CAIRO, July 30 (AFP) - With Hosni Mubarak's re-election a foregone conclusion, the toughest battle of Egypt's first contested presidential poll is being fought over party symbols, a major vote-winner in a country where illiteracy is rampant. Each candidate wishing to run in the September 7 election for the country's top job has to choose the symbol that will appear alongside his name on the ballots.
But only one will be allowed to use the coveted moon crescent (hilal in Arabic), an Islamic symbol several candidates, including to the two frontrunners, want as the logo for their campaign.
Ayman Nur, who heads the Ghad (Tomorrow) party and is presented as the most serious obstacle to President Mubarak's re-election, was the first to enter the electoral commission when it opened on Friday.
He registered his candidacy and therefore claimed his right to using the Islamic crescent as his symbol.
Yet Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party, which has used the crescent as its symbol in previous elections, claimed that the president's lawyer, Mohammed Dakruri, was the first to register at the electoral commission.
An AFP photographer at the commission said Mubarak's representative did not show up until several hours after Nur completed his registration process. "It's a huge scandal, the crescent is ours," Nur's wife and spokeswoman Gamila Ismail told AFP. She added that if her husband was barred from using the crescent, he would opt for the palm tree.
Three other candidates who were less swift to file their candidacies also chose the crescent: Osama Shaltut, Sabri Abdel Aziz and Wahed al-Uksuri, all of them representing minor parties.So it seems the electoral commission, which has been accused of being stacked by presidential cronies, has its first scandal. Let's see how it resolves it.
Correction: It was Wael Khalil and not Kamal Khalil who was arrested earlier, the wires got it wrong. I received this email, originally by the Weekly's Amira Howeidy, this morning:
Anti-Mubarak demonstration attacked by police
Central Cairo was a military zone today. Armies of anti-riot police and goons dressed in civilian clothing made sure no demonstration took place today. When I arrived in Tahrir square at 5:45 pm, it was evident from the unsually high volume of security forces (special forces, anti-riot police and others) on every single street, square, building and every platform in tahrir and all the streets that lead up to it.
It was around just beofre 7pm when saw police officers order these thugs to arrest "him" in Bab El-Luq st. Him turned out to be my friend and brave activist Wael Khalil. I wrote a mini profile of him a couple of weeks ago here.
Kifaya big names like Amin Iskandar and George Ishak were arrest in front of the Nasserist Party headquarters but releasted a couple of hours later. By the time I got there at around 6, there were hundreds of thugs running in organized groups and arresting lots of young men. Anti-riot police stood there watching while high ranking police officers issued their ordrers to the thugs (who were armed with short but thick truncheons).
I've never seen anything like this before. Not even on 21 March 2003 when thugs were set loose on the demonstrators in downtown cairo. The Security apparatus today has announced its new election policy which obviously wont tolerate demosntrations- at any cost.
Until writing this email, Wael and other activists were still in detention.
O'REILLY: Now, the problem that many of us — I'm a Christian. I'm a Catholic. And the problem that we have is that our enemy, our primary enemy, is centered around Allah. And most media people sweep that under the carpet.
O'REILLY: But if Islam didn't exist, there wouldn't be a war on terror. That's the fact. Now, we know that Islam has been hijacked by extremists and that most Muslims aren't terrorists and don't wish us ill. We know that. But how do you deal with an enemy that is religious-centric?None of this is a surprise, of course, but what pisses me off the most about this exchange is that O'Reilly comes back to is obsession media conspiracy to hide the fact that the people behind recent acts of terrorism are Muslims. Does he live on a different planet? Is the American media really hiding the religion of the perpetrators? I seem to remember cover pictures of Muslims with the headlines "Why do they hate us?" right after 11 September. The funny thing is, as I went to read the transcript of interview, the sidebar on the Fox News site had the following link to a video: If you can find the segment (there's no way to link directly to it), watch it. It's incredible in that you actually have Bill O'Reilly saying things like:
"Why does Britain let so many Muslims - if you go to London, Edgware Road and other areas of London - it's just packed with dense Muslim neighborhood , which just breed this kind of contempt for Western society. Why do they let them in?"You can catch the whole segment if you go the page linked above. Pretty sickening.
Brothers and sisters,
I speak to you today from the Al-Masa'ee al-Mashkoura School in the Menoufeya Governorate where I completed my high school education. I speak to you after a short visit to Quowesna where I made a stop at the emergency hospital and was informed about the renovations made to the Central Hospital. I was delighted to see proof of the attention we devote to upgrading our educational and health care system. I was especially pleased to see these real-life examples occuring in the Egyptian countryside and serving its people, proof ouf our dedication to promoting out rural communities and upgrading the services and infrastructure available to both Upper and Lower Egyptian governorates. This includes our programme that aims at gradually finalising the planning zones for our villages so as to absorb the population increase in a way that strikes a balance between meeting the citizen's demands and right to housing, while protecting our wealth of agricultural land.
The great satisfaction I felt with what I saw today is, however, marred by a deep occupation with the current status of the Arab regioon, the critical phase that is passing through, and the worrisome developments it witnesses. Namely; the recent developments on the Palestinian level, the situation in Iraq and the many challenges that might drive the region to dangerous paths.
There exists now an urgent need to formulate a common Arab vision with regards to these developments and their ramifications upon the causes and supreme interests of our Arab states and peoples.
With this in mind, and in the framework of consultations and coordination with our brotherly Arab leaders and the contacts made by the Arab League, I hereby call for a convening of an extraordinary Arab summit, suggest to convene it in Sharm el Sheikh on Wednesday 3rd of August and that it be preceeded by a meeting of Arab foreign ministers on the day before, to consider a report by the secretary general on the current situation in the region and the formulation of a common Arab stance towards the dangers and challenges facing our nation. I am fully confident that this coming extraordinary summit will be capable of crystallizing a strong Arab position that reflects the determination of the Arab states and peoples to overcome the current challenges, and to achieve the peace and stability that all Arabs long for.
Brother and Sisters,
While on my way down here, I recalled the memories of Kafr Moselha and my first steps on a long and difficult road. Kafr Moselha was, at the beginning of the 20th century, a rare example of an Egyptian village that challenged illiteracy and prevailed, to such an extent that the people of Al-Menofeya took to calling it Kafr Paris. Joint efforts form the villages high and middle classes were combined to provide education for its lower income population, until no one was left illiterate. This was achieved at a time in our contemporary history that witnessed the marginalization of the overwhelming majority of the Egyptian people in the villages of both Upper and Lower Egypt, and their ensuing deprivation from health care and educational services.
When I joined the Al-Masa'ee al-Mashkoura high school in Shibeen el Kom to complete my education .. I experienced yet another example of solidarity: the active contribution of Egyptian civil society and its NGOs. The Al-Masa'ee al-Mashkoura Society was the pioneer of all Non-governmental organisations in Egypt, created by the principal landowners of al-Menoufeya on 1829, opening its high-school-the fifth school established in Egypt - in Shibeen el Kom in 1904. The Society has then established elementary schools in all the cities in al-Menoufeya, amongst them the first elementary school for girls in the governorate, preceded in Egypt only by al-Saneya girls' school in Cairo. This leading NGO was built through efforts and contributions from a number of honest and loyal Egyptians such as Abdel Aziz Abou Hussein, Ahmed Abdel-Ghafaar, Mohamed Elwy al-Gazar, and Abdel- Aziz Habib. Its activities were met by the needs of a society hungry for science and education, both of which had only ever been accessible to a limited affluent citizens.
I reminisced about memories of el-Sheikh Ga'far Quran School; the mosque of Abdel Aziz Fahmy; the view of the fields at the time of cotton harvest and the three kilometre journey that I used to traverse in order to reach this reputable school where we met today. Many things have changed in Quowesna and Shibeen el Kom and the roads leading to it. The narrow alleys have been transfomed into wide streets, and the sandy, beaten paths have been replace by a modern network of developed roads. Electrical power, water, sewage, telephone lines, health care and educational services have become indispensable necessities, and lead to legitimate aspirations for more.
I recall all this ... and more. I remember where we have been, and see where we have come and for that I thank God. What I saw today is an example of many other accomplishments that we have achieved, in hamlets, villages, towns and cities, all over the different governortaes of Egypt. I recall the long journey we have made together and the countless accomplishments we have achieved.
With this in mind, I take more pride in our present and greater certainity in our future. I am filled with a stronger belief in our ability to create a brighter future for our children and our grand children. I am more convinced of the significance of the role that civil society and NGO's can play as partners in building this future; a role that we urgently need in our society today. A role that is guided and inspired by those great figures of Egypt who have contributed both physical effort and money establishing their own educational institutions in al-Monoufeya 50 years before the first government school was established in this governorate.
Brothers and sisters ...
I owe much to this respectable school from where I speak to you today. I owe much to the early years of my childhood in Kafr Moselha. I have upheld the principles and values that I learned here throughout my life. I upheld them when I left to Cairo after attending high school. I upheld them in my mind and in my heart, when I joined the Military Academy and the Airforce Academy thereafter. Throughout my service in the Armed Forces and the battles we fought, I have become as much a part of these principles and values as they have become a part of me. I have upheld these scruples untill, and since the moment I assumed political responsibility, first as vice president, then as the president of Egypt.
I have witnessed firsthand the Egyptian peasant's string attachment to his land, and have borne in my heart a deep conviction of its sanctity and the necessity of defending it, even if doing so requires sacrificing everything that is dear.
My admiration for the endeavours and activities of Al Masa'ee al Mashkoura society in serving the people of Al Menoufiya turned into a strong desire to contribute with similar effort in serving the Egyptians nationwide. My love for Egypt was inspired by the history lessons taught in my old school; lessons I took while the country was still under foreign occupation.
From that moment on. I dreamt of Egypt ridding itself of the occupation once and of all, and return to its old glory ad the days of its renaissance and rich civilisation. I experienced at my home, my school, and the mosque of Kafr Moselha the spirit of true and tolerant Islam, deepening within me my conviction of the importance of national unity between Egyptian Muslims and Copts and that religion is for God and the nation for all.
I have seen the Egyptian peasant wearing his blue galabiya, I have witnessed the el qersh project to overcome barefoot phenomenon, and through that I have become dedicated to tackling the plight of the poor. I was inspired by his perservance and resilience in cultivating his land through hot summers and cold winters, which instilled in me the values of persistence and determination. I have learned in this school, and over the years, that our fate is in our hands and not in the hands of random chance and luck. I have learned the crucial difference between trusting God and passivity.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have passed together through difficult years, faced many challenges and accomplished many achievements. We completed the liberation of Sinai, refused any compromise on Taba, and thus regained every inch of our national territory. We waged, and continue to wage, a battle against terrorism and extremism, with the threat they represent to the stability of our nation and the lives, livelihoods and unity of our sons. We restore our relations with the sisterly Arab countries, and the headquarters of the Arab League found its way back to Cairo. We forged ties of friendship and cooperation with all countries based on equality and mutual respect. We preserved the peace and avoided being drawn into situations that could threaten it. We were not dragged into adventures that would jeopardise the lives and prosperity of this nation's sons. We did not acquiesce to the policies of alliances or axes. We refused any foreign presence on Egyptian soil. In our relations with the nations of the world, and with the only remaining superpower, we were steadfast in preserving Egypt's sovereignty and independent will. We moved with confidence and determination in our support for the Palestinian cause, and assuming Egypt's responsibilities and leading role in the region.
On the education front, twenty million students were enlisted in pre-university and university education in more than 35,000 schools and more than 500 faculties and higher institutions. The number of tourists that flock to Egypt yearly is now eight times the number it once was. To show our deep and sincere concern for, responsibility towards people with limited income, we have maintained commodity, fuel and electric subsidies, so that prices of such goods remain within their reach. We have expanded our social security network. At this point in time, 52 per cent of our population is covered by health insurance, more than 18 million citizens are covered by social insurance, and 9 million families are covered by pensions and the social security network. We have accomplished all this and what is more, we have accomplished this over two decades that have witnessed a population increase of thirty million.
All this, we have experienced together, and all the while I have had a firm belief that paths of political, economic, and social reform are inseparable. I have always been convinced of the need for political reform to continuously develop the institutional framework for our political system.
My conviction in this regard emanates from a vision that has constantly accompanied me since the first day I assumed office; a vision that foresaw a modern Egypt; free citizens in a democratic society; a society that expands the scope of liberties and enhances the participation of its citizens in political life; a society that builds a democracy the pillars and practice of which are enhanced day after day. We have succeeded in establishing the main pillars of a democratic system; institutional and legal frameworks that ensure the constitutional supervision through the Supreme Constitutional Court; that guarantee the independence of the judiciary and uphold the rule of law; enhance political pluralism and participation; protect civil rights and liberities; protect human rights; and open the way for a free press that enjoys the right to free expression for all political viewpoints in society.
Brothers and Sisters,
Before God and the nation, and before you, I feel satisfied with all that we have accomplished together towards these goals. However, we should not loose sight of what remains before us to achieve. We still have problems and challenges that demand greater efforts; poor citizens who need our help; youth who expect job opportunities; education that needs further improvement. We need more schools, hospitals, and social services. We need more reforms for our economic system, and our constitutional and legislative framework. We still have before us many challenges and much hard work to be done. What compounds the critical nature of the coming phase are the worrying developments in our region, and the ongoing unprecedented global transformations, as well as the forces of terrorism that continue to threaten us.
We are approaching a new and critical phase, a decisive juncture in our contemporary history; a critical turning point in our national endeavor that presents fateful choices for the future; a choice between moving our journey forward, or halting its progress; a choice that affirms our progress towards completing our democracy or hindering it; a choice between enhancing the strength of Egypt and accelerating our steps towards the future, or faltering through hesitation. It will be for Egypt's people to make their decision on these choices during the upcoming Presidential and Parliamentary elections.
I am confident of the choice I favor. I choose a strong and democratic Egypt; an Egypt that strives towards the future with free Egyptians. I choose to cross a new threshold that is now before us, and to complete the journey that our people started and continued thourgh the last fifty years.
My vision for the future will be realized with steps that will conclude the development of our democracy. This vision will be realized with yet further constitutional and legislative reforms based upon a strong foundation of public rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution. Our constitutional provisions have established a system of rights and freedoms guaranteed to all citizens according to the standards universally acknowledged in the international human rights instruments. We will always adhere to this system. Our constitutional provisions uphold the rule of law, equal rights and obligations for all, respect for personal freedoms and sancity of private life. These provisions have ensured religious freedoms, freedom of expression, and other basic freedoms. Amending article 76 of the constitution came to emphasize its preeminence, to entrench the Republican system, to strengthen its pillars and to open new doors for further complementary constitutional and legislative reforms.
This amendment has taken us to the threshold of a new stage, where we can implement these reforms according to a vision based upon principles stemming from a deep conviction of the necessities and requirements of this stage. I spoke of these principles here in Menooufeya when I first requested the amendment earlier this year. Now that I have announced my intention to apply for nomination and run for president in the coming elections, and should I gain the support and mandate of the people for a new term, I will work with the Parliament in order to adopt the constitutional and legislative amendments necessary for the realization of this vision with all the reform it requires, within the context of a national dialogue that I call for and encourage.
These reform will reshape the relationship between the legislative and executive authorities in a way that creates a greater balance between them and strenghtens the Palliament's role in ensuring oversight and accountability.
The reforms will also reinforce the cabinet's role, widen its mandate, and further the scope of government participation with the president in the duties of the executive authority.
These constitutional and legislative reforms will provide the best electoral system which guarantees an increased chance for party representation in our representative councils, and will consolidate the presence and representation of women in parliament.
I aim to work on constitutional and legislative reforms that will bring about a new and enhanced concept for local administration; strengthening its powers and furthering decentralisation.
I shall seek constitutional reforms that give us the right to choose the country's economic activity , social justice, property rights in all their forms and work rights.
I shall put forward constitutional rights to choose the country's economic orientation, while simultaneously maintaining free economic activity, social justice, property rights in all its forms, and work rights.
I shall put forward constitutional reforms that will entail further checks on the poweres of president, under the constitution during times of threat which endanger the safety of the nation or hinder its institutions from performing their constitutional functions
Fellow Citizens ...
The present constant threats of terrorism require constitutional and legislative reforms that will enable the community to protect its children, its gains, and its future by the rule and deciciveness of law. Thus far, we have had to work under the emergency law due to tragic circumstances that we are all aware of.
The necessity for such a law has prevailed in light of the need to counter a terrorism that still besieges us, targets the souls of our citizens, terrifies our people and harms our national economy. I renew my vow to you that the nation's security and safety of its citizens will remain at the top of my priorities.
Our battle against terrorism and the threat it represents to the people and future of Egypt will preserve. We will continue to confront terrorism with all our persistence and determination, never faltering and never relinquishing the nation's security and stability.
The emergency law has, to a great extent, minimised terrorist threats and helped preempt many terrorist plans during the past years. Many country's have recently passed comprehensive laws to combat terrorism. Time is ripe for us to follow suite during the upcoming period. There is a need for a firm and a decisive law that eliminates terrorism and uproots its threats. A law that protects national security and ensures stability. A law that provides a legislative substitute to combat terrorism and replace the current emergency law.
This vision I propose goes beyond this primary priority of political reform to deal with other priorities and problems. Unemployment, housing, prices, means of transport, cost of medical care and medications, sufferings of the retired and those who live in slums. I am not offering words and promises, but a pledge to implement this vision.
Achieving national goals takes more than words and promises. Words do not defeat terrorism, can not offer jobs. Words cannot build a school or a hospital, neither can they build a free democratic society. I am committed to continue building a modern society; a growing economy; free citizens in a democratic nation. A police force that enforces law and respect human rights. A strong Egypt, proud of its armed forces, stability, modernity, regional role and international high standing. Proud of its institutions and competitiveness.
I'm committed to continuing economic and social development that ensures job creation for the youth, higher income for the families, a decent life for the retired and better services for the citizens. Together we shape a new tomorrow that supports the aspirations of the middle class, protect the vulnerable, supports women and single parents and secure the future of our sons and grand sons.
I will seek to gain your trust and support for a new term. Should you bestow upon me the honour of continuing to lead the next phase of our journey, we will embark together on the next stage, with its transformations, challenges and hopes, confident that we are on the right path.
We will never compromise on the security and stability of the nation.
We will guard its supreme interests and its free will. We will never permit a foreign presence on our soil or external interference in our affairs. We will not be dragged into gambling with Egypt's security or the lives and future of its people. We will not surrender to the threat of terrorism or appease it. We will not compromise on the safety and security of our citizens.
Together we will complete the tenets of our democracy and the liberalisation of our economy. We will preserve the gains of our farmers and workers, while protecting the needy. We will open the doors of prosperity and employment for our youth. We shall affirm Egypt's role, both in the region and worldwide. We will pave the way for our future generations to raise the banner of a nation that has found its way towards the future; generations ready to take their turn to lead.
I extend my hand to you, renewing my pledge to God, to the nation and each and every one of you, to be as you have always known me, faithful to the interests of Egypt, able to shoulder this responsibility with dedication and integrity, discharging its duties and bearing its burdens with honour and sincerity.
Your troubles are my troubles, your concerns are my concerns, your ambitions are my ambitions, We are joined by a common vision for a future that holds prosperity for all, and a journey that we embarked upon together and will conclude with the help and the blessing of God Almighty.
When you were asked today at the Cairo address about the Muslim Brotherhood, your response was also that the United States will not engage with this group. Yet, the Muslim Brotherhood has, for a generation now, renounced terrorism and, in fact, last year issued an 11-page statement of principles in which it embraced parliamentary democracy, free elections and even universal suffrage. So how can you reconcile the refusal to engage at all with this group with the reasoning that you give for not engaging with, say, Hamas -- Hamas and Hezbollah?Or this comment by Bush when asked about Hezbollah: "I like the idea of people running for office. It's a positive effect when you run for office." Or this comment by Condi Rice: "I don't mean to underestimate the impact of radical Islamists having a say in the political process, but remember that the political process also has an effect on those who run in it."
The allusion is often made to America's failures in Vietnam; the better analogy is the Russians in Afghanistan. A generation has passed, and the Americans in Baghdad in 2005 have become like the Russians in Kabul in 1985 - mighty foreign warriors, armed to the teeth, technologically superior, full of determination and staying power, clear on their mission and their resolve, willing to kill hundreds at a time ... but unable to walk into a local grocery store and buy a chocolate bar from the people they are trying to liberate and protect.A very apt analogy, and a rather worrying one considering the failure to win the Afghan war was perhaps one of the biggest factors in the downfall of the Soviet Union.