The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The third round

I'm off to Alexandria for the weekend, so no further posts until Sunday. In the meantime, here's a collection of of links to coverage of the third round of elections, which seemed just as violent as the second:

Violence mars Egyptian elections (BBC)
Tempers flare as final Egypt election showdown kicks off (AFP)
Egypt's Parliamentary Vote Marred by Violence, Intimidation (VOA)
Police block voting in Egypt (Reuters)

Police Block Polling Stations in Egypt (AP)
Police fire on Egyptian voters (CNN)
And the some stuff to mull over during the weekend:

Arabs should not exclude Islamist parties - Albright
DUBAI, Nov 28 (Reuters) - The United States should not back "sham" reforms in the Arab world which continue to isolate powerful Islamist opposition, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on Monday.

"It would be a mistake to exclude Islamist parties on the assumption they are inherently undemocratic or prone to violence," she said in a statement released shortly before her appearance at a conference in the United Arab Emirates.

"The best way to marginalise violent extremists is to make room for as broad a range of non-violent perspectives as possible."


"The system he (President Hosni Mubarak) is recommending would make it virtually impossible for truly independent parties to participate. Sham democracy should be exposed for what it truly is," Albright said.
State Department Daily Press Briefing, 1 December:
QUESTION: I have a question about the Egyptian elections. It's becoming more and more violent. There was one dead and 70 wounded today when the police shot demonstrators in front of the polling station. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have -- we are concerned about the violence that has surrounded recent -- recent phases of the Egyptian electoral process. This is the third and final round that began today. There's also, I think, going to be some runoff elections after this round as well. But these elections are overall an important step on Egypt's path towards democratic reform.

As I have said before, we are concerned that these -- that violence has intruded upon these elections. As I have said before, it is the responsibility of the Egyptian Government to provide an atmosphere for all Egyptians where they feel free to express their will at the ballot box in a peaceful manner; that they don't feel threat, intimidation or they are not barred from voting. It is important that the Egyptian Government provide that atmosphere for all of its citizens and I am sure that the Egyptian Government is committed to providing that environment. We have talked to the Egyptian Government on -- about this issue and we expect that any government would want to provide an environment where their citizens can feel free to express, peacefully, their will at -- through the ballot box.

QUESTION: Did you have the contact with them recently about that? It seems the last --

MR. MCCORMACK: I know that -- I know that this has been part of an ongoing discussion. I don't know exactly when our last contact with them has been on this issue, but I know we have been -- we have talked to them recently about this issue.

QUESTION: And do you plan to engage more aggressively with them on that? Are you going to send somebody there or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Ultimately, these are, you know, it's not the United States that creates this environment in Egypt; it's the Egyptian Government -- you know, the environment where people can fell free to cast a ballot. So that's the responsibility of the Egyptian Government. But what we can do is continue to focus on the importance of the Egyptian Government providing that kind of environment.

QUESTION: Despite the worsening violence, you're still convinced the Egyptian Government's committed to providing the atmosphere that you want. Does that mean then that they're just not capable of doing it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Saul, I'm sure that they want the same thing that everybody does and that is an environment where everybody can express their peaceful free will through the ballot box. This is an important step in the democratic reform process for Egypt as its political class undergoes changes as a result of elections. Elections can have a transformative effect, we believe on the political classes. It's a positive development.

So we're sure that the Egyptian Government shares the desire to provide that kind of environment, that sort of peaceful environment for this election, to unfold.

QUESTION: But no, I understand that you are sure that that's what they want. What's happening is that isn't happening. There's no -- there hasn't been the provision of a peaceful environment. And so do you assess why not?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think at this point, Saul, we have expressed our concerns to the Egyptian Government, concerning the violence that has intruded upon these elections. And we have emphasized to them that it is important that they act to create the kind of peaceful environment -- environment that is important for free and democratic elections.

QUESTION: Can I follow-up?


QUESTION: I mean, are you sure? I mean, does this cast doubt upon the Egyptian Government's true commitment to peaceful and free and fair elections?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that we have not received, at this point, any indication that the Egyptian Government isn't interested in having peaceful, free and fair elections. I remember back many months ago, when the Secretary was in Egypt. She had a press conference with Foreign Minister Gheit. He, at that point, expressed his will and his desire that there be free and fair elections in Egypt, and that was with respect to presidential elections, but I would expect that that expression and that desire continues through these parliamentary elections as well.


QUESTION: Do you acknowledge, Sean, that there is a disconnect your assessment -- that you're convinced they want a peaceful election and the fact that there isn't one -- a peaceful election?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that what I would say at this point, Saul, we are working on the ground to understand the exact circumstances of some of these events, the violence that has taken the place, the arrests -- some of the arrests that have taken place. I don't think we have a full picture of that yet so I couldn't really offer you a complete assessment at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. It just seems a bit like Elise was saying, there's probably just two ways of looking this: There isn't a peaceful environment because they're just incapable of providing it because they can't control their own security force so they can't control protests. Or if it's not that, it's that they're aren't actually -- they're not actually committed to a peaceful process, even though that's what they are telling you and even though that's what you're convinced about. So considering that second option is a possibility, are you at all concerned that they're pulling the wool over your eyes?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think at this point we want to understand the circumstances of the violence. I don’t think that I can -- standing here -- tell you that we have a complete understanding of the arrests -- some of the arrests that have taken place and of the violence that has taken place. We're working to understand that better. And I think that once we have an understanding -- a better understanding of that, some of the facts, then we can offer a more complete assessment about the elections as a whole is -- you know, we have spoken, I think pretty forcefully and forthrightly about the fact that it is important that these elections -- that the Egyptian Government act to create a peaceful environment.

But let's not lose sight of the fact that this is part of a democratic reform process that is advancing in Egypt. You had multiparty presidential candidate elections. You now have partway through or nearing the end of parliamentary elections in Egypt, you know, in which a number of independents have won seats. I think -- I haven't checked the record books, but I think this is one of the biggest gains of independent seats in the history of Egyptian parliamentary elections. So that is significant. You see an opening of the political process in Egypt. That is positive. So while these -- while these -- some of this violence is concerning, and while some of -- there are questions concerning some of the arrests that have taken place, let's not lose sight of the fact that this is a -- that these elections overall represent an important step in the democratic reform process in Egypt.

QUESTION: I take your point that there's a bigger context to all this. There's some advances that you are noting. But I just want to speak about the part that's concerning you, which is the violence. You say you're looking for complete understanding, but there have been three rounds and there have been observers, international observers giving their assessments. There have been records, public records of the number of people arrested and you say it's pretty obvious that the arrests target the Muslim Brotherhood. They're the vast majority of arrests. So why is it so tardy? Why are you taking so long to make your assessment? There's plenty of evidence out there.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that, you know, our people on the ground are working hard to gather the facts. Concerning -- you know, concerning the arrest, as I said, I don't have all the facts concerning these arrests, but I think putting aside the specific case of Egypt, I think that we would say that we would be concerned about any use of a law, wherever it may be, in whatever election, any use of law by a government specifically and -- applying that law specifically in order to impede the peaceful political expression of people trying to participate in an electoral process.

So I think as a general principle, certainly we would have any misapplication -- concerns about any misapplication of the law. Now, specifically with respect to Egypt, I don't -- again, I can't attest to the particular facts concerning these arrests. I know that others have made claims, others have spoken out about this issue. But based on the information I have here, I cannot provide you a full picture concerning the particular -- the particulars of those arrests.

If and when we do have a more full picture concerning the violence or the arrests, I'd be pleased to share that with you.

QUESTION: Well, that's quite a noteworthy juxtaposition. We weren't asking about any law and you decided to talk about things more generally, but in the context of the Egyptian election you talk about the misapplication of the law --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I didn't talk about it in terms of --

QUESTION: No, you said --

MR. MCCORMACK: What I said --

QUESTION: You juxtaposed the two. You said --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I said -- I said as a general principle and I said putting aside the Egyptian elections. So I want to make it clear that I was making a very clear distinction. I wasn't making a judgment at this point concerning the Egyptian elections.

QUESTION: I agree. I agree that's what you're doing, but nevertheless you chose to take this public diplomacy into an arena about misapplication of laws that could impede fair elections or peaceful elections. So I'm asking you: Is there a misapplication of the law in Egypt at the moment in these targeted arrests?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I get back to my -- the first part of my answer in which I talked about the fact that I did not have the particulars surrounding these arrests, particular facts surrounding these arrests.

QUESTION: You don't think in Egypt, particularly with the Egyptian authorities, your juxtaposition will echo, will resonate, just the way it has done with me?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to try to speak to how any particular individual might react. I was making a very general point about our views about elections and how we would expect any election around the world, wherever it may be, to unfold.
I'm off to eat fish.