The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged elections
On Israel's elections

Yonatan Mendel in the London Review of Books:

All Jewish parties in Israel (except Meretz, which is against the occupation and is as progressive as its Zionist boundaries allow it to be) share a desire to show that they have the guts to stand up for Israel vis-à-vis international law, and that they are anti-Arab. Netanyahu is a maestro at the first, with his great effort to demonstrate that he doesn’t give a damn about the Israel-US relationship. He insisted on speaking to Congress when no one from Obama to Aipac wanted him there, because back home it meant the world to him: the message was that he is tough and doesn’t answer to anybody. Bennett is quite good at this too. He recently released a video in which he walks through Tel Aviv dressed as a hipster with a long fake ginger beard. Everywhere he goes he says: ‘Oh sorry, I am so sorry, oh sorry, indeed, forgive me, I am so sorry’ – a joke at the expense of Israeli leftists who apologise too much to the international community for Israel’s ongoing violations of international law. Lieberman did his best to follow the act, but his performance was too blunt. Following an attack by Hizbullah on Israel’s northern border (a response to an Israeli attack that killed 12 people, among them an Iranian general and Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of a former Hizbullah commander), Lieberman said that ‘Israel’s response should be harsh and disproportionate.’ Livni and Herzog also wish to be seen as being as patriotic and Zionist as possible. They’ve all but dropped the name of Herzog’s party and are campaigning as the Zionist Union. This evocative name both alienates Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel and signals to the world that the Israeli ‘alternative’ has nothing new to offer, not even its vocabulary. To make sure of being properly anti-democratic, Livni and Herzog decided to join the usual game of trying to disqualify an Arab MK, in this case Haneen Zoabi, from running for parliament. Knowing the proposal would never be approved by the Supreme Court not only figured in their calculations but encapsulated a hidden dream. They knew that in Israel in 2015, if the Supreme Court throws you off the staircase, it can only do you good.
Displays of anti-Arab sentiment are a vital part of any election campaign. A straightforwardly anti-Semitic video was recently released by the Samaria Residents’ Council, a settler group, in which money-grabbing Jewish-Israeli leftists are seen receiving donations from Europeans depicted as Nazis. ‘For them you will always remain a Jew,’ the video says, trying to show that the Europeans who support human rights movements and joint Jewish-Arab initiatives in Israel are neo-Nazis. In another election video, Sharon Gal, a candidate for Lieberman’s party, is seen dressed as a gardener uprooting weeds from the Israeli garden. He calls the weeds by the names of Arab MKs: ‘Here I uproot an intrusive Tibi … and here I uproot a poisonous Zahalka.’ Lieberman himself came up with a fine uprooting slogan: ‘Ariel for Israel, Umm al-Fahm for Palestine’ (in other words, annex the city-settlement of Ariel to Israel and ‘in return’ uproot fifty thousand Arab citizens of Israel and transfer them to Palestine). Danny Danon from Netanyahu’s Likud released a video in which, dressed as a sheriff, he turns up in a bar in the Wild West and throws out an Arab MK (Zoabi), who ends up motionless on the ground. In another Likud video, Isis militants drive jeeps into Israel; the slogan says that the Israeli ‘left’, that anonymous and mysterious entity, will lead Isis into Jerusalem. (The video had loud Arabic music, which is intimidating for Israelis, and that’s what’s important.) Herzog released a video in which friends from his military intelligence unit tell of his heroism in the army:

Herzog grew up in military intelligence, which means he knows the Arab mentality. He saw Arabs on different occasions; he saw them on the other side of the gun-sight, and behind the gun-sight … The most important man in this business is the person who knows what the state of Israel needs to do with a piece of information. Whether this means firing a rocket, or sending troops forward, or wiping out these people.

Election Day

And so Egypt's decidedly anti-climactic presidential election  -- the sixth vote in 3 years, and the first contest since Mubarak's time in which the result is such a foregone conclusion -- is underway. 

For excellent coverage, check out Mada Masr site, where Sarah Carr has her take on the Sabbahi campaign:

Sabbahi's campaign has been far more plebeian, and if he earned points for miles covered he would have earned enough by now to claim a small yacht. So vigorously has he rubbed shoulders with the common man it is a wonder that he has any shoulders left. His campaign caravan has traveled the length and breadth of the country and wheeled out Sabbahi in rural backwaters so that he can bellow about justice and the revolution and freeing unjustly detained prisoners. He did this on the last day of official campaigning in Abdeen, Cairo, mostly preaching to a small crowd of the converted, a bunch of excitable teenagers who lit flares and chanted and banged drums next to more sedate Dostour Party members and non-aligned citizens. The mood felt very 2011, what with all the talk about the martyrs and the revolution and social justice.

Dalia Rabie reports on Abdel-Fattah El Sis's disturbing rapport with the Egyptian female public

“I will take a picture with each of you, it is my honor,” Sisi told the cheering attendees. As the women continued to relentlessly chant, “We love you Sisi,” he responded jokingly that they would “create problems with the men at home.”

Sisi’s speeches and interviews address women as housewives, mothers and sisters. Rarely does he allude to them as more than catalysts, and he generally refuses to acknowledge that they are political players in society.

After around six minutes of Sisi pleading with the women to settle down, asking them to allow him to talk to them because he “needs their help,” and after one of the organizers instructed the audience that “when the leader speaks, everyone should be quiet,” the candidate continued.

And Jano Charbel has a very interesting piece about the Sisi posters that have blanketed the country, and the individuals and businesses behind them:

According to Sheikh Abdel Rahman Hassan of the Islamic Jurisprudence Center, “We are campaigning for Field Marshal Sisi’s presidency because he is a pious and religious man. Moreover, we trust that he will be able to root out terrorist groups like Ansar Beit al-Maqdes, Ajnad Misr, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and other armed extremists.” 

Sheikh Hassan’s center has a number of posters around Tahrir Square with the image of Sisi and the words, “May I kiss your head please?” The center’s phone number is on these posters identifying them.

Similarly the private ETAF advertising company has hung-up Sisi banners around the Abdeen neighborhood, with the name of their company, and their phone numbers on them. 

The company’s spokesman did not comment as to how much his eight-foot-long banners cost or why they have the company’s contact information on them. 

Mohamed Lotfy, owner of a bookshop in downtown Cairo commented, “These [private] banners hanging outside our shop are not ours. They belong to other businesses and political parties in the area.” 

“Nobody forces these businesses to put up campaign banners. They put them up out of their own freewill. It’s their way of showing their support for their candidate, and their love for their country.” 

Rais 2014

Here's an interesting new project by Hend Aly and Moritz Mihatsch – Rais 2014, a website devoted to news about Egypt's presidential race and its two candidates. It's in English and Arabic and contains news and background information about the poll. All in a neat design that reminds me of 1980s Mac computers. Bookmark it (and for your convenience we'll have their logo on the sidebar of this blog for the rest of election season.)

Iraq: The Road to Chaos

Ned Parker, in the New York Review of Books, reminds us of the growing violence, corruption and authoritarianism that is unraveling Iraq. The damage that the US invasion of that country -- based on fraud and arrogance -- has done, to them and to us (strategically, morally, financially, and of course in terms of a damaged and blighted generation of Iraqis) can still stagger sometimes. 

Now, as Iraq prepares for its first national election in four years on April 30, it is hard to imagine democracy activists rallying weekly in Iraqi streets. For months, suicide bombers have been dynamiting themselves in crowded Shiite markets, coffee shops, and funeral tents, while Shiite militias and government security forces have terrorized Sunni communities. The Iraqi state is breaking apart again: from the west in Anbar province, where after weeks of anarchic violence more than 380,000 people have fled their homes; to the east in Diyala province, where tit-for-tat sectarian killings are rampant; to the north in Mosul, where al-Qaeda-linked militants control large swathes of territory; to the south in Basra, home to Iraq’s oil riches, where Shiite militias are once more ascendant; to Iraq’s Kurds, who warn that the country is disintegrating and contemplate full independence from Baghdad.


Lessons from Egypt's student elections

To follow up on last week's news about a Brotherhood routing in student elections, we sent Nour The Intern to Ain Shams university to see what happened exactly and what lessons might be drawn for national elections.

“(The Brothers) can't have the presidency and the student union," happily exclaimed a dentistry student at Ain Shams university, Shaymaa Hosny. 

According to recent results of student elections and the commonly outspoken sentiments against the Muslim Brotherhood in universities; Hosny is not alone.

"Students didn't just vote for the not-MB candidates only because they're not-MB," argued Amany Bahgat, a Masr Al Kawia 2nd year candidate in Economics and Political Science at Cairo University, "but also because not-MB candidates had actual work plans."

Masr Al Kawia Party (Strong Egypt, centrist Islamist party founded by former Brother and presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh) has been working on its campaign and forming alliance with Al-Destour (social democratic party founded by Mohamed ElBaradei), and others, since January, Bahgat explained. She speculates that the reason why the MB did so poorly - aside from their popularity dip thanks to Morsi's blunders - was because the MB's youth, unlike all the other parties, didn't put much effort into their campaign and lacked a solid program.

The results of the elections were surprising to many, particularly in major universities like Ain Shams where the MB lost in 13 (out of the 15) faculties, some of which they failed to win any seats. However, Mahmoud Kandil, an ex-Muslim Brother, wasn’t in the least bit surprised. They lost because they got arrogant, he said.

"The Brotherhood was never inclusive, but it was cooperative... During Mubarak's era, (the MB) used to work with the Revolutionary Socialists and April 6th against the NDP," he noted, but now that NDP has been reduced to an almost parasitic and persecuted existence as “feloul,” in addition to the MB’s electoral winning streak; the Brothers have lulled themselves into a false sense of security.

That false sense of security lead them to believe there was no pressing need for campaigning, particularly when their opponents were seen as likely to boycott, or at least fail to provide an actual alternative to them, like the MB's older opposition.

Ironically, the MB's student opposition did in fact consider a boycott — which would have certainly resulted in a slam-dunk win for the MB — to object to the Egyptian Student Union’s (an entity created, headed and dominated by the MB) new regulations, which were not put to a referendum despite the absolute lack of consensus upon them — not quite unlike the constitution.

These regulation included rules such forbidding activities or seminars without the permission of the Department of Youth Monitoring and Welfare, which raised Brotherhoodization concerns since positions in that department are held by the Dean’s direct appointment, who is appointed by the Supreme Council of Universities. So if one was to infiltrate the Council, which already has some MB-sympathetic and anti-MB members, managed to appoint an MB, then the MB, by extension, has complete control over every single study activity. But since the appointments are customarily based on seniority and the MB lost its foothold in universities, that’s no longer a pressing concern. Nonetheless, there are now talks about possible MB protests against the new regulations, drafted and passed by them, which, now that the power balance has shifted, they suddenly realize are unfair.

The regulations passed by the ESU prove that the MB didn't expect to lose, Kandil asserted. "Why would the MB-dominated ESU give student unions the power to ban any student activity or cancel any event with just one third of the votes, if the MB didn't expect to win?" he asked, rhetorically.

However, others attributed the MB's loss to their failure to form alliances, despite trials with Al-Wasat (moderate Islamist party founded by ex-Brothers in the 1990s) and Salafis, a failure that could simply be an extension of the rekindled political animosity between the Islamists. Whereas new political forces such as Masr Al-Kawia, which is still lacking in organization, easily paired up with El-Destour (which is also still lacking in organization), popular currents, independent candidates, etc, “because they form alliance based on skills and qualification rather than just political agreement” and “want to ensure that the university is for everyone," according to the Masr Al Kawia candidate, Bahgat.

Meanwhile, the MB's default response to the election results was to act cool.

"Success was our ally, Thank God," wrote an intentionally-nonchalant MB spokesman, Ahmad Araf, on Facebook, before he accused the media of presenting the numbers in a way to make it look as if the MB has lost miserably, when it actually lost humbly. Using al-Minya University as proof of the MB's "success," Araf presented his main argument to prove MB’s continued electoral dominance: "(MB) ran only for 50 percent of the seats...and it got 54 percent!" (of that 50%... in that one university... which is full of Brothers).

Media coverage of the student elections, particularly from MB critics, portrayed the student elections as an indication of a decline in MB popularity — which can't be disputed, but is nonetheless exaggerated, since many students, as Bahgat put it, were unaware of the elections, yet alone involved. Furthermore, the MB was not so much popular previously as the most likely group to capture protest votes.

“People didn’t necessarily love the MB, we felt sorry for them,” said Tanta University graduate, Amr Youssef. The MB lost sympathy rather than popularity. One of the biggest reasons why the MB dominated SU elections during Mubarak’s time, although results were forged often, was because of how ill-treated MB students were.

“(State Security officers) used to arrest the MB students (to torture them) in February and let them go in May, right before their finals so they’d fail,” Youssef explained. “Sometimes, they’d arrest them during May and they had to attend their exams in cuffs,” he added. A famous case of that common practice is Dr. Youssef al-Qaradawi, who was once released after a long arrest the night before his finals, but still managed to be first in his class.

Apart from robbing the MB students off their dignity and time to study, MB students generally received an especially bad treatment from security personnel and faculty members. So much so that in 2006, MB students, having been bullied enough, struck back with a martial arts demonstration in Al-Azhar university, where intimidating students showed off high they can kick to send a message; MB can stand up for itself, if need be. The affair ended up sending Khairat Al-Shater and other senior Brothers to prison for financing the then-banned MB and its youth. Therefore, voting for them in elections, which were mostly between the MB and the NDP,  was the least fellow students could do in solidarity.

MB critics now fancy the recent student union elections to be a sign of the MB's performance in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

"That's entirely untrue," said Dr. Ahmed Abu-Rabou, a Comparative Politics professor at Cairo university. "Sabahi and Abou El-Fatouh topped all the university polls, prior to the presidential elections, but the run off was between Morsi and Shafik! Let that be a reminder to everyone," he added. Dr. Abu-Rabou went on to argue that support for the MB and education are inversely proportional, thus "MB loses badly when it comes to the educated youth."

“These results should humble the MB, and teach the opposition," said Ain Shams student voter, Ahmed Gamal, who compared the MB's electoral loss to Morsi barely winning the elections against Shafik; "both are evidence that (MB) is not invincible." He added that “the wise old men” of the opposition should now sit down and take notes, "because "the shortsighted youth" not only faced the MB, but united, ran, despite the MB-imposed flawed regulations, and won."

"The wise old men need glasses," he added derisively, before advising them to abandon their reactive policies, the boycott, and "work for Egypt, not just against the Brotherhood."

Egypt: Brothers get routed in student elections

Results for student elections taking place in Egyptian universities this week suggest the Muslim Brotherhood, normally one of the best-organized and most successful political movements in student politics, has lost much ground. This tends to confirm and accelerate trends first seen last year of new political movements on campus becoming more popular, as well as some good coalition-building between radicals, leftists, liberals and others to face challenges by Brothers and the Salafis. The trend has also been seen in professional syndicates over the last year, and may also grow this year. This should be striking, as one would expect the Brotherhood to reap the benefits of being the party in power. But the opposite is happening, and the failure of the Brotherhood to win a majority in a single election yesterday (although of course there will be more) is telling of the discontent with them.

Three things stand out to me other than the Brothers' relatively poor performance:

  1. Coalitions of non-Islamist political trends seem to work quite well, suggesting it is worth it for them to contest elections;
  2. I think the formation of Salafi factions on campus is a new thing (someone tell me if I'm wrong — Update: Assiut of course had strong Gamaa Islamiya presence in university), and they are doing well in places (like Minya in Upper Egypt), possibly at the expense of the MB.
  3. In several places the Destour Party (of Mohamed ElBaradei) is running in coalitions or alone and doing quite well — which shows that contrary to the prevalent armchair punditry that they are getting out there and mobilizing to some extent.

How does this translate in a national election? It's not clear. Obviously university students are more educated and live in an urban environment (although many, of course, will come from a rural background — or what passes as rural in one of the mostly densely populated countries in the world.) They are not that representative of the national whole, and vote for different reasons. The Brotherhood's electoral machine alone, depending on who else is running, makes its goal of winning an outright majority in the upcoming parliamentary within reach — although I think it's a longshot.

Below are results of elections in various university faculties, culled by Nour The Intern from the @afteegypt Twitter account which has been doing some sterling coverage of student politics.


Student election results, 2013-Mar-05.

El-Minia University:

  •  Faculty of Arts’ student union’s election results for 2013: 26.79% for “We are all one” - civil movement. 23.21% for “Construction” (affiliated with MB), and 50% for “Life Pulse” list, Salafi movement. Fourth year: 5 to "We are all one," 3 for "Life Pulse" and 6 for the MB.
  • Faculty of Information Technology’s student union’s election results for 2013: 57.1% for "Developers" (civil movement), and 42.86% for "Construction" (affiliated with MB).
  • Third year, Art: 5 for "We are all one" (civil movement), 2 for MB, one for the Salafis.
  • Faculty of Education, 33 seats for civil movement, 23 for MB.
  • Dentistry: 50% for "We are All One" and 50% for MB.

Tanta University:

  • Faculty of Law: 38 seats for the civil movement, 11 for the MB, 4 for the "We are all one hand" family, 2 for the independent, and one for the Family of Colors.
  • Engineering: coalition between al-Dostor, the Revolution Contiues and independents get 39 seats, MB gets 27, Salafis get 2.
  • Business: coalition between al-Dostor and A Strong Egypt, and independents gets 52 seats, other independents get 3, and MB gets one.
  • Agriculture: 37 for coalition of independents vs. 19 for MB.
  • Dentistry: al-Dostor and independents get 34, other independents get 23 seats, MB gets 3, and 10 seats are supposed to be appointed.
  • Art: civil coalition gets 47, independents get 8, and MB one.
  • Pharmacy: al-Dostor and independents get 45, and other independents get 25 seats.
  • Science: 41% for Dostor and independent, 14.29% for other independents, 44% MB.

Alexandria University:

  • Faculty of Pharmacy student union’s election results for 2013: 32.86% for civil movement for change and awareness, 32.86% for "Pharma Mix" (affiliated with MB), 5.71% for others, and 28.57% for independent runners. First year results: civil movement got 7 seats, the independent got 3, and Pharma mix (affiliated with MB) got 4 seats. Second year: 12 for the independent, 2 for the MB. Third year: 9 for the MB, 5 for the independent. Fourth year: 6 for the civil movement, 6 for the MB, 2 for others.
  • Third year, (faculty of art): 3 seats for "Strong literature" (Strong Egypt), 4 for regular students, 6 for MB.
  • Fourth year art students: 12 for the "Voice of the students" (a coalition of student movements and families), no seats for MB.
  • First year, (faculty of law): 11 seats for "Challenge and Change" (Dostor and popular current coalition), 2 seats for independents, 1 for the "Voice of students" (coalition of Kefaya and Masraweya family) 
  • Fourth year, Engineering: independents get 14 seats, MB none.
  • Education, 53.57% MB. 46.3% for "Leaders of the Future" (civil movement),
  • Engineering, 58.57% for independent candidates, 41.43% for MB.

Banha University:

  • 65.11% for "The Values" (civil), 24.66% for al-Dostor and independent candidates, 4.43% MB, 0.57% for Salafis, 5.23% for Strong Egypt.

Ain Shams University:

  • Fifth year medical school: 9 for "A strong Egypt," 3 for the MB, and 2 for the independent. Third year: MB gets 6 seats, independent get 8. Fourth and sixth year: a coalition of Al-Dostor party, the Democratic Party, and the Socialist Revolutionaries wins 28 seats, MB gets nothing.
  •  Faculty of Science,, First and third year: revolutionary forces' coalition gets 24 seats, independent get 4, MB gets nothing.
  • First year, Engineering: "fingerprint" (coalition of al-Dostor, Socialist Revolutionaries, Democratic party, Students for Freedom) take all seats.
  • First year, Business: Coalition "No sheep" wins all seats, "Ultras for change" don't win any. 

Beni Suef University:

  • Science, fourth year: Independents get 9 seats, MB gets 6. Third year, the independent get all the seats. 
  • Law, third year: 6 seats for the independent, 3 for the Salafis, and 3 for MB. Remaining 2 seats a run off between Salafis and Brothers.
  • Art, 10 seats for MB, 2 for others,and 2 for Salafis.
  • Business, fourth year: 12 for MB, 2 for Salafis and 2 for independent.
Clean streets, first sign of elections

Only 15 minutes away from where I live, right off Gisr El-Suez, there is a garbage dump. The all-encompassing pile of trash is routinely picked up in the morning by the government's waste collection truck, only to reappear again the same night, at the same spot, thanks to the same truck that whisked it away earlier. According to local popular belief, the government no longer knows what to do, or where to put, the trash it collects, so they simply transport it from one location to the other; creating a temporary illusion of cleanliness and sparing everyone the sight of street children fishing for anything to eat or sell in the elusive dump.

One day about two weeks ago, the truck picked up the trash for its usual tour of Cairo, only this time they didn't drop it back off. 

“Look there, turns out we've got a sidewalk! But doesn't the street look naked?” said Ramadan, the owner of a kiosk overlooking the dump. The following day, Ramadan was surprised to see that the now naked sidewalks were growing sickly-thin trees, and the wall behind them was freshly painted. Slogans in bright green, red and blue, were drawn on it, one of which informed passersby that "A true revolutionary rebels against corruption, and once he removes it, calms down to build and prosper." Further down the road, a bench that was installed during the last parliamentary elections was replaced by a new one and a sign that said "Brought to you by the Freedom and Justice Party." 

A few blocks away from that street is Al-Mokhtar school, a beat-up building which looks like it might make a run for it, if it weren't weighed down by dust and double its capacity in students. The school was also surrounded by trash, until one night last week. Unlike the previous dump, this one is in a residential area, thus its trash accumulates faster, even though its regularly burned. A few days later, the trash was back in its customary position. However, the "good deed doers" came back later in the week to paint the 99 names of Allah and more slogans on the walls of the school, leaving the trash untouched. Presumably, whoever is 'beautifying' the streets in the dead of night is more interested in writing "Good people clean and build for Egypt" rather than actually clean.

Further beyond the school are the slums of El-Merg. Since any attempts to beautify that area would be less successful than my mother's attempts to lose weight via clapping and turning in her seat, the FJP took a different approach. Medical convoys bearing the Muslim Brotherhood’s logo barely managed to maneuver their way through the fits-one-car-only two-way streets to park in front of local clinics, where they offered to treat anyone and everyone for free. Worth noting that the medical supplies they used were from the ministry of health, and not coming out of the MB's own pocket. 

Although by now most parties seem to agree that the Egyptian people can see through empty promises and that it will take more than the usual "bottle of oil and a bag of sugar" to "win" their votes, these favors are likely to pay off. Not necessarily because the people believe they are genuine or would even last after April, but because, as Ramadan puts it, many people now regard them as a compensation (some as a toll) the elite must give the poor to "sit their behind on a chair for four years."

Is Egypt’s new parliamentary election law constitutional?

The following post was contributed by Nathan Brown of GWU and Carnegie — see Brown's previous posts on Egyptian constitutional matters here and here. (Updated with further commentary after the jump.)

The short answer is: Maybe. We’ll have to wait and see.

The quick retort: Not again?

The quick answer: Yes, it could be déjà vu all over again. But it might not.

Here’s the story. The country’s Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) has struck down the country’s parliamentary election law four times. Three of these times that led directly to a dissolution of the parliament. On the other occasion, the parliament had already been dissolved.

And each time that led to all kinds of problems: how to write a new election law with parliament dissolved; whether the new law would be constitutional; what happened with the actions taken by the old parliament; and so on. Those questions could be answered, but the turmoil was real—even with the Mubarak regime’s pseudo-parliaments. When parliament is something to be taken far more seriously, the effects of a dissolution by court order are farther reaching. Egypt is still reeling from the effects of the 2012 dissolution.

So the constitution drafters knew what to do: they availed themselves of a tool sometimes spoken of but never used in Egypt before (with one exception): prior review. The parliamentary election law would be drafted and then sent to the SCC for review. That would immunize it from later attempts to challenge it on constitutional grounds. Egypt’s SCC, like most specialized constitutional courts, does not try concrete cases (though concrete cases are the genesis of most of its work). In a sense it tries laws instead. Its job in constitutional matters is to say if a law is constitutional or not. If it says a law is constitutional one day, it is hard for it to change its mind later on. (For that reason, many justices of the SCC dislike prior review and regard it as an attempt to tie the SCC’s hands—and indeed, in Mubarak’s times some unsuccessfully argued for prior review with precisely that motivation).

OK, but what if the SCC found the draft unconstitutional? Well, then changes could be made to bring it in to line. And in Egypt’s one prior experiment with prior review, that is just what it did. In the country’s March 2011 constitutional declaration, the SCC was required to review only the presidential election law in advance, precisely to avoid thel vacuum that would occur if a president were elected and then had the legal scaffolding knocked out under him. The SCC found Egypt’s January 2012 draft decree-law (rushed through by the SCAF right before the parliament met) flawed on a large number of generally minor grounds. The SCAF fixed the errors and promulgated the law.

And that is what has happened this time—the upper house of the parliament (the only part left standing) used its interim legislative authority to draft a law. The SCC found a number of problems and the upper house fixed them.

So how could déjà vu happen all over again? Well, the upper house did not send back the law to the SCC a second time. (Neither did the SCAF when it fixed the presidential election law last year.) It was not required to do so; it was in suomethng of a rush; and it was not clear if the SCC would feel empowered to rule again.

So who is to know if the amended law is constitutional? Only the SCC judges can say for sure—and since the law has not been submitted to them, they’re not saying anything.

On some issues there may be no cause for concern. Some of the glitches were minor. But there is at least one problematic area: the apportionment of seats. Egypt’s current electoral map is skewed (generally to discriminate against big urban areas). The SCC found that problematic and seemed to be on very solid ground in the ruling. But its judgment was terse on this point and it was not clear what standard it used or would use in the future. The parliament, anxious to get the electoral show on the road, made some quick adjustments. A full and fair redrawing of Egypt’s electoral map may be a good idea. In fact it is desperately needed. But it’s not clear there is the time do that or any body that has the credibility to undertake the effort. There was a sound political reason for the upper house to have acted with an incomplete fix as it did. But is the new law constitutionally sound?

We’ll have to wait and see.

So Egyptians will start voting according the leisurely schedule required by the system of judicial monitoring. And somebody will lose a seat and go to the courts to challenge the law. The SCC might reject the challenge, sit on it for years, or issue a ruling within hours of receiving the case. My own sense—based on an inexpert reading between the lines of recent judgments—is that few of the justices are spoiling for a fight with the emerging regime. I would guess they will take their time. And in the mean while, the sword of dissolution—the same one that drove President Morsi to lose his cool in November last year—will hang over the parliament.

Update: Nathan Brown writes in response to Zaid al-Ali's comments:

I just looked at it on the website and saw Zaid al-`Ali's comment. I think he is right on both counts 

First, he says article 177 prevents subsequent challenge before the SCC.  I had first read article 177 as something the SCC could get around by claiming that it had not reviewed the law, only a previous draft.  But when I go back to the text, I am convinced Zaid is right--that path would be very difficult.

But the second speculation that Zaid reports--that the matter could go to the administrative courts--is one that I would think would be a very solid possibility indeed for two reasons. 

First, the argument that the Shura Council has not respected the ruling of the SCC is powerful, especially on districting.  I think full compliance would have been next to impossible, in part because the system is so badly confused and time is so short.  But it's also because the SCC gave no guidance on what such compliance would look like--it simply said the first draft was unconstitutional but it gave no standard on how to fix it.  So an administrative court could easily say that the law was promulgated in contravention of a judicial ruling.

Second, article 177 says that the SCC's "exclusive jurisdiction" over constitutionality does not operate over such an election law.  So an administrative court could say "Normally we'd have to transfer the case to the SCC because it has exclusive jurisdiction. But now we don't; we can rule on constitutionality ourselves."  It was partly to prevent the administrative courts from exercising a claimed right to consider constitutionality that the Supreme Court (the predecessor to the SCC) was created back in 1969.

Would an administrative court do so?  Well, it could certainly find an easy way to deny its own jurisdiction (the dreaded doctrine of "acts of sovereignty" could easily rear its head here).  But it might not.  I have speculated on the inclination of the SCC to avoid full frontal confrontation, but the administrative courts are a much more diverse lot and much harder for me to read from afar.

Unlike the SCC, the administrative courts have two levels, so a lower level court might rule one way and then be reversed on appeal.   

In short, this could drag out even longer.

So rather than deja vu all over again, it may be more like deja vu that nobody has seen before.  

The Future of Egypt’s Electoral Law

The Future of Egypt’s Electoral Law

Daniel Tavana writing for Sada:

The architects of Egypt’s transition and those responsible for drafting the constitution have given little thought to the future of the country’s electoral law—critical component of sustainable democracy. Seemingly bigger issues have come to dominate the attention of decision makers in recent months: curbing institutional interests, checking the power of the military, and holding a broader debate on the role of religion in politics. Debate over these issues has come at the expense of discussing inclusive laws regulating elections and the legitimate transfer of political power. 

My has been that the new electoral law is the single most important thing that will determine the extent to which Egypt's future is pluralistic and how well smaller parties will do. 

Just make it look good!

Just make it look good!

Sandmonkey writes:

On beautiful Monday mornings like this one, as I wake up in my bed, happy, well rested, thinking  about what I will do today, a single simple thought comes into my mind, filling me with sense of impending doom and horror that grips me and ruins my day: We are going to have elections. Again. Very soon. 

Kill me now.  

I know how he feels — and professionally I cover elections! Read the rest for a critique of the secular parties' lack of a real product to sell in the upcoming elections. I have no time to expand now, but my thought for a while is that they need to be aggressive — not just in electioneering, but in the vision thing. People respect those who stand for something, and many secularists are so scared of Islamists they hesitate to wear their secularism on their sleeves. I say: go on the offensive, be clear about what you stand for (and that it's not anti-religion), and attack relentlessly your political enemies on their weaknesses, notably their religious hypocrisy. Elections are ultimately about resources: how much money and how many people you have to recruit to your side. But also having a big idea helps — not with the wider electorate perhaps, but to energize your base. This is why Islamists perform well: they have an energized base. In Egypt, secularists seem to have only a demoralized base. 

Eric Schewe's map of the presidential election results

Eric Schewe's map of the Egyptian presidential election results

The above map of from Eric Schewe's blog, which has some great analysis of the presidential election and much else. It's a great blog for Egypt nerds. He writes of the map and the data behind it:

The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood count from June 18 and the official state count were so close gives me confidence that, while votes may have been illegitimately influenced by actions outside the polling booth, that the polls themselves were relatively fairly conducted. This means this body of data is the first reliable indication ever of Egyptians’ preferences over a very stark binary choice for the direction of the state: Islamism or “Feloul” (old-regime) revanchism. Obviously, many Egyptians went out to vote AGAINST either choice, but the geographical distribution of the result shows very strong regional tendencies, raising interesting questions about voters’ overall motives.

Getting this kind of data and spreading will lead, over time, in a quantum leap in how we understand Egyptian politics. Of course it needs to be combined with new data added over time and knowledge of local-level dynamics. But at long last, we have a base based on an electoral process that was reasonably free and fair.

Muslim Brotherhood Tallies and Keeping Egypt Honest

Last week's anxiety-ridden wait for the winner of the Egyptian presidential election to be declared was perceived by many as a game of shadow boxing between SCAF and the MB — whereby the former put pressure on the latter or gave itself the option of rigging the election for Ahmed Shafiq. As many have noted, only the MB could have had the national organization to collect the tallies of votes polling station by polling station, raising the question of whether the regime could have gotten away with rigging the elections if Aboul Fotouh or Sabahi had been in the runoff against Shafiq. Contributor Bilal Ahmed sent in his thoughts on the matter.

My initial skepticism regarding the Morsi presidency has faded in light of his announced victory. I was wondering if the nearly 800,000 votes that were voided would change the election results, but the commission reiterated the Muslim Brotherhood’s announcement last week. Egypt’s first president after the revolution is Mohamed Morsi.

The most striking thing about these elections, and probably one of its most important lasting effects, is the accuracy of the independent tallies conducted by the Muslim Brotherhood and its political faction the Freedom and Justice Party. There is no other organized political force in Egypt with the resources to accurately conduct polling at all of Egypt’s 16 000 polling stations, and the MB has not squandered its opportunity to occupy this role.

The MB results for the Egyptian revolutionary parliament seven months ago and the first round of presidential elections at the end of May were more or less in line with the final election results. The results that were announced for the Morsi/Shafiq contest this morning only differed from the MB figures by about 0.06%, which ranks this election among the least manipulated in Egyptian history. Through this successful organizing, the MB has successfully implanted an idea in the media and political consciousness where its results can be trusted as accurate figures. This makes it difficult for manipulation to occur on a state level, as defying the Muslim Brotherhood figures now makes voter fraud much more evident.

Given the thousands of people who flocked into Tahrir Square and staged sit-ins when voting results were delayed last week, this is a severe political risk for institutions attempting to preserve their Mubarak-era privilege.

Last week’s announcement of victory at Morsi’s campaign headquarters put massive pressure on senior officials to not consider tampering with election results and cause a Shafik presidency. This pressure was felt in Tahrir Square as equally as it was in the Obama Administration, which announced that it would reconsider its lucrative military assistance package to Egypt if power was not handed to a civilian government. It is true that in all likelihood, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is satisfied with a Morsi executive that is stripped of its power, but its obvious preference for Ahmed Shafiq was made much more difficult the moment that the MB’s independent exit polls announced this morning’s results.

It may seem odd to state in a political climate where many revolutionaries don’t trust the MB and its FJP candidates, but the Muslim Brotherhood electoral results are trustworthy. It may, in fact, be the most trustworthy part of the entire organization and its most positive contribution to the ongoing Egyptian revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood now officially has a reputation of offering a source of accurate electoral information that minimizes the chance of voter fraud. If the Muslim Brotherhood continues to use its vast organizing network to conduct the equivalent of reliable exit polling (ed. note: to be precise, the MB gathered the certified tallies, signed by judges, at every polling station) at Egypt’s 16,000 voting stations during every major election, then Egyptian political culture will gradually begin to shift away from the infamous rigging of the Mubarak regime.

No matter which way you look at it, trouble ahead

As I warned on Twitter, there should be caution about rushing to think Mohammed Morsi is Egypt's next president. From my understanding from this morning's figures, the difference between he and Shafiq is about 900,000 votes with over 3,000,000 votes uncounted. The Presidential Election Commission says it will not give the final results until Wednesday or Thursday and there is likely to be some contestation by both sides, and perhaps even partial recounts. Ultimately what the PEC says will hold, since you cannot appeal their decision.

So one real possibility is that Shafiq will be declared president and the MB, having already announced its victory, will go ballistic. Or that Shafiq will lose and his supporters will go ballistic.

And then there's the question of parliament. It's still expected that tomorrow MPs (at least Islamist ones) will march to parliament to hold a session on which they will decide parliament's response to the court verdict. Except that parliament is surrounded by army troops who have orders not to let anyone in.

Likewise there is confusion about the state of the constituent assembly — notably whether the one appointed by parliament last week (which has already had walkouts by secular members because of a dispute on its composition) is still valid. When the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved parliament, it specified that its actions were still valid. There was a law on the formation of the constituent assembly passed last week, but SCAF did not sign it. So it's probably not valid. And SCAF clearly seems to intend to form its own constituent assembly with its own rules, different than those agreed upon in the negotiations of the past two weeks (one sign if the requirement of an 80% approval of the draft text, as opposed to 67%).

Finally last night the Muslim Brotherhood (to its credit) said it does not recognize the new constitutional declaration issued by SCAF as legal or valid. So that's another fight.

So to recap, you have a possible fight on the result of the presidential election, an almost certain fight on the fate of parliament and the constitutional declaration, and a longer-term fight on the drafting of the future constitution. If you're not worried already, start worrying now.

Update: Another way to look at this is that the MB is being forced to pick its fights. It can't challenge on all front, so what will it choose to focus on, the presidency, the parliament, or the constitution? Especially as it has no major allies and very few political actors, including the MB, has a history of acting on principle. 

Update 2: I am reminded by Ed Webb that there is case to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood that will begin tomorrow, adding another threat to the Brothers should they contest the above.

Notes from the field on the presidential elections

Dr. Omar Ashour emails in with his notes from the field:

Dear all,

Some thoughts form the field:

  1. The general feeling among youth movements and many pro-change voters is that Shafiq is coming for revenge. This feeling intensified after the arrest of April 6th members and what the police officers told them (“revolution is dead” “we are back to hang you on lampposts” etc…)
  2. The major irregularity in this election is playing with the voters database. It is held only by the presidential elections committee (who refuse to give it up). After many complaints in the first round, the committee removed 115k names (including the name of my dead grandma, who apparently voted in the first round!). This number is based on their review and there is no other way to re-check it. The names of the dead, expats, police and army personnel can be much higher on the database than 115,000.
  3. The empowerment of the military intel and police personnel to arrest civilians on charges as minor as traffic disruption, dissolving the parliament, preventing MPs from entering it, forthcoming constitutional declaration (dividing authority/mandate between the SCAF and the president) currently being written by a committee headed by PM Ganzouri) are quite alarming. It looks like an undeclared coup, lacking communiqué no. 1 and with legal framing from constitutional court judges.
  4. There is some gearing up for a confrontation among all stakeholders. Islamist MPs are preparing for march to the parliament on Tuesday. It may be met by force.
  5. There is a strong local media attack on the MB, including accusations of sniping protestors in Tahrir during revolution, rigging elections and committing fraud, getting help of foreign militias (Hamas’ EQB). If any sort of political violence happened, there will be a severe crackdown on the organization.
  6. The Administrative Court will be deciding on the legality of the MB on Tuesday. If it ordered dissolution, the MB will be banned and its member can be prosecuted. This again can lead to a serious confrontation.
  7. Finally, from my meetings, a few leftist and liberal MPs seem to be happy with the dissolution of the parliament, mainly thinking that they will do better next time when Islamists are banned or in jail!

Sad days for Egypt’s democratic transition.



Omar Ashour is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center and the director of Middle East Studies at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies of the University of Exeter. You can follow him on Twitter at @DrOmarAshour.


The sadness of Egypt's presidential election


Above, a picture of a voter by Nehal ElSherif, on Flickr — via Elijah Zarwan who comments "He looks like you just caught him selling out his conscience."

Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros writes:

As I was crashing to make the deadline for my elections piece on the first day of voting, I trawled through the raw pictures the cameraman had collected from various polling stations looking for that classic woman-holding-up-purple-finger-and-smiling shot.

I didn't find it. There were lots of purple fingers (the ink stain you get showing you've voted) but nobody held theirs up to the cameraman with pride, the hallmark shot of previous election days.

There is a distinct lack of energy or enthusiasm surrounding this vote. It's safe to predict that most of those eligible to vote will not cast their ballots this time around - a mixture of apathy, confusion and active boycott.

There are of course those who tell me they are voting Mohamed Morsi or Ahmed Shafik out of conviction but ask a few more questions and you'll find the conviction is more about the other not winning than belief in the candidate they are voting for.

For many others, the deep seated depression surrounding the vote comes from the realization that whoever wins, it's the military rulers or SCAF that will end up running the country.

February 12th was not the start of a transition to democracy, it was a military takeover.

Yes, it was a military takeover. One many hoped would end the chaos mostly promoted by the security services in their panic, and that could provide a safe transition back to civilian rule. The mistake was to trust them. In this election, SCAF gets to define the powers of the president depending on which candidate wins.

On another note, I am rather tired (and know many others who also are) of the purple-finger chasing craze that started with the Iraqi election. There's no need to go to polling stations. The fraud, if there is any, will be way too subtle to be detected by wandering through. The fraud in this election is not necessarily in the electoral process, it's in the electoral context and the meta-politics of this "transition."