail is out of the race because his mother holds another nationality, which is one of the changes to the constitution made in a referendum last year. Analysis of Specific Provisions of Constitutional Referendum . The Muslim Brotherhood has announced that it will replace Shater with Mohamed Morsy.

According to the Egypt Daily News, "The presidential election starts on May 23 with two days of voting and is expected to go to a June run-off between the top two candidates. Front-runners include the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi, former member of the Islamist group Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh and former Arab League chief and Egypt's foreign minister for a decade, Amr Moussa." The SCAF is due to hand over power to the elected presidential candidate on July 1, 2012.

Thanassis Cambaniss wrote a prescient analysis for The Atlantic. I heard him on PRI, and his comments rang true. Egyptian Political Transition Faces Crucial Test. He makes a few important points. First, he makes the crucial point that the Presidential Committee is opaque. It is not clear how they were appointed, or how they make their decisions. Their decisions are not subject to appeal, and they are an extension of the power of the SCAF's. I liked his observation that Egypt is struggling with a "fake rule of law. "

I would like to make the observation that although there is an elected parliament, the court system has not experienced any reforms since the Revolution. Further, the executive is being run by the SCAF, which presumably has an interest in who wins the Presidency. Accordingly, two of the three branches are not subject to popular control in any real sense.

On April 19, 2012, The SCAF asked the nation's constitutional court to rule on whether top officials from Hosni Mubarak's era can run for the presidency. Shafiq successfully appealed a decision excluding him from running under the Political Isolation Law, which strips Mubarak era officials of political rights for 10 years.  I agree with the Wasat Party that it is a little hard to understand why Shafiq is being allowed to run, given that he was a prime minister under Mubarak. MP Calls Shafiq reinstatement a threefold scandal

Today, April 26th, 2012, the Presidential Election Commission released its final list of presidential contenders. According to the Egypt Independent, my favorite Egyptian English language paper, the final list includes the following 13 candidates.

  • Freedom and Justice Party nominee Mohamed Morsy, 
  • Socialist Popular Alliance Party nominee Abul Ezz al-Hariry, 
  • Democratic Generation Party nominee Mohamed Fawzy Eissa, 
  • Democratic Peace Party nominee Hossam Khairallah, 
  • Salafi-oriented Asala Party nominee Abdullah al-Ashal, 
  • Tagammu Party nominee Hesham al-Bastawisi, 
  • and independents former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, 
  • former Arab League head Amr Moussa, 
  • Islamist reformer Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh, Mahmoud Hossam Galal, 
  • Islamist Mohamed Selim al-Awa, Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi
  • Leftist attorney Khaled Ali.
These are exciting times for Egypt.  Hopefully, they will be democratic as well as exciting.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Women in Egypt in the Post Revolutionary Period

احتجاجات ضد الحكومة البحرينية بالمنامة
Bahraini protester helps her daughter hold a slogan

Dear readers 

This blog has been outspoken about its support for women, Egyptian women of all races creeds and colors. Folks, there is a lot of work to do.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro of NPR reported in January that "one group suffered a shocking disappointment in Egypt's parliamentary election-women." In Egypt's New Parliament Women will be Scarce (January 19, 2012).

As you know, I did my own counting of the women in Egypt's Parliament, and I predicted that it was not going to be pretty. (See e.g. Names of Women in Egypt's Parliament and see also No Women Elected to Egypt's Parliament in First Round)

So, now that it is all over but the shouting, NPR reported that there were only likely to be about eight women elected out of the 508 seats, which is less than two percent of the seats in Parliament. As I wrote about in previous posts, women were generally placed far enough down the lists, that it reduced their probability of being elected.

This is just one symptom of the difficulties facing women in Egypt.  I have written several posts on the myriad challenges in Egypt facing women including pervasive sexual harassment pervasive sexual harassment, violence against women,  the role of women under shariah law. A new topic has just made waves in the blogosphere. Mona Eltahawy, herself an activist who was brutally beaten sexually assaulted and detained by the Egyptian Interior Ministry, has written a compelling piece in Foreign Policy recently, Why Do They Hate Us?   I guess the first question that I ask myself when reading the title is who is "they."?

Although the article is not written at the level typical of FP pieces, Mona Eltahawy made some arguments that really resonated with me. First of all, she highlights the fact that  as many of 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt have experienced female genital mutilation. One of my students in Egypt did a presentation on that, and it is a statistic that is hard to believe. It is also very difficult to verify. That being said, a young woman who lived below me in my building was only 17 and had experienced the cut. She was worried about how to protect her sisters. In my personal tribal tradition, the Kikuyu, women were circumcised. My grandfather protected my mother and her sisters from the cut, and educated them. Those decisions helped make me who I am. Thus, Mona, whose family went through a similar process, and I have much in common as African women, though countries apart.

When we talk about the "they" in Mona's article, I believe that it must be said that women are part of the they. Women, after all, perform the circumcision which so brutally erases women's femaleness, and often leads to horrible medical problems. Women parliamentarians, such as the woman who heads the womens' committee of the Muslim Brotherhood said that women should let their husbands and brothers march for them, it is more "dignified." Women choose to follow and enforce the rules regarding gender behavior which in a country like Egypt are somewhat optional.

Mona writes that a quarter of the parliamentary seats in Egypt are held by Salafis, a fairly radical Islamic sect that is very strict, very fundamentalist, and unfortunately, anti-woman. Women are not to be seen or heard, writes Eltahawy. When I visited a Salafi neighborhood, I saw something I had never witnessed before. A woman wore a burka, covering her whole body in Black. Her head was covered, and her face as well, by a garment called a nekab, which only allows one's eyes to show. But over that covering, the woman wore yet another veil, so that her view of the world was obscured by a layer of thin cloth. Surely this dress leads one to never leave the house, lest one lose ones step. Further, it feels like a kind of self-disappearance, as though one is making oneself invisible through numerous shrouds.

I heard an interview with Mona on the radio with Steve Inskeep. Mona Eltahawy Explains Why Women are hated in the Middle East.  Ha ha. He asked the question that I had in my mind, who are "they"?

Mona states that "they" are the misogynists and partriarchs in the middle east. Some argue that Mona is playing into right wing stereotypes that lead to armed invasions of Middle Eastern countries.  Do Arabs Really Hate Women?   (I might add that I think Monica Mark's comments that marginalize Mona Eltahawy as a mere "native informant" strike me as very arrogant, and situated in Western privilege.)

But, I believe Eltahawy has a compelling counter to this point. I like Mona's point that "we are going through a revolution. This is the time to shake everything." She also notes that she is fighting against both the Western right wing, and the Muslim right wing. She characterizes the Muslim Brotherhood as part of that Muslim Right Wing.

I love her point "that women are the vectors of religion and culture. Our wombs are the future, and if you don't control that future by controlling women's bodies, you've lost control generally." This point really resonates with me in the American context, where we face personhood amendments. I also love her point that we have to speak honestly about this. We really do. So let us start speaking about women's rights in Egypt, and keep speaking, and never, ever stop. . .

P.S. Great followup article in Jaadaliya yesterday, check it out. Lets Talk About Sex

Monday, April 2, 2012

Drafting Egypt's Constitution

Dear Readers

I apologize for my absence, I have been attending to urgent family matters, and have not had time to write enough.

But I am back, and recommitted, Ilhamdillulah!

So, what is new? As is usual there is a lot going on in Egypt these days. My biggest worry regarding democracy is secularism and the constitution. According to an article on NPR by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Unease Grows Over Islamist Political Agenda in Egypt, Parliament has handpicked a 100 member panel that has begun meeting to write a new Egyptian constitution. 

The worry is where this leaves Christians, Bahai and other religious minorities. Is there room to be secular in Egypt? According to that article, as many of two-thirds of the panel members are Islamist or allies. "Only a handful of women and Christians were selected to take part." Several secular panelists have since quit the constitutional panel in protest.

On March 23rd, hundreds protested against the formation of a constitution writing assembly, Protesters reject formation of constitution-writing assembly. Egypt Independent. Protesters rallied in front of the High Court of Justice to demand that the SCAF relinquish power to a civilian government. They also protested against the composition of the group who will draft Egypt's constitution. As of now, MPs will constitute half of that group's membership. The other half are to be composed of experts from other fields.

On March 24th, parliament members from the Free Egyptians Party, the Revolution Continues Coalition, and the Egyptian Social Democratic Party pulled out of talks regarding the composition of the constitutional drafting committee. Adl Party and Karama party representatives walked out of the session as well. The dissenters accused the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the far right Islamist Nour party of dominating the Constitutional committee.