More transition by lawfare in Egypt

This is an interesting development:

The Supreme Constitutional Court decided Saturday it will not review a request by the ruling military council to review a draft amendment to the political rights law that would isolate regime figures.

The People’s Assembly approved the draft amendment earlier this month, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces referred it to the court on Thursday.

The proposed amendment originally targeted presidential hopeful Omar Suleiman, who served as spy chief and vice president under ex-President Hosni Mubarak. But after the Presidential Elections Commission disqualified him from the race, it would now target Ahmed Shafiq, who served as Mubarak’s prime minister and is also running for president in the May election.

The court said Article 28 of the Constitutional Declaration, enacted in March 2011, states that the Supreme Constitutional Court should only review the amendment that organizes the presidential election, so extending its tasks to reviewing amendments without a clear text violates the article.

More clearly, the SCC says it cannot review the constitutionality of the law before it is passed, i.e. that it has no jurisdiction over bills. Most Egyptian experts think the law is probably unconstitutional (because it discriminates against specific individuals), but the SCC can't even give an opinion on it. It has thrown the ball back in SCAF's court to avoid further charges of a politicized judiciary, which are mounting after the judicial decision to allow the American defendants in the NGOs case leave the country and the attacks made on the Presidential Election Commission (composed of judges) to disqualify 10 candidates at last Friday's Tahrir Square protests (which featured banners against the members of the PEC).

The bottom line in all this is that the judiciary is turning to be an extremely powerful, and controversial, branch of the state in the new Egypt — one that has had a largely positive image but is starting to be seen, even if it is difficult to attack, as having made pro-SCAF decisions. As more "lawfare" is used during this transition by court filings for injunctions (such as against the formation constitutional assembly), the more judges will be on the front lines. Is that really where they want to be?

The Brothers' Numbers

The Egyptian electoral commission’s decision to ban the country’s top three presidential candidates has made it very difficult to predict anything about the upcoming vote. However, once the initial shock from the surprise disqualification of Muslim Brother Khairat al-Shater, Mubarak right-hand man Omar Suleiman, and Salafi Hazem Abu Ismail dies down, we’re still dealing with the same electorate that in the November-January parliamentary elections gave nearly 40 percent of its vote to the Brothers and another 25 percent to the Salafis.  Does this mean that the Brothers merely have to put up their backup candidate, Mohammed Mursi, and let him catch the Islamist wave in al-Shater’s stead? Probably not, actually – some recent poll numbers suggest that the Brother’s popularity was already in rapid decline, and that although their support may have been broad, it wasn’t very deep.

Islamist parties typically perform best in the first competitive elections after a long period of authoritarian rule. Religious parties may have a hardcore ideological base but that’s not where most of their votes originate. Instead, many voters see in the religious groups their best hope for a dramatic change from politics-as-usual. But inevitably, the Islamists must confront the same challenges as any other political force must, encountering resistance, searching for unlikely bedfellows, handing out plum posts to supporters, and making compromises. Because of this, they are bound to disappoint. Egypt’s Muslim Brothers were likely to lose support from the moment that Saad al-Katatni took the chair of the People’s Assembly and banged his gavel on national television, while outside, nothing was changed.

Even so, the evaporation of support for the Brothers – assuming the latest poll numbers are even close to accurate – is remarkable. Reports of a recent survey by the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Center suggest that some 45 percent of those who backed the Brothers in parliament won’t vote for it in the next elections. Al-Shater was the first choice of only 5 percent of voters.

Read More

Is this where the Egyptian center is at?

In the media, Egypt's die-hard (mostly leftist) revolutionaries, the Muslim Brothers and their vision of a "renaissance" for Egypt, and the Salafists and their "back-to-8th-century-basics" approach get the most coverage. But there is also a wide part of Egyptian society that wants credible action, social peace, and economic improvement — and the presidential candidate that can appeal to these people probably has the best chance.

That appears to be what Amr Moussa is doing — as reported by Heba Afify in this excellent Egypt Independent piece from the campaign trail in Gharbeia:

Moussa’s practical speeches appealed to the audience who came to the rallies hoping to hear exactly that. As supportive as they say they are of the revolution, they seemed hungry for stability.

“We want the old regime but without the corruption, with a fresh outlook,” said Abel Alim Bedeir, a veterinarian from Gabereya. “We don’t want someone new who would shake the whole being of the state and start from scratch.”

Having served under Mubarak for 10 years as foreign minister, but one who has distanced himself from the taint of corruption, Moussa is a perfect choice for Bedeir and many others who want change — but not too much.

Realizing that the people are out of patience after over a year of economic hardship and disappointment, Moussa offers a plan promising immediate results in addition to long-term goals.

Less realistic are some of his promises:

Moussa says that during the first 100 days of his term, he will take action regarding corruption, unemployment and the economy that will result in significant improvement of Egyptians’ situation. Moussa says that by the end of his four-year term, the national income will be doubled and Egypt will achieve a 100 percent literacy rate, up from the current level, which is around 60 percent.

I doubt the country is going to get much better until you start having politicians who dare tell the truth to average Egyptians — that they now have to deal with 60 years of accumulated misrule — and a public that is open to hearing that.


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

Shater, Abu Ismail, Suleiman out? Thank God.

It looks like the political drama will soon end, according to this Reuters scoop:

(Reuters) - Ten candidates for the Egyptian presidency including Hosni Mubarak's spy chief, a Muslim Brotherhood leader and a Salafi preacher lost appeals against disqualification from the race, two sources on the committee overseeing the vote told Reuters.
"All appeals have been rejected because nothing new was offered in the appeal requests," a member of the judicial committee told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Another source confirmed that all the appeals had been rejected.
I'll wait for the official confirmation, because in this insane political environment you never know, but I am very reassurred that this is the outcome. (I'll leave the wondering about whether the commission came to this conclusion by itself, through SCAF pressure, or as part of an elaborate multi-party deal to others). As I wrote in the National a few days ago:
The destabilising prospect of these three candidates, who are thought by many to have the best chance of winning the election, is why the presidential electoral commission's recent decision to exclude them on eligibility grounds (because Mr Suleiman has insufficient qualifying endorsements, Mr Al Shater is a former convict, and Mr Abu Ismail's American mother) may turn out to be a blessing, no matter how unfair.
The fact is that among ordinary Egyptians and the country's fragmented elite, the victory of any one of them would be difficult to stomach. There are those who reject the Brothers' societal project just as there are those who could not stomach the restoration that a Suleiman victory would symbolise, while the populist antics of Mr Abu Ismail are the stuff of nightmares for both those camps.
My initial reaction is that this leaves Moussa and Aboul Fotouh in the best positions. And that's something that, either way, most Egyptians can probably live with.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

More on Omar Suleiman, torturer-in-chief

I'm seeing my 2009 Foreign Policy profile of Omar Suleiman cited far and wide since Omar Basha filed to run in the elections, and it's been an occasion for reporters to review a bunch of what's been written about him over the years. Of particular interest is all the work Suleiman did torturing people for the United States, particularly this chilling Ron Suskind anecdote that this Feb. 2011 ABC report by Matthew Cole and Sarah Wall talks about:

Ron Suskind, author of the book The One Percent Doctrine, called Suleiman the "hit man" for the Mubarak regime. He told ABC News that when the CIA asked Suleiman for a DNA sample from a relative of Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Suleiman offered the man's whole arm instead.

"He's a charitable man, friendly," said Suskind. "He tortures only people that he doesn't know."

Suskind said Suleiman "was our point man in Egypt for many years. Everything went through Omar. We never had to talk to anyone else. When we wanted someone to be tortured, we'd send him to Egypt to have them tortured. We wanted to get intelligence and we didn't need it to be stuff that could be doublechecked."

The New Yorker's Jane Mayer in particular has reviewed books written about the war on terror and unearthed this tidbit about Suleiman's role in giving the Bush administration the lies it wanted to justify invading Iraq, in the rendition case of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi:

What happened to Libi in Egypt, while in the custody of the Egyptian intelligence service, is documented in detail in a bipartisan report released in 2006 by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. According to the report, Libi later told the C.I.A. that the Egyptian authorities grew dissatisfied with his level of cooperation, so they locked him in a tiny cage for eighty hours. Then they took him out, knocked him over, and punched him for fifteen minutes. The Egyptian officials were pressing Libi, who knew Bin Laden personally, to confirm the Bush Administration’s contention that there were links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. In particular, the Egyptians wanted Libi to confirm that the Iraqis were in the process of giving Al Qaeda biological and chemical weapons. In pushing this line of inquiry, the Egyptians appear to have been acting in accordance with the wishes of the U.S., which wanted to document its case for going to war against Iraq. Under duress, Libi eventually gave in. Details from his confession went into the pivotal speech that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell gave to the United Nations in Feburary of 2003, making the case for war.

Several years later, however, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq turned up no such weapons of mass destruction, or ties between Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, Libi recanted. When the F.B.I. later asked him why he had lied, he blamed the brutality of the Egyptian intelligence service. As Michael Isikoff and David Corn first reported in their book, “Hubris,” Libi explained, “They were killing me,” and that, “I had to tell them something.”

Although some in Egypt and the US see Suleiman's as "the CIA's candidate" I am not sure that the Obama administration sees his candidacy as a good thing — a victory causing as it would no end of destabilization of Egypt's political scene. The administration has worked pretty fast to turn the page and engage with the emerging political power represented by the Muslim Brotherhood — and as long as the Brothers are telling them they don't want to interfere in the bilateral military relationship or review the peace treaty with Israel, I suspect they are fine with that.

Incidentally, one more thing about Omar Basha: it is said that on September 4, 2001, he warned the US Embassy in Cairo about an imminent al-Qaeda attack on the US. So did the Saudis at the time, based on chatter in their informant networks. Like the August intelligence memo Condoleeza Rice disregarded, it was never passed up.

More reading:

Omar Suleiman's gall

I have to confess I was skeptical about Omar Suleiman's run in recent days, especially when you consider the press reporting it was only going on a statement he'd allegedly made to MENA and he has yet to appear on television or in public talking about his campaign. But we're getting more confirmation with this interview with al-Akhbar, as reported by Reuters. I have a hard time seeing Suleiman win (unless the election is rigged) but he can certainly be useful in stirring up anti-MB sentiment to other candidates' advantage — especially if he uses some of the documents and recordings he no doubt has saved from his years as spy chief. 

Quite galling to see him try to pretend he has democratic credentials, though:

In the interview, Suleiman also projected himself as an opposition figure within the Mubarak regime, saying he had objected to many policies, laws and "what transpired" in 2010 parliamentary elections, which were probably the most rigged vote since Egypt's 1953 overthrow of the monarchy.

"Those who think that my candidacy for president means reinventing the former regime must realize that being the head of the General Intelligence Agency or vice president for a few days does not mean that I was part of an institution against which people revolted," Suleiman said.

The 75-year-old Suleiman said he has received death threats from "elements" of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups since he announced his candidacy on Friday. "Those who think that these threats will make me change my position or force me to abandon my candidacy for the presidency are deluding themselves," he said.

For several years before the January 2011 uprising, people close to Suleiman would whisper to whoever would listen that Omar Basha was against the NDP businessmen, against vote-rigging, and most laughably against torture and police brutality. It was part of the effort to position him as a man with both experience and some sort of liberal credentials. It was ridiculous then and it's ridiculous now. It's worth remembering that, just as it's worth remembering that after the uprising many of those who count in Egyptian politics today were very happy to be negotiating with Omar Suleiman, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood. If I remember correctly, the only prominent person who refused to was Mohamed ElBaradei.

How much Copts trust the Brotherhood

Not at all:

A poll conducted by the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations, led by Coptic activist Naguib Gobrail, suggests that a majority of Copts support Amr Moussa for the presidency.
The sample consisted of 3000 Copts.

Moussa received 78 percent of votes in the poll, while Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh got 22 percent, Gobrail said. The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Khairat al-Shater, and Salafi-oriented candidate Hazem Salah Abou Ismail both got zero votes.

 Not bad for Aboul Fotouh though.

Why Khairat al-Shater is running

Too clever by half?

I have no particularly privileged insight into the inner decision-making of the Muslim Brotherhood, other than meeting with its leaders, including Khairat al-Shater, on a regular basis and seeing rank-and-file and former members quite often too. As someone who has followed the group for almost a decade now, I don't think the answer to why they decided to run Shater now lies mostly within the organization and its logic. It has to do with the political environment and developments in Egypt's transition in the last few months, and especially the fact that this ill-thought out transition (for which the Brothers deserve a good part of the blame) is coming apart as it reaches its end with the presidential election and the drafting of the new constitution. I talk about that in my latest column for The National.

Shater's candidacy is something that has been envisaged for six months at least — since the beginning of the end of the entente cordiale between the MB and SCAF. The decision to go for it was probably made by the top leadership (the "gang of six" led by Shater) in recent weeks, but not sold to the broader leadership in the Shura Council until Saturday — and then barely so if the reports that the Shura Council approved the decision by a margin of only two votes is true. I would argue that this decision was made because of several overlapping concerns, which we might conceptualize as four concentric circles of variables.

Read More

ElBaradei not to run for president

Mohamed ElBaradei has just declared that he will not run for the presidency. From Reuters:

CAIRO Jan 14 (Reuters) - Mohamed ElBaradei pulled out of the race for the Egyptian presidency on Saturday, saying "the previous regime" was still running the country which has been without a head of state since Hosni Mubarak was deposed last year.

"My conscience does not permit me to run for the presidency or any other official position unless it is within a democratic framework," the former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said in a statement.

There have been several reasons cited, besides the whole "democratic framework" business. Aside from the manner in which SCAF has run things, ElBaradei is also said to oppose SCAF's desire to rapidly draft a new constitution before the presidential elections are held — a step criticized for being against the agreed transition order. The question now is whether the opinions of anyone but SCAF and the Muslim Brothers matter.

ElBaradei has been a lackluster political presence for the last six months, with many of his erstwhile supporters believing his political career was over, largely because of his own lack of energy. Most believed he stood little chance in an election.

Nonetheless, ElBaradei's announcement may have an impact on mainstream views of the Egyptian revolution thus far. His charge that the Mubarak regime is still in place should fan the flames of those who want a second revolution on January 25, and counters the Muslim Brothers' narrative that one must go on with the transition through parliament until a handover of power to a new president. It also encourages the narrative of a dastardly MB-military alliance against a genuine democratic transformation of the country (further evidence of that would be MB assurances of immunity to the SCAF generals — not necessarily a bad compromise, but in this context quite damaging to the MB).

The big question may be what's next: if he's not running for the presidency, is ElBaradei willing to take the lead in the movement against the current transition, including further protests against the SCAF? That's not clear just yet, and somehow I doubt that a man who has shown aversion to street protests will take that route.

Update: Here is ElBaradei's statement, published by al-Tahrir newspaper today [Ar]. And here's an English translation.

Update 2: Here's ElBaradei's video statement.

Amr Moussa on the rise of Islamists

Amr Moussa urging people to calm down, and as always trying to have it both ways. One of the results of the parliamentary elections, I think, will be to push skeptical secularists towards Moussa as a presidential candidate — despite his "feloolism".

Whose candidate is Amr Moussa?

It's just been announced, unsurprisingly, that Amr Moussa intends to run for the Egyptian presidency when elections take place, most probably late this year. In many respects, Moussa is well-positioned to win: he's the best-known of the slate of names that has been popping up of late, with a reputation for straight-talking and toughness towards Israel from his days as Egypt's foreign minister. Since the rumor was that Mubarak kicked him upstairs to Secretary-General of the Arab League because he was getting too popular, there is an impression that he was not close to the former president. He has gravitas, since he's been seen powowing with world leaders for two decades now, and even a certain macho concept of manliness that politicians like John McCain like to strut about — the equivalent of being seen as "tough" in the American context. It's something others, such as Mohammed ElBaradei, don't have.
Read More

Stratfor: "Imagining Egypt after Mubarak"

The rumors about about Hosni Mubarak's health continue (the latest I heard is that he is in coma), and there is still no credible picture of him nor has he made an appearance on television. There is such a dearth of information and abundance of unverifiable rumors — such as that Gamal Mubarak's wife Khadiga had a son in Germany or that senior officials are prevented from leaving the country —that's it's hard to know what to make of it. We just have to wait and see, I guess, and trust in the statements the German medical team is making (incidentally, I'd like to know why this hospital was chosen, since Mubarak used to be treated in French military hospitals.)
I thought I'd share a dispatch from Stratfor, the strategic forecasting company. I'm not a big fan of their analysis, and here they are reviving the theory whereby Omar Suleiman would be a transitional president leading to a Gamal Mubarak presidency. It's a theory that doesn't make that much sense, and they may be onto something more credible when worrying about internal NDP / regime rivalries. It's after the jump.
Read More

ElBaradei fan art


Looking through the Facebook group and various websites, I noticed that there is quite a collection of ElBaradei groupie art out there. Here's a gallery.

In the meantime, here are the first signs of harassment and beatings of ElBaradei supporters:

Attorney General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud ordered the launch of an investigation into an incident of torture that allegedly took place at State Security headquarters in Fayoum where a physiotherapist says he was beaten, tortured and stripped of his clothes after helping to organize activities in support of ElBaradei running for the presidency.

Update: ElBaradei condemned the treatment of his supporter.

What does ElBaradei want?

After spending most of yesterday at Cairo Airport covering Mohamed ElBaradei's return to Egypt, it's worth taking a step back from the infectious enthusiasm of his supporters and listening more carefully to what they say — and what people close to ElBaradei believe he intends to do.

A member of the ElBaradei family sporting this great home-made T-shirt.But before I do that, I think it's fair to note that yesterday's welcoming committee was a success. There were over 1,000 people at the airport, the story got covered everywhere, and it has legs. It energized his campaign, even if many were disappointed that ElBaradei did not speak at the airport. I think he probably should have, but the conditions there were not good: supporters and journalists were crushing each other, there was no platform, and too many people to be controlled easily. One important reason for the success of the welcome was its timing. I think it might be no coincidence that ElBaradei decided to return to Egypt on the day that Egypt faced its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council and the day that Barack Obama met with Egyptian democracy activists Gamal Eid and Bahai Eddin Hassan. There was a lot of international attention on the question of democracy and human rights in Egypt that day. The regime's propaganda may have scared off some (newspapers had reported on-the-spot fines of LE1,000 — $182 — and massive security presence, both of which were untrue) but plenty turned out and a repressive approach was simply not possible.

Back to the ElBaradei campaign's potential. The sense that I get is that most of his prominent supporters are focusing on the potential for ElBaradei to be a symbol, a loudspeaker for the Egyptian opposition's near-universal agreement on what needs to be changed in the country: an end to emergency laws and the police state, constitutional reform to make politics competitive, and an end to the Mubarak family's role in politics. It's not much more complicated than that, and the question of whether ElBaradei will, or even can, run for president really seems secondary to them. The same can be said for ElBaradei himself from the interviews he's given so far: he systematically downplays the prospect of his candidacy in favor of talking about systemic problems, going just short of criticizing Mubarak directly.

Read More

The Campaign for ElBaradei

Poster for the ElBaradei Campaign

Two days ago we went to the office of a small NGO in Downtown Cairo to meet Abdel RahmanYoussef, the poet, television presenter and activist who is being the campaign to draft Mohamed ElBaradei. Youssef and a handful of others are using the office as a temporary HQ for the ElBaradei campaign, and were busy preparing today's welcome at Cairo Airport. 

So far, most of their work has been online: they are the people behind the "ElBaradei for President" website and the Facebook group that has, to date, 65,775 members and is growing at up to 2,000 members a day. But they've also been preparing for the return of Egypt's prodigal son. Versed in activist training seminars, they trained 120 people to manage today's gathering at Cairo Airport. Each person will be responsible for maintaining orders, leading the welcoming committee, and organizing attendance. They hope to have anything from several hundred to several thousand in attendance.

The problem is that it's not clear that the authorities will allow that. A lot of different scenarios to deflate the welcoming committee are possible. ElBaradei's flight — currently scheduled for 3pm on Flight 863 at Terminal 3 (although strangely it's not listed on today's arrivals list for Cairo Airport) — could be delayed. It could be diverted to another terminal, or to the VIP area of the airport where it would be far from the welcoming committee. There was a rumor going yesterday that police would impose an on-the-spot LE1,000 fine to anyone going to the airport to see ElBaradei. They could bar people without a ticket coming in, or do countless other things. Youssef, though, thought that media attention and the fact that it's ElBaradei meant the authorities would not prevent the meeting — "ElBaradei is a headache for the regime, they're not sure how to handle it," he told us. I am less sanguine, and as I head to the airport in a few hours I am not expecting an easy ride (although as a journalist I may have better luck than ElBaradei supporters.)

The ElBaradei campaign people have been in touch with their man, although they won't say how much. But it's an independent initiative, they are not being run by ElBaradei himself. I did not get a clear sense of whether they think they will join an "official" movement behind ElBaradei, or what ElBaradei intend to do beyond media appearances such as yesterday's interview with the prominent broadcaster Ahmed al-Muslimani on Dream TV. I couldn't watch the interview, but Zeinobia liked it. We'll put up the YouTube video when it comes out, and there is a preview of another interview with the generally anti-ElBaradei Amr Adib here. In America, Foreign Policy is planning to run the full interview it excerpted a few weeks ago.

The ElBaradei Campaign's ink stampThe important thing for the ElBaradei campaign, I was told, is to move from online activism to the street. "We can't have an impact unless we have hundreds of people standing behind Dr. ElBaradei," Youssef explained. He expressed impatience with the 6 April youth who were arrested a couple of days ago for spraying "ElBaradei 2011" graffiti in several Cairo neighborhoods over the past few weeks, feeling they made themselves easy targets. But he had his own thought for viral marketing: he has made and distributed ink stamps with the ElBaradei campaign logo and told me the story of this restaurant owner who, at the end of the day, stamps all of his cash with the stamp. The idea is to get money circulating to advertise the campaign.

What is not clear is what's next: will ElBaradei start campaigning immediately — not the presidency, but rather for constitutional change? Will he try to recruit opinion shapers and politicians? What does he have in mind as a way to implement what he's calling for? Will he go out and visit different places in Egypt, make public appearances, or stay aloof as a symbol rather than a politician? I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Abdel Rahman YoussefOne note of interest: Youssef is the son of Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, the Qatar-based former Muslim Brother and perhaps the most influential Sunni thinker of our time. He doesn't like to be associated with his father (and probably won't be happy reading this), and I think he leans to the left rather than Islamism. He's been active in political circles at least since the invasion of Iraq, and was an early Kifaya backer. He's an impressive figure, very serious-minded and conscious of the limitations he operates under and what he needs to do get traction on the ground for his campaign. He seems to have learned lessons from the Kifaya importance and is adamant about the importance of getting ordinary people (rather than intellectuals) joining the campaign. He's done great work recruiting prominent personalities such as Alaa al-Aswany (who recently wrote an article in al-Shorouk urging people to welcome ElBaradei) to publicize it. His father could end up being a liability, and that would be a shame: Youssef deserves a lot of the credit for getting people excited about ElBaradei's return, and points out that ElBaradei announced his interest in returning to Egypt and competing for the presidency (or changing the political system only two days after they launched their campaign to draft him.

I will be posting updates from the airport on Twitter and may post here too. Stay tuned.

Sponsored links:

Enjoy the real success with 642-279 and 70-576 exam dumps online training programs. Also prepare for next level with quality of testking ccnp dumps, testking 642-437 certification guide and testking JN0-101.

Boutef 4 Life

MERIP has a piece on the upcoming Algerian presidential elections, highlighting that now, across North Africa, rulers are in place for life: Middle East Report Online: Introducing Algeria’s President-for-Life by Ahmed Aghrout and Yahia H. Zoubir:
"Until recently, Algeria was the North African exception -- Article 74 of its 1996 constitution set two five-year terms as the limit on the mandate of a given president. On November 12, 2008, however, the parliament voted overwhelmingly to approve several constitutional amendments, the most important of which removed the stipulations of Article 74. This far-reaching amendment opened the way for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to run for a third successive term, as he will do on April 9, despite his poor health and controversial performance. Algerians are convinced that, as in Tunisia or Egypt, the result of this election is a foregone conclusion. Like Qaddafi, Bouteflika and his supporters have grounded their campaign for constitutional revision in notions of popular sovereignty. Because Algerians have elected Bouteflika twice, the regime’s story goes, they should not be hindered by a mere piece of paper like the constitution from keeping him around for life. Like its North African counterparts, the Algerian regime claims that it has jump-started economic development so remarkable that the people insist they remain in office to complete the task. Meanwhile, the removal of term limits has ended any semblance of constitutional checks and balances in Algeria."
Amidst massive apathy and rejection of this sham electoral process, Bouteflika has an interest in getting as high a turnout as possible to legitimize his continued rule as "the people's will." He recently plumbed new depths, as Le Quotidien d'Algerie reports, by urging the masses to get out the vote and "make him blush in front of the foreigners":
Hier, lors de son meeting de guelma, le président-candidat-président Bouteflika a exhorté la population à voter massivement et à le faire rougir devant l’opinion internationale. Oui, oui! Il a dit exactement ceci: ” Faites moi rougir le visage devant les étrangers en allant voter en masse!” En fait, le terme “hamrouli wadjhi” dans notre parler algérien signifie exactement le contraire de sa traduction en français. “Faites-moi rougir le visage”, en derdja, veut dire faites moi rougir de plaisir, c’est à dire ne m’humiliez pas en boycottant ce vote, plébiscitez moi! Mais au délà de ces nuances de langage, nous découvrons, si nous ne le savions déjà, que tout ce qui compte pour Bouteflika et le régime qui l’a béni, est l’opinion que se font de lui les opinions internationales. Le peuple algérien est le dernier de ses soucis. Une vraie république couscoussière!
My translation:
Yesterday, during his rally in Guelma, the president-candidate-president Bouteflika urged the populace to vote massively and to make him blush in front of international public opinion. Yes, yes! He said this exactly: "Make my face blush in front of the foreigners by going to vote in numbers!" In fact, the term hamrouli wadjhi in our Algerian dialect signifies exactly the opposite as the French expression. "Make my face blush" in Derdja (dialect) means "make me blush with pleasure," that is, "do not humiliate me by boycotting this election, but rather elect me by an overwhelming majority." Beyond the nuances of this discourse, we discover - we knew already - that the only thing that counts for Bouteflika and the regime that has backed him is international opinion. The Algerian people are the least of his worries. [We are] a couscous republic!
Who will rid us of these decrepit old men...
Read More