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November 10, 2011
Following the rather successful conclusion of parliamentary elections in Tunisia, attention has now turned to elections in Egypt. Coming almost a year after the toppling of the Mubarak regime, elections will serve as a useful political barometer for the strength of various political groups in the country. For some, though, elections will also be an opportunity to consolidate or erode gains made during the last few months. In particular, after the consistently strong polling results of Muslim Brotherhood-associated groups, most of the questions being raised are about the role that the Muslim Brotherhood is likely to play in a post-Mubarak Egypt.
In an article for the daily Al Ahram, Abdel-Moneim Said wonders whether Egypt will follow Tunisia’s model: “[t]he Tunisian example is quite refreshing, suggesting that the Islamists are capable of change and are trying to keep the spirit of the Arab Spring alive. Will other Islamist-leaning parties follow the Tunisian lead, or will they hold back the transition towards democracy? Will the Islamists open up to the world and engage the international scene, or will they be distant and xenophobic? The answer is to be found in Cairo. With 80 million people, Egypt is without question the biggest fish in the Arab pond. If it floats, the whole region will benefit. If it sinks, the consequences will be felt outside its borders. So far, the scene in Cairo is mixed. The Muslim Brotherhood is neither open-minded nor modern in its tendencies....We don't know if the Muslim Brotherhood wants the country to move forward, or turn around.”
The signs coming from the main political actors don’t necessarily point to a non-controversial election. Last week, according to a report by Hussein Mahmoud on Ikhwan Web. “[a]fter five full hours, Tuesday’s conference for the declaration of the basic principles of the Constitution of the modern Egyptian state came to an end. Dr. Ali Selmi, Deputy Prime Minister for Political Affairs, held the meeting with some political and party stakeholders at the Opera House, from 11 am to 4 pm....The FJP did call upon political parties and national stakeholders to take part Wednesday in a press conference…to discuss the negative effects of Dr. Selmi’s initiative on the revolution and the community at large. Meanwhile, the Wafd, the Tajammu’a and the Egyptian Social Democratic parties have accepted the Principles document, amid strong rejection by the FJP and Al-Nour, while six human-rights organizations boycotted Selmi’s conference because of the issues of military trials and ‘torture.’”
The growing divide among the various Egyptian political actors in light of the newly proposed Bill of Rights is also the subject of an article by Amr Emam In The Egyptian Gazette,“The gap between the nation's Islamists on one hand and the interim government and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces on the other hand seems to be widening, in the wake of the Islamists expressing strong reservations about a package of supra-constitutional principles that the Government wants the nation's political powers to endorse, just weeks before the nation goes to the polls on November 28....El-Selmi came under intense fire from the Islamists last week when he gathered political powers to discuss a Government-authored bill of rights, a document that contains the principles that should govern Egypt's next Constitution. Some political powers, including the Islamists, objected in particular to articles in the bill giving the armed forces the right to agree on arms deals without parliamentary supervision.”
As a report by Al Masry Al Youm makes clear, relations between the military-backed government and the Islamist parties are likely to become even more strained: “Islamists are planning for massive demonstrations on Friday, 18 November, to protest the document of supra-constitutional principles [that] Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmy is advocating for. Selmy met with political leaders on Wednesday to discuss the 22-clause document, which will put in place certain guidelines on the character of the state to be followed whenever the new constitution is written....Yousry Hammad, the spokesperson for the Nour Party, stressed that the more Selmy steps up his efforts to pass the document, the more his party will escalate its efforts to prevent it. He claimed that 99 percent of Egyptians reject the document, aside from the Tagammu and Wafd parties, remnants of the former Mubarak regime and anti-Islamist groups.”
However, as Asharq Alwasat’s Abdul Sattar Hatita notes, not everyone accepts the Muslim Brotherhood’s claims of moral leadership. According to Hatita, “Sheikh Yusuf al-Badri, a well-known Islamic preacher and former member of the Egyptian People's Assembly, launched a scathing verbal attack on the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Group and the Salafi movement, saying that these groups have the blood of many Egyptians on their hands....Al-Badri fears that fighting between the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups is around the corner, and this he believes is because of lingering disputes between the movements, which Al-Badri expects to intensify at the upcoming elections or soon after. Al-Badri stated that currently there is a committee for coordinating between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi powers in order to avoid such clashes. The indications of that emerged at the "Islamic sharia Friday" demonstration at al-Tahrir Square in July 2011.”
Challenges to the military-backed government are not coming from religious organizations only. Sarah El Sirgany of Daily News Egypt writes about an imprisoned activist’s mother, who has gone on a hunger strike demanding her son’s release: “Abdel-Fattah, an activist and outspoken critic of the ruling military council, was remanded in custody earlier this month pending investigations into accusations of inciting violence, stealing army weapons and vandalizing military property on Oct. 9, during the Maspero events. On Oct. 30, he refused to be questioned by the military prosecution since the army is party to the crime it is probing, and that as a civilian he should not be interrogated by the military prosecution....At a press conference last Thursday members of the No to Military Trials Campaign, coordinated by Abdel-Fattah’s sister Mona, urged civilians to follow in Abdel-Fattah’s footsteps and refuse any interrogation by the military prosecution whether they are summoned as suspects or witnesses. As Seif El-Islam explained, ‘the right to remain silent is a basic legal right.’”
Others see the betrayal of the ideals of the Egyptian uprising foremost in the area of women’s rights. Al Masry Al Youm’s Aliaa Dawood is concerned that “Egyptian men are busy planning and implementing another revolution, but this time women will not play any role in it whatsoever. This is because it is a revolution against women’s rights. Those behind it are organizations with names like the “Coalition to Protect the Family,” “Save the Family Association” and “Egyptian Men’s Revolution.” Their efforts, as well as those of many others, constitute a backlash against women’s rights....Not surprisingly, many men — especially members of the Egyptian Men’s Revolution and similar organizations — perceive the ousting of the Mubarak regime as a wonderful opportunity to “regain their rights,” and this seems to be happening. Their success is not because women are not entitled to the rights in question, but because of who was behind introducing these changes and how they were introduced.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at email@example.com.