EGYPT’s politics have been transformed since Hosni Mubarak was toppled on Feb. 11 but the prospect of elections may put remnants of his ruling party and an established Islamist group in the driving seat for now.
Torn between the desire for stability and a full purge of the system which could extend turmoil that has cost the economy billions of dollars, many Egyptians have opted for the former. That was what a referendum held on March 19 suggested when 77 percent of the voters backed constitutional amendments drawn up by a committee appointed by Egypt’s ruling military council. More radical reformers, including youth groups who led the uprising that erupted on Jan. 25, wanted a ‘No’ vote and an entirely new constitution. For them, the revolution is still incomplete.
But the mere fact Egyptians took part in a vote in which the result was not a foregone conclusion before polling stations opened is testimony to Egypt’s transformation from the 30 years of Mubarak’s rigged voting and corruption.
“There is no doubt there have been major developments like changes in the constitution, a new law for political parties, freedom of expression has been granted but still more needs to be done,” said political scientist Mustapha Al-Sayyid.
“The outcome of the revolution will appear after elections. We will see if the people behind the revolution succeeded in reaching power to do what they want, or if it is remnants of the former regime, or if Islamists take power,” said Sayyid.
Youth groups and other protest movements which had drawn millions of Egyptians onto the streets, often using the Web and social media to mobilize, now have little time before a parliamentary election set for September to turn themselves into more formal political parties.
The Muslim Brotherhood, with a broad base despite decades of repression under Mubarak, is best placed to capitalize. Remnants of Mubarak’s old party network of notables in rural areas, local council officers and business executives are also well placed.
Seeking to assuage fears, the Brotherhood has said it will not seek a parliament majority this time or run for president.
“So far, the revolution is definitely incomplete. It has only accomplished 10 percent,” Sayyid Abu El Ela from the January 25 Youth Revolutionaries said. “Now the people have retreated and their will has switched to a revolution of reform, not of change. But the youth will continue to push for change,” he said.
How Egypt navigates the transition will have a wider impact. Tunisia’s revolt may have preceded the Egyptian protests and Libya may be grabbing headlines for the violence wrought, but developments in Cairo will reverberate more profoundly across the Middle East.
– Reuters __
An interim constitution to govern Egypt during its transitional period was announced by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), charged with the country’s administration, on Wednesday.
The interim constitution consists of 62 articles including the eight articles of the 1971 constitution that were amended through a public referendum on March 19. Under it, the caretaker government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and the SCAF will run the country until parliamentary elections are held in September, and presidential elections potentially in October or November.
The decree, read by a member of the SCAF, confirmed that the military would hold presidential powers until a new head of state is elected. The interim constitution supersedes the 1971 constitution that was suspended following the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak on February 11.
The declaration from Supreme Council of the Armed Forces asserts that Egypt is a democratic country and ensures freedom of religion and opinion, spokesperson Mamdouh Shahin said in a press conference.
Parliamentary elections will be held within six months of the announcement of the constitutional referendum’s results, and then the Parliament will form a committee to write a new constitution, Shahin said.
He also confirmed that the controversial emergency law, in place since the assassination of former president Anwar Sadat thirty years ago, will be lifted ahead of the parliamentary elections slated for September.
The declaration included articles stipulating that the president, once elected, will assume command of the armed forces and will also be required to appoint a deputy (Vice President) within 60 days.
The council will transfer some of its powers to a new parliament when elected and more of its authority to a president chosen by the people, Shahin said.
“Then the new parliament will take powers including legislation. When a new president is elected, he will take over the remaining powers of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.”
Under the decree, the council’s powers include passing laws, approving the budget and the general polices of the country and signing international treaties, he said.
The interim constitution limits the presidential terms to two, and allows wider judicial oversight of elections and fewer restrictions on presidential candidates.
It also kept the controversial Article 2, which states that Islam is Egypt’s religion, the “principles of the Islamic Sharia are the primary source of legislation,” and Arabic is the Language.
Shahin noted that the Declaration bans the establishment of parties based on religion, prevents arrests or detentions without legal basis and ensures freedom of the press as well as freedom of belief and opinion.
It also kept another controversial article rejected by several activists, opposition parties and judges, which states that 50 percent of the parliament, which lasts for a five-year term, should consist of workers and farmers.
Shahin added that the Shura Council authorities will be very limited under the new interim constitution.
The World Masters announced it will bring the American performance of Best of Broadway to Cairo’s Opera House in April. The event features some of the most acclaimed performances from New York’s famous stage.
The show will run from April 18-23 at the Cairo Opera House.
“For decades, Broadway musicals have united song, dance, music and drama.Best of Broadway‘s musical excerpts have been carefully chosen from the best moments of the greatest musicals ever produced,” said the press release concerning the event.
“Colorful, high in energy and touching all at once, Best of Broadway will captivate an audience of all ages, backgrounds and tastes.”
Since its beginning, the Best of Broadway show has sold over 400,000 tickets across the United States and Canada. The show comprises numbers from 25 musicals, including Evita, Grease, Chicago, Les Misérables, and Cats. Other featured musical excerpts include Mary Poppins, A Chorus Line, Hairspray, Phantom of the Opera and Beauty and the Beast.
“With over 20 actor-singers and dancers on stage, over 500 costumes, a live band and breathtaking projection for each scene, Best of Broadway offers high quality entertainment praised by critics,” the press release added.
Egypt’s military rulers said on Wednesday that the country’s first presidential elections since the ouster of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak will be held by November, giving the country’s emerging political groups up to eight months to organize.
The announcement comes 10 days after Egyptian voters overwhelmingly approved a reform package of constitutional amendments, but many critics fear the rapid timetable for elections would give a significant advantage to the most organized political forces in the country, namely the Muslim Brotherhood and members of the former ruling party — rather then the newly emerging forces, especially among the youth, involved in the uprising.
The news came as the military’s announced a new 62-article interim constitution to replace the one suspended after the fall of Mubarak’s regime on Feb. 11 in a popular uprising that rocked the region. By giving a timetable for parliament and presidential elections, the army backed up its earlier commitment to swiftly transfer power to a civilian democratic authority.
The presidential elections will be a held a month or two after September’s parliamentary contests, the military said.
Many presidential hopefuls have already announced their plans to contest elections, including Nobel Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, Arab League chief Amr Moussa, and longtime left-wing opposition politician Hamdeen Sabahi. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s most organized group, said it will not nominate a candidate in the presidential elections.
The interim constitution stipulates the creation of a committee of 100 legal experts, academics, politicians and professionals to be selected by the newly elected parliament to draft a new constitution, which would then be approved by a referendum.
Despite demands by many of the youth groups behind the 18-day uprising, the new parliament will keep a 50 percent quota of seats allocated to “farmers and workers,” a holdover from the country’s socialist past.
Amid intense debate about the identity of new Egypt, the new document emphasized the country’s Islamic identity by stating in Article 2 that the state religion is Islam and the principle of the Islamic Sharia law is the main source of legislation. Article 4, however, bans political parties based on religious grounds.
Before announcing the interim constitution, the transitional government met a long-running demand of reformers and carried out a state media shake-up, replacing the old chief editors who under Mubarak era acted as his regime’s cheerleaders.
Many of them, such as Al-Ahram editor-in-chief Osama Saraya, led media campaigns against the Jan. 25 uprising, dubbing anti-Mubarak protesters as a “destabilizing” force and exaggerating the number of government supporters marching the streets against the anti-government protests.
Shortly after the announcement of the new appointments, journalists in one of Egypt’s oldest magazines, El-Mussawar, announced a strike to get their own chief editor Hamdi Rizk replaced, who was also known for his pro-government stances.
Under the Mubarak regime, the president personally appointed all editors of major state owned publications.
Also Wednesday, three people were killed in a gun battle between villagers in southern Egypt. Another 16 were hurt. The fight started with an argument among teenagers.
The violence highlighted rising lawlessness since Mubarak’s ouster, particularly in more tribal areas, like the southern province of Asyout.
Police and soldiers rushed to the area to stop the fight. Residents threw rocks and opened fire on police and soldiers.
Egypt’s Tourism Minister Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour called on the United States to lift its no-travel recommendations for Egypt. During his meeting in Cairo with the US Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey, Abdel Nour said the country’s security situation was being revised on a daily basis.
Abdel Nour went on to say that a number of countries, such as Russia, had sent inspection missions to certain tourist destinations in Egypt, and they have come back with positive reports concerning the security situation and the stability of the country.
Explaining that she understood the importance of such a lift and its effect on Egyptian tourism, Scobey said the US Foreign Ministry was proceeding with caution.
She went on to say that the US was preparing to return employees to its embassy in Cairo and that the US admires Egypt’s revolution, which she described as having been carried out in a civilized and honorable fashion.
In related news, Abdel Nour met in Cairo on Wednesday with the Chinese Ambassador to Egypt Song Aiguo. After the meeting, Abdel Nour said that Chinese tourism to Egypt had increased 37 percent in 2010 as compared to 2009. He went on to say that he hoped the number of Chinese tourists to Egypt would reach one million.
For his part, Aiguo said security and stability were the two most important factors that would help increase Chinese tourism to Egypt.
My colleague Ed Husain just got back from a research visit to Egypt. Ed has been one of the most prominent and eloquent voices in the West seeking to understand the rise of Islamic extremist violence and what can be done to prevent it. You might have seen the piece he wrote for the Financial Times at the height of the political turmoil in Egypt about the Muslim Brotherhood. Given all that is happening in Egypt, and all the speculation it has spawned back here in the United States, I asked Ed if he could tell us what he saw on the ground. Here’s what he had to say:
I’ve just returned to Washington after taking the temperature of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo, the oldest, most organized, and potentially most powerful political party in Egypt. One thing’s for sure: the Brotherhood is in a buoyant mood. I will publish a longer article elsewhere about the dynamics inside today’s Brotherhood, and the implications for Egyptian society. [TWE: I will post the link to Ed’s article once it’s published.] Before I left for Cairo, I asked Jim Lindsay what he would ask Brotherhood members. As it turned out, Jim’s question was thoughtful and an excellent point of entry: “I would be interested in knowing what they most want Americans to know.”
From the many meetings and interviews I conducted, here are three instructive responses:
“Just as most Americans cannot differentiate between the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorist organizations, most Egyptians see the West as a monolith,” said a forty-something website manager.
“We still remember imperialism, economic exploitation and recent wars. But I know there are many Wests, and there are many positive aspects of the West, too. The West is not our enemy. Americans should know that members of the Muslim Brotherhood are not their enemy, either. We seek peace–do not be afraid of us.”
Interestingly, the same gentleman spoke about Iran’s government as “Islamo-fascist,” Bush-era language that has been adopted by Muslim Brotherhood members. But Bushisms were not useful for Israel, described by this Brotherhood leader of a major Egyptian region as “a deep wound on the Islamic conscience.”
I also met an organizer of the Brotherhood who leads several hundred students at al-Azhar seminary (established in 972 CE), the oldest surviving Muslim university in the world. In poetic, classical Arabic, the middle-aged sheikh explained that the Brotherhood wanted “musharikah, la mughalibah”–meaning participation, not domination of Egypt’s politics. And therefore Americans, he believed, should relax about Islamists in Egyptian politics.
Finally, it was a former member of parliament that provided a principles-led answer to Jim’s question. A 43-year-old medical doctor who served as an MP between 2005 and 2010 said:
Americans deeply misunderstand us. We are believers and advocates of complete pluralism, including religious, racial, political, and intellectual pluralism. We only seek to express ourselves as others do, such as communists, socialists and liberals. We believe in citizenship without discrimination based on color, race, religion or sex, but there are cultural and social differences between us and Americans. What’s most important is that there is joint cooperation, faith in one another, and we work for our mutual interests. This can be achieved without patronizing and keeping us at a distance.
The Brotherhood members I met had much more to say on a whole host of issues, some of their statements were worrying, others less so. Like much else in Egypt, the Brotherhood is in transition mode. Watch this space for a more detailed update.
The Egyptian revolution has brightened the future for many of the 3,000 people in this dusty farming village. Bribery has diminished at city hall, police have stopped harassing peasants and city-slicker businessmen can no longer buy their way into juicy land deals.
But perhaps the most obvious winners are the scowling men in long, black beards. They are the Salafists, Islamic fundamentalists who would like to see the strictest form of Islam applied to the way people live in Dubanah al-Kabirah, all of Egypt and across the Middle East.
Under President Hosni Mubarak, thousands were jailed indefinitely without trial or charges, part of Mubarak’s campaign to prevent Egypt from heeding the call to jihad from Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida underground. That left most of the traditionally easygoing Muslims of Dubanah al-Kabirah free to practice the conservative but tolerant strain of Islam for which Egypt has long been known.
But since Mubarak fell Feb. 11, many Salafists held for years without a legal basis have been released, here and across the country. In Dubanah al-Kabirah, they have returned home, and the most aggressive of them are seeking to impose their radical views with a boldness they would never have dared exhibit in Mubarak’s days.
Dubanah al-Kabirah, near the Nile about 70 miles south of Cairo, is just one tiny village in a nation of 80 million people and an Arab region of 340 million. But what is happening here is a cautionary tale about the unforeseeable consequences of nearly all the political uprisings that have exploded across the Middle East since December.
The youthful protesters who occupied Cairo’s Tahrir Square demanded genuine Western-style democracy, a goal applauded in Washington and around the world. The generals who took over from Mubarak have promised that goal will be reached eventually. But Mubarak’s departure set in motion a process that could change Egypt in many other ways as well, ways that Washington would find harder to applaud.
Most of Dubanah al-Kabirah’s farmers saw the revolution from afar, on their television screens, said Hussein Abdusattar, 58, a municipal employee, but they approved of the demands. Adel Shaaban, whose full beard is speckled with gray, said no one more than the Salafists of Dubanah al-Kabirah rejoiced in the Tahrir Square uprising, because it ended a period of injustice in which many followers of fundamentalist Islam were imprisoned for their convictions.
“Now things will be better,” he said over a glass of Sprite.
Not only were the imprisoned Salafists released to go about their business, villagers said, but the chastened local police force also no longer feels it has the authority to challenge them in the streets unless they clearly break the law.
“The police are the same people,” Abdusattar said, “but before, they could humiliate people, and now they don’t say anything to anybody.”
Determined Salafists have stepped into the void.
About 90 per cent of the voters in this region cast ballots in the March 19 referendum to approve swift constitutional changes opposed by the main youthful protest movements in Cairo. Spearheading the “yes” campaign, villagers said, were the spiritual leaders of the Salafist faithful, who one way or another have the say in two-thirds of the families of the village and have imposed their imprint on village life.
About a third of the men walking Dubanah al-Kabirah’s dusty streets on a sleepy Friday wore Islamic prayer caps and untrimmed beards, symbols of fundamentalist Islam, along with their jalabiyas, or traditional robes. Most of the few women outside their homes wore full-face Islamic veils and loose-fitting robes. Some completed the look with black gloves so none of their skin was visible.
A Palestinian photographer visiting the village along with an American reporter was accosted by a Salafist preacher who said foreigners were not allowed to take pictures. Backed by a dozen young men, he forced the photographer to delete photos from his digital camera. Asked to intervene, a local telephone technician said there was nothing he could do to contest the preacher’s authority.
Along another street, a bearded Salafist man with heavily oiled hair and an immaculate white robe shouted at villagers who were speaking with the reporter, saying they were naive to confide in a Westerner because they had no idea what he was really up to. Challenged by the villagers, including a prominent local merchant, he walked away in a huff.
Most concern over Islamic extremism since Mubarak’s downfall has focused on the Muslim Brotherhood, an old-line Islamist political organization previously outlawed but now seeking a place in the new Egyptian landscape. The loosely organized – and more extreme – Salafist movement is more a set of beliefs. It has no political party as such, but its beliefs have inspired several underground groups, including an offshoot blamed in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981.
More recently, Salafist believers were blamed in the New Year’s bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt, in which 21 people were killed. A Salafist identified in news reports as Sayed Bilal was arrested in connection with the bombing but, according to the reports, died under police torture before the crime was solved. Since then, he has been portrayed as a martyr by some Salafist publications.
Salafists have long been influential in remote farming villages where most residents are uneducated, but they seem to have become more assertive and more noticeable since the revolution, said Karam Saber, head of the Land Center for Human Rights in Cairo.
Kamal Samir Gadallah, a Muslim Brotherhood activist, said Salafists benefited from the years during which the Brotherhood was banned by expanding their influence in villages. This is particularly true south of Cairo, he said, and has intensified since Mubarak’s fall loosened law enforcement and led to the prison releases.
“Suffice it to say that there are some villages where Salafists have total control,” he added. “And when the revolution succeeded, we started seeing Salafists speaking out for the first time on politics.”
An Israeli envoy arrived in Cairo Tuesday for a short visit to hold talks with Egyptian officials about the latest developments in Gaza and the situation at Egypt-Israeli border crossings.
Last week, Israeli Foreign Ministry Senior Deputy Director General Rafi Barak arrived in Egypt. He was the first Israeli official to visit Egypt since the 25 January Revolution that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak.
Barak held talks with Egyptian officials on developments in the region, as well as issues of joint interest.
Three security envoys from Israel, who had previously arrived on Monday for talks with senior security officials, have left.
The Egyptian military high council has announced that parliamentary elections are being put off until September. Opposition leaders are asking for more time to organize themselves into political parties. Presidential elections, originally scheduled for August, will also be held then. They say they will also be lifting the state of emergency. This comes as a relief to younger Egyptians; they were the propelling force behind the demonstrations in January and February that ousted president Hosni Mubarak. But what has become of that group — and the pro-democracy movement that propelled change in the most populous country in the Arab World?
Joining us with an overview of the current political situation in the country is Dalia Ziada, Egyptian blogger and Regional Director of the American Islamic Congress.
Nicholas Kristof, columnist for The New York Times who covered the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, joins us as well to give us a peek into his reporter’s notebook.
The State Department says American diplomats who were evacuated from Egypt at the height of that country’s political crisis have been allowed to return and that the U.S. embassy in Cairo has resumed full operations.
In an updated travel warning released on Tuesday, the department said the families of embassy employees were still barred from the country and that it continued to advise private Americans to consider the risks of visiting Egypt amid still uncertain security conditions. But it said the situation had improved since it ordered all non-essential diplomats and dependents of all embassy staffers to leave on February 1.
The warning noted that the Egyptian security forces are still being reorganized and may not be able to fully ensure public safety and security.