The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged presidency
Why Sisi hasn't announced yet

There has been a lot of speculation lately over what is holding up the seemingly impending announcement of Field Marshall Abdel Fattah El Sisi's presidential campaign. Commentators and analysts have been -- rather un-persuasively -- reading the tea leaves of the latest cabinet re-shuffle (which retained Sisi as Minister of Defense and Mohamed Ibrahim as the Minister of Interior while shedding most of the "liberal" ministers that had given the June 30th coalition some credibility) and of recent presidential decree making the minister of defense, rather than the president, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. All that has been clear to me is that there is an awful lot of behind-the-scenes maneuvering and some trepidation before this big step. Thank goodness, though, Egyptian tabloid El Watan can reveal the real reasons behind the delay (the following is an abridged translation of the article): 

Intelligence sources have revealed to El Watan that Sisi will make the announcement around March 10-12, after the new law regulating presidential elections is issued. He will tell the public the reasons for his delay, which are: 1) the need to detect and foil plans by the Muslim Brotherhood, some Western countries, Turkey and Qatar, to commit terrorist attacks following Sisi's announcement 2) genuine fears that the Field Marshall will be personally targeted, after the detection of such plans on the part of the American intelligence services and those of some neighboring countries 3) putting the final touches on the international and regional alliance Sisi is shaping to face the American moves in the region, and which consists of Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, to face the Western alliance headed by America and including the United Kingdom, France, Turkey and Qatar. The sources revealed that Egypt is lobbying the Chinese dragon to join its alliance. 

Only room for one general

There has been much media focus lately on the ongoing, growing campaign to get defense minister and commander of the armed forces Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to run for president -- a bandwagon on which we can expect see many more flatterers and opportunists jump. El-Sisi's candid discussion with other officers on how Egyptian need to get used to paying more for services and talk on the phone less, how the army can get the media to practice some self-censorhip, and how military personnel will never be held responsible for killing protesters were recently leaked, and seen as evidence of his nefarious dictatorial tendencies by Islamists and of his economic genius and straight-talking by army supporters. 

It is also instructive to see the reaction to another possible military contender. Nour Youssef has this report. 

While it is generally good to be a soldier rather than another weakling civilian in Egypt, it has not been so for former Chief of Staff General, Sami Anan.

After news of Anan’s announcement of his run for president spread, and despite it being followed by a quick denial, the pro-military media began airing his dirty laundry and then tried to suffocate him with the clothesline. So far Anan, aka  The Bringer of the Brotherhood (or at the very least:  Key Person Who Helped Make Mistakes That Lead To MB Rule), has been accused of having an under-qualified son as head of the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport, wasting state land (200 acres of it by Cairo-Alexandria desert road on himself and his wife), having grandchildren born in the US for the citizenship, buying a whole floor in a fancy hotel, among other things.

Although many, like Mahmoud Saad, perfunctorily expressed their respect for Anan's constitutional right to run before all but telling him not to, much of the talk about Anan has been focused on his newly published memoirs and his past.

In his memoir, Anan quotes the simple man, saying “If America’s got you covered, then you’re naked,” when he learns that Al Jazeera reported his US visit in January 2011 - which in case you're still wondering was a pre-planned military visit, not a pep rally for Operation Divide Egypt - a tip they must have gotten from a US official source, apparently. 

He goes on to paint the military as politically deaf, blind and mute institutionalized love for Egypt. For instance, he, along with Tantawi and Omar Suleiman, thought the NDP’s rigging in the 2010 elections was insultingly obvious, and separately warned Mubarak about it, but the former president was at ease because “Ahmed Ezz (had) everything taken care of.”

The military leaders never had any interest in politics, he maintained, before writing about the time when he suggested planning a soft coup to stabilize the country in 2011 to Field Marshal Tantawi, seeing how popular the army and “The people and the army are one hand” chant had become. Tantawi told him not speak of it again.

The intended takeaway from the memoirs seems to be that the SCAF did not strike any deals with the MB and that the Brothers won fair and square without their help. If the people still want someone to blame for the MB’s electoral winnings, other than themselves and the lack of political alternatives -- Well, let's not forget the media now. A denial statement even more belated, but probably more effective, than Anne Patterson’s response to the two-year-old US-put-the-Brotherhood-in-power conspiracy theory.

At some point, Anan recalls a conversation with Tantawi where the latter asks him if he would use violence against protesters, if ordered to do so, like his Tunisian counterpart, to which Anan said no, before adding that he was sure such orders would never be made. He cited the Palestinian incursion in Rafah as an example of a time when Egypt's political leadership demanded violence and the military didn't deliver. And they were Palestinians, so could he shoot Egyptians? Anan had a similar conversation with Gen. James Mattis, retired commander of U.S. Central Command, while waiting for his plane back to Egypt, which according to Abdullah Kamal, was suspiciously cut down to a four-sentence moment when it actually was an over-an-hour long meeting.

The fuss about the memoir and the denied announcement earned Anan a lot of belittling questions about whatever gave him the (false) impression of popular support anyway, where he would get the kind of money campaigning require, in addition to criticism about his timing, not to mention his writing, which could potentially "cause confusion" and risked national security by divulging “military secrets” without permission. This has lead some to believe that General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s recent remark about the army’s no-position position in the next elections was a message to Anan specifically, as opposed to everyone.

That being said, it is worth noting that Anan denied announcing the intention to run for president, but not the intention itself. When it came to that possibility, Anan always maintained a “Well, if the people asked me to...I mean, it would be rude not to” approach.

Gems from the memoirs include a time when parents called him saying that their civilian offsprings couldn’t come home because Brothers, desperate to make the mass hostage situation look like continued street resistance, wouldn’t let them out of Tahrir, and concluding that Mubarak's true mistakes in the 18 days was making the right decisions, like appointing Omar Suleiman as VP and Ahmed Shafik as prime minister, too late.


Insulting the president

More 'insulting president' lawsuits under Morsi than Mubarak - Politics - Egypt - Ahram Online

I have a hard time believing this but Gamal Eid is a serious guy:

There were four times as many 'insulting the president' lawsuits during President Mohamed Morsi's first 200 days in office than during the entire 30-year reign of former president Hosni Mubarak. This is the claim made by Gamal Eid, human rights lawyer and executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

Moreover, the number of such lawsuits during the Morsi era is more than during the entire period dating back to 1909 when the law was introduced (originally for 'insulting the king'), Eid said via Twitter.

They will have a full report on it tomorrow with the list of names.

The president, the prosecutor, and the press

Over the weekend in Egypt, as if the fighting that took place in Tahrir Square between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood (or impostors) and their detractors was not enough, a major institutional type of Mortal Kombat also took place between, on the one side, President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, and on the other, Prosecutor-General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud and the judicial establishment. On the latter’s side — out of convenience as much as principle, as Mahmoud is not a popular figure — were secular political parties who seized on this to denounce what they saw as the Brother-President’s all-out attack on the rule of law.

If you haven’t been following this story, here’s the lowdown.

On Wednesday, a verdict in the trial of the officials and former regime bigwigs alleged to be involved in the February 2–3, 2011 “Battle of the Camel”, one of the bloodiest episodes of the 2011 uprising, were acquitted. The public reaction was fury, partly at the judge who made the ruling but especially at prosecutors for doing such a poor job in preparing the case. The following day, Morsi asked Mahmoud to step down from his position and take the sinecure of a post as Egypt’s ambassador to the Holy See (one of the most prized posts in Egyptian diplomacy, apparently because there’s not too much work and yet you get to live in Rome). Mahmoud refused to step down, on the grounds that the president does not have the authority to sack him — only a judicial institution called the Supreme Judicial Council does. Opposition politicians and many luminaries of the judiciary condemned the move as a brazen attack on the independence of the judiciary — precisely at a time when tensions are already high between the judiciary and the Muslim Brotherhood, over a new judicial reform law and the part of the new constitution that will define the powers of the judiciary. Later, Mahmoud revealed that he has received threatening phone calls from the vice-president and senior Brotherhood figures, including hints that it would be a shame if his life was put in danger by popular fury. The president’s side initially holds its ground, but soon backtracks as the Judges’ Club holds a meeting and comes out saying sacking Mahmoud would be a coup against the independence of the judiciary. Within 48 hours, Morsi and Mahmoud meet, begin to downplay the entire episode as a misunderstanding — that Morsi was just making an innocent proposal, or that his intention was to protect Mahmoud, etc. Judges, in the meantime, say that there will be “no Tantawis in their rank”[1] and even pro-MB legal luminaries like Tarek al-Bishri condemn the whole episode.

The irony in all this is that sacking Mahmoud was a demand of revolutionary groups since just after Mubarak’s fall. But, either because Morsi did it in apparent contravention to the laws and traditions of the Egyptian judiciary (exactly how that is the case still escapes me, but I’m sure Nathan Brown will explain it all), or because it was seen as intolerable executive encroachment, it could not fly. Perhaps, overall, it was because this did seem like a brazen, over-confident attempt to leverage an unpopular verdict to get a man who, in recent months, had allowed many cases against the Muslim Brothers’ political interest (some of them absurd or frivolous, such as the case to judge on whether the Brotherhood is legal — does it matter when it party is definitely legal?) to get to court. And to send a message of toughness to the judiciary. On Mahmoud’s side, it appears what initially was an easy way to get out at a time when he has multiple cases against him and risked to face the revolutionary music became unfeasible when it became the center of attention. Quietly going to Rome is one thing, doing so in this manner is another. His calculus must have been that taking such an offer would be tantamount to an admission of guilt.

I thought it was worth recapping all this as I glanced at today’s headlines in the main Egyptian newspapers. I think the headlines tell us a little something about where the papers stand in today’s Egyptian political spectrum, and about their professionalism.

Government press

  • Al-Ahram (new editor is close to Brotherhood): The president reconsiders his decision, the prosecutor-general is maintained
  • Al-Akhbar: End of the prosecutor general crisis; The president cancels his decision to appoint him as ambassador
  • Al-Gomhouriya: Prosecutor general crisis: The law and legality triumph
  • Rose al-Youssef (formerly fiercely anti-MB): Prosecutor general crisis: Victory for rule of law

Private press

  • Al Masri al-Youm: Morsi reconsiders his decision; the prosecutor general wins
  • Al-Shorouk al-Gedid: The president of the republic loses his fight against the prosecutor general
  • Al-Tahrir (Anti-MB, pro-revolutionary): Justice comes out victorious in fight over prosecutor general

Partisan press

  • Al-Wafd (Anti-MB party): Morsi reconsiders his decision to sack the prosecutor-general
  • Al-Horreya wa al-Adala (Muslim Brotherhood newspaper): The president accepts a petition to maintain the prosecutor in his place[2]

  1. In reference to the sacking of army chief Hussein Tantawy on August 12, 2012.  ↩

  2. That headline appears to be a lie — by the newspaper and by the presidency.  ↩

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.

President Morsi (for sure this time.)

I was in the train between Brussels and Paris when, twitching like a maniac as I pressed refresh on the Twitter app on my iPad and grumbled about the endless speech by Presidential Election Commission head Farouq Sultan, Mohammed Morsi's victory was announced. The celebration in Tahrir and elsewhere shows many Egyptians are delighted at the news, or at least for some at Ahmed Shafiq's defeat. They are right to be enthusiastic: a Shafiq victory would have been a disaster for most Egyptians, a signal for the resurrection of the police state, and considering that the victory would have been considered stolen by many, probably the cause of much bloodshed.

But what of a Morsi victory? At the symbolic level, it is important: Morsi is the first democratically elected Islamist president of the Arab world, and also Egypt's first civilian president. His victory signals the defeat, for now, of the felool and the patronage networks of the Mubarak regime.

In more practical terms, things are more hazy: it is still unclear what powers he will have, whether he will be operating under SCAF's June 17 Suplemental Constitutional Declaration or whether he will force SCAF to cancel it, whether he will be working with an elected parliament or SCAF-as-parliament according to the June 14 Supreme Constitutional Court verdict, whether the party and movement he is a member of (the Freedom and Justice Party and the Muslim Brotherhood, respectively, although he may officially quit both) will also be ruled illegal next September, and of course whether his presidency will last the four years stipulated in Egypt's original Constitutional Declaration or only six months or so as the Suplementary Constitutional Declaration appears to indicate, since it calls for new general elections.

So many questions remain unanswered that what can best be said is that either SCAF and the Brotherhood have worked out a deal of some sort or the political jousting has only just begun. Both the Brothers and SCAF have positioned themselves in a manner in which backing down from their respective positions on the question of parliament and the Supplemental Constitutional Declaration would be a loss of face. The Brothers might be able to leverage the elation of their victory to make it easier to swallow a bitter pill, but at the same time, now that the results have been announced publicly, they don't have to. SCAF, on the other hand, has less room for maneuver without resorting to brute force and ultimatums. (Speaking of which: today marks the first time in the last few months that the Brothers have played chicken with SCAF and won.)

The next few weeks will be interesting, and my hunch is that the Brothers are not likely to give up easily now that their man is the chief of the executive. They have relatively little wiggle room on the SCC decision — they vowed to respect the judiciary's decision, after all, and the judiciary supervising the elections, made this much easier by handing them the district-level results early. But on the new Supplementary Constitutional Declaration, on the date of the next parliamentary elections and the rest of the transition roadmap, they are on stronger ground and have the backing of many non-Islamist revolutionaries and at least some of the establishment. SCAF over-reached, methinks.

One interesting sideshow (or perhaps it was central to defusing the crisis, who knows) to the last week's crisis has been the United States. The Obama administration has voiced concern and been critical of the delays in announcing the winner and the new constitutional declaration, which effectively made impossible SCAF's commitment to withdraw from power in favor of civilians and, moreover, made constitutional the permanent existence of a SCAF as a fourth power. For many, especially in the Shafiq camp, this has amounted to an intolerable form of meddling and the perception is out there that the US has backed the MB (in the more outlandish scenarios, it's a conspiracy that ends with Israel retaking Sinai and Jordan being turned into a Palestinian state).

The US' real favored outcome has been clear for a while: a strong, rooted civilian party restoring stability (and decent economic governance) in the Brothers and clear red lines on issues such as foreign policy (especially towards Israel) and unfettered bilateral military-to-military relations (overflight rights, fast-track Suez Canal access, etc.). In other words, some sort of understanding between the Brothers and the generals. In a sense, Egypt could use a breather away from the revolutionary fervor and responsible people getting the house in order. But alongside with this comes worrying possibilities: an uneasy military-Islamist alliance, perpetually unstable, with the generals undermining the civilians and the Islamists resorting to populist antics in their impotence. It's a different time and a different set of circumstances, but late 1980s Sudan is not exactly an inspiring example of Islamist-military coexistence.

In Translation: The SCC's verdicts

We've had the linguistic gnomes at Industry Arabic working overtime this weekend to translate the verdicts dissolving parliament and declaring the Political Exclusion Law unconstitutional issued by Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court this weekend. They plowed through the legalese and given us this  —a full translation of the verdicts, available in PDF [334kb, original Arabic version here.]. They even highlighted in yellow some of more significant passages.

Below I am excerpting the reasoning of disbanding parliament because members of political parties were allowed to run for the individual candidacy (aka simple majority of first-past-the-post) seats:

There is no doubt that establishing this competition had a definite impact and reciprocal effect on the two-thirds allocated for closed party lists, since if political parties were not competing with independents over that other portion, then a rearrangement would have taken place within the party lists, taking into account the priorites within each party. Furthermore, political party members had the choice between two ways to run for the People's Assembly, the closed party-list system and the individual candidacy system. Independents were deprived of one of these ways, and their rights were limited to the portion allotted for the individual candidacy system, in which political party members also competed.

While I understand that the court mostly based its argument on electoral laws — the "unconstitutional" law electoral of 2011, replacing or amending previous ones being the chief problem — I was not sure what parts of the 2011 Constitutional Declaration the said law violated, particularly since previous decisions to dissolve parliament (in 1987 and 1990) often invoked in this case took place under a different constitution. Indeed, oddly, there are references to both the 1971 Constitution (under which many laws regulating political life where enacted) and the 2011 Constitutional Declaration now in place. The court itself at times seems to hesitate between the two, as if both were somehow still relevant rather than just the latter.

Once again, the key argument of the court is that the 2011 electoral law discriminated against independents because while members of political parties could contest both the list system and the simple majority system, non-affiliated politicians could only take part in the simple majority races. This, it ruled, is a violation of the principle of equality, as enshrined in Article 7 of the 2011 Constitutional Declaration:

Law applies equally to all citizens, and they are equal in rights and general duties. They may not be discriminated against due to race, origin, language, religion, or creed.

Here's the court's long-winded argument:

Whereas it is established that the political system in the Arab Republic of Egypt shall be a multi-party system – under the 1971 Constitution, and confirmed by Article 4 of the Constitutional Declaration – considering that this multiplicity aims primarily to deepen democracy and anchor its foundations within the framework of the right to run for office and vote, which are considered a primary gateway and a basic rule for it. Hence, these rights were guaranteed by the Constitutional Declaration to all citizens, who hold popular sovereignty in accordance with the provisions of Article 3 of the Constitutional Declaration, and exercise it according to the means indicated in that Declaration. There is no proof of this stronger than the fact that the multi-party system is what carries within its folds a system in which opinions may agree or disagree, while the national interest remains its framework, standard of assessment, and check on their activity, which is an interest that is maintained by the whole people. The multi-party system was not a means adopted by the constitutional legislature to replace one domination with another, but was considered a straight path for national action through the democracy of dialogue, within which opinions are numerous and varied, with the role played by political parties connected in the end to the wish of the voters in all their different aggregations. It is a wish which manifests itself when they freely choose their representatives for parliament, and in the weight their votes throws behind those who are competing for the seats. This is what the Constitutional Declaration was intent on ensuring, guaranteeing the right to vote and to run for office, and making them equal in the exercise of those two rights. It did not permit discrimination between them in the bases on which they exercised these rights, nor did it give preference to some citizens over others in any issue related to them. It granted these two rights to the citizens -- who meet the required conditions – regardless of their varied affiliations and political opinions, in order to guarantee that national action remains collective, with no preference for some citizens over others. Through this collaborative effort in building up national actions, political parties shall work with those not affiliated with them, in order to anchor the foundations of these actions. Thereby, the true meaning of Article 3 of the Constitutional Declaration is realized, which does not grant popular sovereignty to one class, excluding the other, nor impose the authority of one group over the other. Within this framework lies the value of the multi-party system as a constitutional purpose for deepening the concept of democracy, which does not offer political parties a role in national action that exceeds the margin of confidence granted by the voters to their candidates, who compete with others according to objectives rules unlimited by any creed, and unrestricted by any form of affiliation, whether political or non-political, so that all citizens who fulfil the conditions set for this would have the same opportunity – through which they influence, equally among themselves – the shaping of national policy and the determination of its final features. This is confirmed by the fact that the Constitutional Declaration does not include a provision compelling citizens to join political parties, or conditioning the exercise of political rights related to the right to run for office and to vote on party affiliation, which indicates by necessity that it establishes the freedom of citizens to join or not to join political parties, and to exercise their enumerated political rights through political parties or apart from them. Undoubtedly, the principles of equality and equal opportunity, which are the primary fundamentals and principles concerned in the matter, necessitate one legal treatment for all candidates, on the basis of equal opportunity for all, with no discrimination based on party affiliation. Discrimination in that case would be based on difference in political opinion, which is a matter prohibited constitutionally. The party system should not become a restriction on the freedoms and the public rights originating from it, one of which is the right to run for office, which is one of the public rights stipulated by the nature of parliamentary democratic systems, and imposed by its main cornerstone, which is based on accepting the sovereignty of the people, in accordance with the provisions of Article 3 of the Constitutional Declaration.

Of course remember that the 2011 electoral law was drafted by SCAF in September and then modified three times by October. Surely they could have checked it then?

I'll leave legal analysis to others — do chip in with your two piasters.

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."

The MB and SCAF after the elections

SCAF, Brotherhood in talks over post-election cooperation: Sources - Ahram Online:

The Brotherhood leadership, according to sources who spoke to Ahram Online, is hoping to clinch the top position in the next government, should Mubarak-era premier and presidential finalist Ahmed Shafiq beat Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi in this week's runoff vote.

"Deep down, nobody is expecting Mursi to win; it has become very clear that the SCAF is supporting Shafiq," said a Muslim Brotherhood source. "We don’t want to get into a confrontation, but we want to make sure that Shafiq won't be running the state in the absence of revolutionary forces – this is why we want a strong presence in the next government."

A former associate of El-Shater who previously defected from the Brotherhood told Ahram Online: "Khairat El-Shater is a realistic and pragmatic man. He knows that Mursi's electoral prospects are slim, and that the chances of the Brotherhood making its presence felt will be much better if it comes via the government rather than the presidency, in which case Mursi would be confronted by all top state bodies, including the SCAF itself."

According to this article, the chief connection here is between Gen. Sami Enan and al-Shater. When I met Shater after the first round, he seemed depressed and fatalistic about how the election is rigged against the MB. But Shafiq's promise to appoint a MB-led cabinet (which he stands by despite his repeated attacks on the group as a force for darkness) and SCAF's encouragement of such a step makes it likely that the MB will simply live with the cabinet, and especially the PM's position, if it loses the presidential election.

All of this confirms my take on the Morsi-Shafiq runoff: it's an existential crisis for the felool — the remnants of the NDP, establishment power networks, parts of the security services — which stand to lose all access and be subject to further judicial reckoning if Morsi wins. But it's not as much as an existential crisis for the MB if Shafiq wins, because they don't believe Shafiq will institute a crackdown against them (others will suffer first), because they think they will retain control of parliament, and because they think ultimately they can deal with Shafiq and SCAF. I think that's a miscalculation, but it's coherent with their past behavior and deal-making inclinations. 

In Translation: Houdaiby on why back Morsi

Our In Translation series is made possible by Industry Arabic, purveyors of fine translation services. Whether it’s a press article or a 100-page legal document, these guys can turn around a translation in a range of European languages in no time. Give them a try.

I first met Ibrahim Houdaiby years ago, probably around 2005, when he was still a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a young protégé of Khairat al-Shater. More than anyone at the time, he articulated the extent to which the Kifaya protests of 2005 and the solidarity showed by these new activists with Islamist activists at that time were crucial in finding common ground across the political spectrum to oppose the Mubarak regime. Houdaiby, who comes from a family that has produced two General Guides of the Muslim Brotherhood, a few years later decided to end his membership of the group. He also began to write in various venues, gradually forming an elaborate insider’s critique of the contemporary Islamist scene in Egypt.

For some, Houdaiby represents the intellectual cutting edge of “reformist” or “moderate” Islamist current in Egypt. I think it’s more accurate to say that he represents an important advocate for a historic reconciliation between progressives and religious conservatives who agree on the need to fight the regime, as well as a call for the revival and self-critique of Egyptian Islamist thought. Being still a young man, I have no doubt his thinking will evolve into a more profound challenge to Islamist thought in Egypt from a religious perspective — perhaps the development of an “Islamic left” perspective that we see slowly grow across from the region against the orthodoxies of Saudi-backed fundamentalism, the lack of intellectual vitality of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt at least, and the insufficiencies of the secular critics.

In the article below, he makes an impassioned case for an alliance between the Brotherhood and revolutionary forces against a restoration of the Mubarak regime represented by Ahmed Shafiq. I think he makes a good case.

We shall be saved or perish all together

By Ibrahim Houdaiby, al-Shorouk, 8 June 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood is in need of all the political factions in order to succeed in the election, and it needs them to take part in running the country afterwards, just as these factions need the MB in order to forestall a complete reversion to the Mubarak regime. If these various actors do not realize that, they will all face disaster.

The fact that Mubarak’s Prime Minister has reached the run-off in the presidential election reflects the manifold errors that the political forces stumbled into, while it also proves – with no room for doubt – that Mubarak’s state is still alive and well. Its strength has not only shielded its candidate from the political isolation law, but it has also used its networks on the ground, including the established economic interests linked to the former NDP, as well as the State Security establishment – which the revolution has failed to dismantle – to help Shafiq reach the second round.

The possible scenarios give cause for concern, since a victory for Shafiq means a complete return to the Mubarak regime. As soon as he reaches the presidential palace, he will get started rebuilding the repressive security establishment, defending the state’s authoritarian structures, and making sure that no amendments concerning these structures make it into the constitution. Meanwhile, he will leave the task of forming the government – as he has stated – to the majority in parliament. However, the regime will maintain a total dominance of those critical sectors that could be used to manufacture problems, such as diesel, butane gas, and bread. These issues are enough to topple any government through popular opinion, since they can cause emerging popular forces to lose favor among their base.

The scene is not very different should Mursi win, since the apparatus of the deep state will constrict him and not be cooperative. It will use these very same issues to stand in his way, and perhaps add sectarian strife into the mix to open the door for a gentle or rough military coup that once again strips the popular forces of their bases of support. No players will remain in the game except Mubarak’s men and their domesticated opposition.

In both scenarios, the MB is not the only loser, since the deep state’s determination to cause them to fail has nothing to do with the MB’s political or intellectual orientation, but is due to the fact that they are the sole organization with a wide presence on the ground, and they are the most able (and I am not talking about mere aspiration) to mobilize the masses against the regime, and to take political action past mere protest. As a result, if they fail in this way, it will not open the door for deeper, more structured forces, or those closer to other national factions to rise; rather, it will pave the way for the redeployment of the Mubarak regime, with its regional and international alliances, and the squandering of Egyptians’ value and the degradation of their dignity.

The way to preempt those two scenarios is for revolutionary forces to close ranks and come to agreement. In the first place, this is necessary in order to defeat Shafiq, either through a political isolation law or the elections, and then to remain allied after this battle — whether Shafiq wins or loses. If he loses, then the wide national framework gives the new rulers popular cover enabling them to dismantle – if only partially – the deep state, and render it incapable of paralyzing the country in such a way as to topple the new rulers through the means previously described.

On the other hand, if Shafiq wins, it becomes even more important to maintain solidarity and accord, since it increases everyone’s ability to counteract the return of the full-fledged oppressive structure, and gives hope – however faint – of a victory in the next round, achieved by addressing the myriad errors committed these past months. As far as the government is concerned, it gives these forces the ability to step forward as a group to assume responsibility, instead of each one fearing to bear responsibility alone, so as not to bear the brunt of the state apparatus’ attempts to thwart them. By refusing to form a government, they can also avoid giving Shafiq the opportunity to arrogate the executive branch of the government to himself.

Above all, this effort at solidarity requires that the various actors realize how critical this moment is, and that they need to place the effort at building the future above settling past scores. Each side needs to put forth enough well-intentioned initiatives to reassure their rivals. The MB’s main responsibility is to reach real understandings that confirm that they have realized that in order to win, their presidential candidate needs twice the number of votes that he received in the first round, and that if he contests the second round of elections in the same way that he did the first round – as the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood – he will not garner the extra votes necessary. Changing his definition from the MB candidate (or the sole Islamist candidate) to the candidate of the forces of change requires more than just changing the campaign slogan from “Renaissance is the will of the people” to “Our strength is in our unity,” but rather, this change needs to manifest itself in the negotiations on the ground over which the election contest is taking place.

My assessment is that negotiation must revolve around four pivotal issues. First is the program and formation of the government. Mursi’s program, both in his vision of how to reform the security apparatus and his economic platform, is to the right of the candidates who occupied third through fifth place in the first round (and whose share of the vote totals 50%). Then, as concerns the formation of the government, he should orchestrate it in such a way as to guarantee that Parliament can hold it accountable, and that it is able to operate independently of the dictates of the Freedom and Justice Party. Second, concerning the constitution, he should conclude the criteria for forming the constituent assembly and announce the main principles involved before the elections. Third, he must discuss how he will manage the presidential office with respect to people and responsibilities. Fourth, he needs to elucidate the criteria he will employ in making appointments to the highest political offices in the state, such as guarantee that all the political currents will be included in the state and oversee its operation – after having been excluded for decades.

The MB’s flexibility in reaching understandings will play a decisive part in determining whether their candidate wins or not. This requires silencing the voices of the organization’s higher echelons, who are asserting that there is no need for coordination. Likewise, it requires that that the MB’s grassroots supporters put pressure on their leaders to reach such understandings. Otherwise, all their efforts on the ground will have been in vain. My assessment is that this sort of pressure would be able to overrule what seems to be a tendency among some of the MB’s leadership to lose these elections (even with understandings), in order to protect the organization’s cohesion by placing it under another external threat that enables it to put off its differences and justify its mistakes.

In return, the political forces should not make excessive requests, since they have been asking for things that are inconsistent with democratic norms (such as their request that the MB candidate step down, or that a “presidential council” be set up, in which the president would be the weakest member). Rather, they should make requests commensurate with their weight on the ground, such as guarantee the political, economic, and social rights of citizens, and not get caught up in settling past accounts with the MB (whether from the distant or the recent past).

There is no room for selfishness or clowning around in this electoral battle, nor is there room for settling scores or seeking out narrow personal or organizational gains. Whoever supposes that he can achieve anything of that sort in this contest will get himself and others caught in the old regime’s trap, and will compromise both his and others’ remaining ability to bring about the success of the revolution.

Have I given the message? O God, be my witness.

Why accept these elections?

As I write these lines, a large group of people angry with the decision of the Egyptian Presidential Election Commission's decision to dismiss allegations of (massive) fraud in favor of candidate Ahmed Shafiq have ransacked set fire to his Cairo HQ, and more are protesting in Tahrir Square and in Alexandria. Only a few thousands have come out so far, but there are calls for larger protests tomorrow and Friday.

I can't say I particularly blame them.

The question is not really anymore whether there was massive fraud, or only minor violations as the PEC stated today. Its ruling is not appealable, it has a past record of dubious decisions, and it behaved suspiciously by distributing last minute supplementary voter lists and blocking access to observers to counting rooms. The PEC had no credibility even before the vote was cast for many people who are unhappy with the results.

The real question is to what extent will the political leaders that supposedly represent the protestors will push the delegitimization of the elections, and how the Muslim Brotherhood (which has alleged fraud but not filed any complaints, perhaps afraid to lose its spot on the runoff) will position itself between the protest movement and the state.

The revolutionaries were right that no constitution should be written, and no election held, under the rule of generals who served Hosni Mubarak. They didn't care about the current interim constitution because it itself has little legitimacy, and the transition has been so mangled as to barely make sense anymore. They never received much backing from political leaders, however (including Aboul Fotouh and Sabbahi until now, since they have rejected the PEC's ruling), unless you count Mohamed ElBaradei's boycott of the election and rejection of the transition process (but he too only half-heartedly called on the generals to step down). The politicians were afraid to alienate the good part of the population that doesn't want to take that risk of confronting the state head on, as well as jeopardize their own position in the emerging order. I don't know whether they'll change their minds now, but one would think the moment is ripe  — even if this leads to no concrete gain and probably much pain, the seeds of delegitimization of the future regime will have been laid.

Aboul Fotouh and Sabbahi are mediocre candidates — the former is quite shallow and too much a product of the Brotherhood to be the transformative politician he claims to be, the latter stuck in the morass of Nasserism and has a dubious past of links to Saddam, Qadhafi, and a present position towards the Syrian civil war ("it's an international conspiracy," he says) that is classic fourth-rate Arab paranoid populism. But someone needs to rise to the occasion here and reject this electoral process outright (Aboul Fotouh and Khaled Ali have). If you're going to lose, you might as well drag others down with you — in this case, the PEC, the SCAF, and the (officially) winning candidates. It's just good politics.

It's time for politicking

"You'll be late for the revolution!" - Some social science of the presidential elections:

Morsy is now trying to mobilise the revolutionary vote for him, and some (like the novelist Alaa El Aswany) are going along with that. But everything that the Brotherhood has done in the past year and so indicates that as soon as they gain power, they will drop, marginalise, and - if necessary - recklessly repress their former allies.

However tempted by an anti-Shafiq, pro-Morsi, vote, secular / progressive / revolutionary voters are in the second round, how many will actually do it in light of their perception of the MB's behavior in the last year? This is what the Brotherhood lost by some of its behavior over the last year, notably over the constitutional assembly and its refusal to seriously condemn crackdown on protestors: its claim to the leadership of the opposition. This is why Morsi's score, in most interpretations of the results, is seen as being against both the old regime and the revolutionaries: the Brotherhood is perceived as forming its own distinct group. Indeed, the prospect of a restoration of the old regime through Shafiq is not necessarily as terrifying to some to an unstable military-Brotherhood alliance like Sudan in the late 1980s (see how that ended?)

It is a tough dilemma: one might be tempted to block Shafiq by voting Morsi, but then think that Morsi will just turn around and negotiate with the army without any input from the "revolutionary" forces. I spoke about this to MB leader Khairat al-Shater the morning after the election; he seemed to think there was no need to bring in other candidates as VPs or promise them cabinet positions (or some policy impact) because even if their voters did not choose Morsi as their first choice, there is a reservoir of goodwill towards the MB among them.

But that's not how politics should work: candidates' endorsements should be in exchange of clear gains, most notably an actual position of influence in government (and in that case VP may not be the job to go for). Discussion of this in the Egyptian media makes it seems like it's some kind of dirty deal, but that's BS: the unlucky candidates that represent about 50% of the first round vote need to get something for their support. 

Update: While I think Hamdeen Sabahi should focus on his appeal for a recount and try to invalidate some of the Shafiq votes for now, his statement that he refuses any position under Morsi is non-sensical. The question should be what does he get from them — both personally and hopefully for what he thinks his voters represent.