The 25th of January, 2012 saw the nicest weather Cairo has had all winter.  I also saw the most incredible and beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed in this city.  The streets were filled with throngs of people the likes of which I had never seen before, much less imagined possible.  Indeed, the sheer number of protesters was impossible to fully comprehend.  The march I was initially part of alone dwarfed anything I saw in Madison’s Capital Square, even during its best attended days in February last year.  Then, after roughly half an hour of marching, our column was met by an equally large group of protesters.  The marches converged at a T-shaped intersection.  The front of the marches greeted each other with cheers and chanting so loud you could feel it in your stomach, the power was overwhelming.  We then continued our march towards downtown.  I later found out that our column was joined by at least three other marches, although column was so long that it was only by chance that one witnessed this spectacle.

By the time we crossed from Giza to Zamalek, the march stretched from Tahrir Square well into Giza.  This may be hard to visualize for those of you not familiar with Cairo, but try to imagine a densely packed column of people stretching down most of the length of W. Washington Street (if you are from Madison).  It was fairly spread out in Giza but as I approached Qasr al-Nil bridge, the bridge leading to Tahrir from the island of Zamalek, it became so dense with people that you couldn’t even reach into your pockets or take off your sweatshirt if you got too hot for fear of smacking your neighbors in the face!    However, even in these cramped, generally pretty agitating conditions, the mood remained one of peace and solidarity.  However, contrary to how the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF want to portray January 25th, 2012, those millions of Egyptians took to the streets to protest the continuation of military rule, not celebrate.  While the Muslim Brotherhood set up a stage in Tahrir to tout the military’s empty accomplishments since they took power a year ago, they were alone in a sea of dissenters.

These people were not just your average young activist.  They were Egyptians from every walk of life: from an old woman in a wheelchair to young children with their family; vocal socialists and devout capitalists; scruffy secularists and prolifically bearded Islamists; Katamaya dwellers (very wealthy) and homeless people; Women with not even an eye slit in their Niqab and young women in Ugz and skinny jeans.  Despite the incredible variety, all these people joined in chanting “the people demand the end of military rule.”  And they showed up not in the thousands, but in the millions to demonstrate their disapproval of where the SCAF is taking their revolution.  I can only hope that the energy and solidarity of that day continues.

That being said, the revolution’s anniversary also highlighted a major lingering threat to the revolution: the Muslim Brotherhood.  I know I have written previously urging moderation in how to view the MB.  And I stick by that in terms of them being labeled as Islamists: they are not religious fanatics (not in general at least).  However, they are power hungry and have acted in a way that makes me really nervous about how they will act with their electoral mandate.

First and foremost they have demonstrated repeatedly that they are in bed with SCAF, even if they occasionally put out statements to the contrary.  They are the only group in Tahrir who are supporting the army.  Though initially on the 25th their speakers were blaring anti-SCAF chants, they quickly changed their tone as some of the larger marches entered the square.  This leads into my second concern: they began openly provoking the youth and secular protesters.  They chanted pro-SCAF slogans as well as religious slogans like their usual “Islamaya! Islamaya” which means “Islamic! Islamic!” in reference to themselves.  Additionally, they began claiming to be the true defenders of the revolution and that most of those who had been killed since the revolution were thugs, not martyrs.  For activists who not only actually started the revolution, but who have also seen their friends shot, beaten, tortured and arbitrarily arrested/tried/detained by the military, this was more than they could take.  Some minor scuffles broke out, nothing really major and the more level-headed activists eventually gained control and moved most of their efforts to the square in front of Maspero.  However, the fact remains that the MB was intentionally trying to start fights with protesters; they were playing into the hands of SCAF with absolutely no shame or second thought.  And it worked, not only were they able to get the youth to react to their taunts, but the fighting was enough to scare many of the average Egyptians (non-activist/non-politically affiliated) out of Tahrir square.

Now the mood for many who remain in Tahrir has changed from one of excitement over seeing so many people take part in the marches on the 25th of January to one of tension and aprehension.  Most went down to occupy Tahrir knowing that, like every time prior, they were eventually going to be attacked by the military and CSF.  Additionally, they all knew that the MB would be there and that they would try to stir up trouble.  But the lack of commitment from average Egyptians has really been demoralizing.  Millions turned out to protest on the 25th but only thousands were willing to take part in the sit-in and maintain pressure on SCAF and the new parliament.  Though there is clearly support from many Egyptians, most of them continue to be unwilling to stand in continuing solidarity with those who risked everything for the Egyptian revolution.

If the MB is not challenged, or at least watched closely, they stand to become a new NDP.  They are under the control of the SCAF.  They have shown they are just as willing to disregard electoral laws and use insidious tactics to undermine social movements as the NDP.  They have just found a better way to monopolize power, by not making it obvious.  When the NDP won elections by over 80%, people knew without a shadow of a doubt that the results were fake.  When you win with a clear plurality but not with unilateral control people get the impression that the party is both popular and not obviously corrupt.

I stand by my assertion that the MB deserves a chance to rule as they were elected in an unprecedentedly fair and transparent election.  However, when they are revealed for the two-faced, power hungry people they are it is the duty of Egyptians to once again rise up and depose them through peaceful, democratic means.  Similarly, it is the duty of the West to stay out of this process.  This is not to say that support for Civil Society is not imperative but  America in particular cannot start supporting yet another shadow regime; we already give billions of dollars to the military dictators of Egypt (which needs to change also) and we can’t afford to be seen as supportive of yet another repressive regime in Egypt.  Unless of course America wants to fail even harder at winning the hearts and minds of Egyptians.  Finally, SCAF must not be allowed to slink back into the shadows without being held accountable for their crimes against the Egyptian people while in power.  They must not be allowed to fall into the periphery, where they prefer to work, while still maintaining complete control over civilian governance in Egypt.

The SCAF are criminals and have a lot of blood on their hands.  If the MB decides to protect them and act like the new NDP then they are no better.  If the new government wants any legitimacy it must realize that those who would kill the people they are supposed to protect must be punished.  If criminals can commit their crimes with impunity the people will never have faith in the government.

Hello everyone,

It has been awhile since I last wrote, but I am back at it.  Continuing from my last post, I want to talk about Islamists.

Today is the first meeting of the Egyptian People’s Assembly.  It is the product of historic elections where, despite a number of problems which I have previously discussed, Egyptians were finally able to cast a vote in relatively free and fair elections.  Again, there were problems and I want to emphasize that all I am saying is that they are free and fair in comparison to anything Egyptians under the age of 60 have ever known; they represent progress, no matter how minimal.

However, in both international and domestic reporting, the media continues to get it wrong when it comes to the so-called ‘Islamists’.  This group is identified as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) – which received 47% of the seats in parliament – and the ultra-conservative Salafists’ El-Nour party – which received 25% of the seats in the new parliament.  Even news-sources which generally have good reporting (Al-Jazeera internationally, Al-Masry Al-Youm domestically) are making the serious mistake of lumping both of these parties together under the same banner of ‘Islamist’.

Yes, they are both implicitly motivated by faith, despite the fact that that is illegal under Egyptian party/election law.  And yes, both parties have come out with troubling statements about what policies they intend to enact, specifically in regards to the creation of a religious state and the restriction of freedoms on Copts and tourists (ie. consumption of alcohol, not addressing much-needed reforms in laws regulating the construction of churches).  But, to assume that they will join forces in the new parliament is a serious mistake.

There are a number of reasons for this, I will highlight the two most important ones.

First and foremost, the FJP is considerably more moderate than El-Nour, and it need to distance itself from the Salafis if it is to hold on to its moderate members who comprise a significant amount of FJP’s voter base.  While El-Nour has tried to reign in its most conservative elements, it is associated with a rise in so-called ‘moral-police’, among other troubling trends.  These are bands of men who have decided that their ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam should be enforced through vigilante justice.  Unsurprisingly, these vigilante groups closely resemble those in Saudi Arabia, as Salafism is derived from Wahhabism which is the dominant religious sect in Saudi Arabia.  This, combined with their radical statements concerning gender segregation and the rights of minorities/ women in their ideal Egypt, has made their appeal very limited in Egypt; much more-so than election results indicate.  FJP, on the other hand, has become considerably more moderate throughout the course of the elections.  Whether or not they will follow-through with this remains to be seen.  However, from a number of people I know and have spoken to who voted for FJP, their loyalty is not un-wavering. If FJP fails to make progress in Egypt, they will lose the support of a significant voter base who voted FJP because they think they have the best chance to implement change but who do not support El-Nour’s radical agenda.  To put it simply, if the FJP intends to maintain majority support in Egypt they must keep significant distance between their policies and those of El-Nour because El-Nour represents, and is acceptable to only an ultra-conservative minority in Egypt.  El-Nour’s supporters are not actually a quarter of the Egyptian population and the FJP knows this.

Secondly, FJP and El-Nour just spent the last three months in political and, occasionally, physical conflict with one-another.  If there is one thing the American system has taught me it is that when there are two major parties in prolonged political conflict with one-another, they come out of it highly polarized.  This is true for Egypt as well.  Half of the parliamentary seats were allocated based on party list system which, simply put, means that people vote for a party and the winner takes a majority of seats.  In a majority of the run-off votes associated with the list system, it was El-Nour v. FJP, and they fought each other hard; even to the point of violence in a number of cases.  As such, FJP has come out of elections not willing to work with El-Nour.  They have made a number of public statements to this effect and have made clear their intention to work with secular parties in forming a majority coalition in parliament, not El-Nour or El-Wafd (the other ‘Islamist’ party).  Their opposition to El-Wafd is due to the fact that the party  has a large number of former NDP members (or Fulul as they are called in Egypt).

So, it is incorrect to lump El-Nour and the FJP together because they are far from unified and are highly unlikely to form a coalition in the new parliament.  I have read something to the effect of “Islamists capture 75% of the seats in parliament” way too frequently; it is a gross and misleading misrepresentation of the truth of the matter.  And even in the off chance that El-Nour and FJP do reconcile and chose to work together, they face expectations which are going to be impossible to meet.  Egypt has an overwhelming number of very deeply-entrenched social, economic and political problems.  People are expecting the next government to make rapid progress on all these things, something which no government is capable of.  This is the nature of politics; you start with a lot of promises on the campaign trail and are never able to meet them all.  Inevitably, those in power loose popularity.  President Obama came into office with a comfortable electoral mandate but is now in serious danger of loosing to whichever clown the Republicans put forward (sorry but not sorry, the Republican nominees became a complete joke after Jon Huntsman dropped out).  In Egypt, the military’s reputation has suffered significantly since being visibly put in charge of the country because people expected a lot from it and it largely failed to deliver.  Also, shooting protesters and curb-stomping women didn’t help.

If you remain one of those who buys into the Islamist boogyman, then take heart: the military is still going to have control over the civilian government and wouldnt let anything happen to its precious $1.3 billion leash from the US.  And, as always, the US remains willing to tug that leash and likely made that very clear to the FJP in a number of recent meetings between FJP leadership and American diplomatic envoys.  However, encouraging for those of us who are opposed to American interference and dont much care for the Muslim Brotherhood having the majority power in the country, is that they are going to let people down.  As I said, there is no way they can meet the expectations people have of this government.  They are expected to implement wide-spread improvements, and to do it quickly, two things that rarely happen, especially not in a country still undergoing a revolution.  So, they will dissapoint people and they will either lose popularity and power or they will resort to being another NDP.  While obviously the former is preferable, either way the bottom line is that Egyptians, and the world, need to remain vigilant and recognize that the revolution is far from over and that parties who do not remain fully committed to democratization need to be challenged peacefully and democratically if Egypt is to successfully emerge from this period.  But at the same time, no party should not be given a chance to achieve this: if I am wrong and FJP keeps its head above water than that means they are in fact fit to see Egypt through this period of transition.

Thank you for reading.  As always please give me some comments and I will be happy to answer any questions.

-Mike

I recently had the privilege of being published in one of Wisconsin’s largest/most circulated newspapers.  My article can be read here http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/opinion/column/guest/michael-lethem-we-must-show-our-solidarity-with-egypt/article_6a6a37d8-1f64-11e1-ad67-001871e3ce6c.html?mode=story .  I am writing today in response to one of the people who commented on the article.  He or she made the following comment: “In reading the news and the election results, it appears that the radical muslims are posed to inflict their severe brand of government on the people, whether they like it or not! It could amount to another Afghanistan!”

This is illustrative of how effectively SCAF, Western media and Western governments have used scare-tactics to create Islamist boogymen in Egypt.  While I think Salafists are bad for Egypt and their beliefs abhorrent, they have very little actual following in Egypt.  The election results cannot be considered a reliable indicator of this.  Let me put it in perspective.  In an attempt to show their strength the Salafis organized a trip to Tahrir for all of their followers from across Egypt.  At great expense, they bused their supporters in from every corner of the country.  I was there while they were in Tahrir square.  Yes, they are a scary bunch, but it was the smallest demonstration I have yet seen in Tahrir; they could not have had more than 20,000 people and they only stayed for a couple of hours before hopping on buses and leaving.  Most were from rural areas, the expected strongholds of the Salafis, but very few were from the densely populated urban areas like Cairo and Alexandria.  It was a laughable demonstration in the eyes of those who have seen Tahrir at its best.

Then there is the second, and much more unreasonable boogyman: the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).  They are represented by the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).  I disagree with their policies, I want to make that clear right away.  However, they represent an exponentially more moderate brand of Islam than the Salafis.  While that isn’t necessarily saying much, as Salafis are similar to the ultra-conservatism seen in Saudi Arabia,  I firmly believe that the FJP/MB are not as scary as they are made out to be by Western media.  Indeed, I doubt that they would ever actually try to establish an Islamic republic in Egypt, much less one which imposes the conservative brand of Islam they seem to be associated with in the West.

The results of the ongoing elections and run-off elections occuring right now offer significant insight into the amount of power/support that these boogymen actually have.  The Salafist’s political party (El-Nour) appears to be making unexpectedly significant electoral gains.  But keep in mind that, second only to the FJP, they have committed countless electoral violations to achieve these numbers.  The runoff elections currently going on indicate that, absent the threat of being fined 500LE (roughly $85), voter participation has dropped significantly.  The only people turning up to vote are those with strong convictions either for the FJP or El-Nour (in runoffs, the two parties who receive the most votes in the first round square off against each-other, which is why only the FJP and El-Nour are competing).  So, while turnout was at least encouraging in the first round, it cannot be considered an accurate representation of Egyptians’ actual political beliefs.  Not by a long shot.

The FJP has roughly 40% of votes so far whereas El-Nour has roughly 24%.  Secular coalitions captured a majority of the remaining votes.  While the run-off election results are yet unknown, there are reports coming in of polling stations closing hours early because there are no voters.  Participation has dropped SHARPLY; so too has the number of electoral violations being documented.  Absent behind-the-scenes rigging (which is unlikely in my opinion) we are going to get a much more accurate idea of how many voters FJP and El-Nour actually have supporting them and how many voters they, with cooperation from SCAF, were able to buy/influence.

Of additional importance is the fact that FJP and El-Nour are going to be on the political offensive against each-other for the next couple of months.  In just the first day of the current run-off elections numerous physical altercations occurred between MB supporters and Salafis.  One major altercation even involved groups shooting at eachother!  This indicates that these elections are going to create a serious divide between the two major ‘Islamist’ parties.  If El-Nour and FJP do not form a coalition, they are actually vulnerable to loosing majority control to an alliance of secular parties.  Unfortunately, this is unlikely given pretty strong divides among secular parties and their respective coalitions.

Given the growing rift between El-Nour and FJP and the fact that no secular party would be willing to form a coalition with El-Nour, FJP needs co-operation from secular parties if they are going to be able to run the country.  If FJP establishes a non-secular state, they will not have the support of the secular parties which they are very likely to need.  Additionally, as sad as it is to say that this is important, a non-secular government would not have the support of the United States; something SCAF can neither afford nor will they let it happen.

This leads me to my conclusion.  It is unlikely that FJP or the MB would create a non-secular state if/when they win the elections.  They are NOT the boogyman they are made out to be in the West.  The idea of them as a boogyman is manufactured by both SCAF and Western governments, perpetuated by Western media.  Western governments, particularly the United States, need this boogyman to justify their decades of massive financial and logistical support of dictators and non-democratic governance in Egypt.  SCAF needs this boogyman because it allows them to justify their stranglehold on all areas of Egyptian civil society and civilian governance.  Even the Salafis, as abhorrent as I find them to be, are not the boogyman they are made out to be.  These runoff elections will affirm what I have seen with my own eyes: our boogymen are figments of our imagination and we need to get back in touch with reality if we are to accurately understand Egypt’s burgeoning political culture.

Thanks for reading and, as always, comments are both welcome and encouraged!

-Mike

After thinking on the matter, I want to share some further thoughts regarding the Egyptian elections, specifically those who voted in it as well as my concerns about achieving sustained positive change in Egypt.  As I am sure you have gathered from my previous argument, I am very skeptical about these elections and whether or not they will truly yield fruit for Egypt.  However, I do not in any way mean to disparage the voters of Egypt: I am critical of the system not the people.

Especially as a young person who also voted for the first time in a landmark election, I know the sense of excitement that comes with voting.  My experience was with the 2008 presidential elections in America where I voted for the first time for President Obama.  Like many people at the time, I was quite enamored with him and when it was announced that he had won it was one of the happiest moments of my life; it was the first time I had ever heard the national anthem sung on Beloit’s campus.  Especially knowing the role young people played in getting Obama elected (we were his most supportive demographic) it felt like something was really changing; that finally youth had the ability to influence a political landscape dominated by baby boomers and those who did not (and still don’t) have our interests in mind.  I remember that feeling vividly and, regardless of my disappointment at President Obama’s performance, I will never forget how much my ability to participate meant and still means to me.

I have spoken to a number of Egyptians, young and old, who have expressed the same excitement at being able to participate that I felt roughly four years ago.  For the first time in their lives, they feel like they are actually able to meaningfully participate and make their voice heard by their government.  This resonates with me particularly when I talk to Egyptians who are my age.  This is not only their first opportunity to vote in an election where the outcome isn’t decided before the first ballot is filled out, it is their first chance to vote period.  To any of you reading: you have every reason to be proud.  The fact that evil men are trying to undermine democracy in Egypt should not detract from how much pride you take in your legitimate interest in making your voice heard through the electoral process.

A wise man, Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, recently made the argument that youth, like those in Tahrir, expect rapid and monumental change whereas older people are happy to see incremental change.  He argues that change is never a rapid progress and if the expectations are set too high they will be impossible to achieve.  This, in turn, will discourage young people from continuing to fight for change in the long-run because they will know only failure, not success.  This rings true to me in a number of ways.

First, I see this at play in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  They seem to think that they can change everything at once.  However, by doing so, they are actually failing to really change anything: you cant take on the entire system at once and expect to meet with any success.  During the civil rights movement they took on the issue of segregation one manifestation at a time: buses, schools, government, restaurants and the workplace were all addressed separately so that all of the movement’s efforts could be focused on achieving sustained, incremental change.  My generation seems to have lost sight of that: if we continue to aim at taking down the entire system at once with no clear direction or leadership, the Occupy Movement’s numbers will remain in the thousands.  If we can show a clear plan which actually starts to achieve something, we will be joined by the millions who agree in principle but who remain silent because of a lack of faith in the movement itself.  That might even convince me to willingly return the the United States!  Maybe.

In Egypt I see the same thing.  When the goal was focused on removing a figurehead of all that was wrong with Egypt, the movement had millions who stood up with one voice.  They succeeded in achieving an incredible, but incremental change.  However, now many have begun pursuing incremental change through elections, while many more see the removal of SCAF from its complete control over the country as the next necessary step.  The splintering of the revolution’s goals killed its ability to meaningfully change the system.  The people in Tahrir do not have the numbers, even on their largest days, to topple the military’s stranglehold on Egypt: it is a system which dates back to Egypt’s independence and one which the army, as well as some among the Egyptian population, support.  Tahrir is currently unable to demonstrate that they have the support of Egypt’s silent majority, the people who were willing to fight Mubarak but unwilling to pursue a goal which many see as currently un-achievable.  However, as indicated by participation in the elections, this majority is willing to participate in elections, which many (myself included) still recognize as an incremental step in the right direction.  I still believe elections are too incremental for anyone to claim democracy yet, but elections are a goal that was achieved and one that has the support of a majority of Egyptians.

I am by no means saying that Tahrir does not still have power.  Through their bravery and heroism in the last two weeks, the people of Tahrir (and its various manifestations throughout the country) have shown that they still have considerable power and that they are able to defend their beliefs from the brutality of SCAF and the Central Security Forces.  They are a third point of the power triangle that exists in Egypt: SCAF/former regime elements (yes, I believe wholeheartedly that they are in league with one-another), the people of Tahrir, and the voters/political parties (undeniably some parties are also complacent with former NDP elements but informed voters reject them outright).  While the battle (literal and figurative) between Tahrir and SCAF is at a stalemate right now, it is by no means over.  However, the voters/political parties have made incremental gains against SCAF.  The true extent of these gains remains to be seen, but they did achieve something.  But, these gains are overshadowed by the growing divide between Egypt’s voters/political parties and the people of Tahrir.

This has gotten very long and I sincerely hope you have made your way through it.  I will conclude by calling for unity between the base corners of the triangle: Tahrir and the voters.  Both of these groups still have substantial power, if not politically, together they have numbers.  Even if their goals remain separate, they must both realize that neither will achieve their aims unless they continue to get concessions from SCAF.  I do not mean elections, I see them as too incremental (perhaps a product of my youth).  I mean concessions such as stopping SCAF’s collaboration with former NDP members (for example, SCAF’s decision to appoint of a former NDP Prime Minister as the new interim Prime Minister).  I am talking about concessions such as ending military trials and detention for civilians as well as an end to the continuing crackdown on journalists, bloggers and freedom of expression in general.  Certainly, many of these are rather large concessions, but when they were unified the people of Egypt overthrew a heavily entrenched dictator in only 18 days.  Rally behind meaningful, yet incremental change, or this revolution is going to stagnate and SCAF is going to win.

Thanks for reading!

-Mike

I last wrote about the elections in a fairly positive light.  Despite their many flaws, I believe that, in a limited sense, they represent a step in the right direction.  However, from talking with my friends and people in Tahrir, a number of very salient critiques have emerged which I want to share with you.  I will highlight the arguments which I find most convincing.

The biggest problem with the elections is legitimacy.  Their questionable legitimacy stems from a number of problems.  First and foremost, based on surveys conducted at polling stations, roughly 60% of Egyptian voters went to the polls not knowing who they were going to vote for.  They were motivated to vote more by the threat of being fined 500LE (roughly $85) for not voting than a strong political conviction.  While my sense is that these people were excited to have the ability to vote, they lacked any meaningful knowledge of the candidates’ platforms because of high illiteracy rates (the most generous estimates put adult illiteracy at around one third of the population).  I think the election meant a lot to most everyone who participated, but most did not understand the damage being done by not having any information about parties or policies.   At almost every polling station the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party as well as the Salafist Nour Party had campaigners (illegally) telling people, essentially, “this is my symbol on the ballot and this is my number, vote for me so you can get on with your day.”  I think we are likely to see this have an enormous impact on the number of MPs controlled by either El-Nour or the Muslim Brotherhood.

Indeed, many in Tahrir will say that this is the very reason they boycotted the elections.  By threatening to fine people more money than most Egyptians make in a year, SCAF was able to guarentee that the election had significant participation despite calls for a boycott.  Additionally, knowing that the Muslim Brotherhood has an enormous organizational advantage over the other parties, SCAF was able to ensure that the elections created the Islamist boogyman that the West is so afraid of.  This, in turn, guarantees that SCAF will retain the West’s support in the name of preventing an Islamist take-over of the most populous Arab state, regardless of how much it undermines civilian governance.  Furthermore, the elections restored a lot of legitimacy to SCAF domestically and helped to repair its ailing reputation in Egypt.  It desperately needed the popularity/legitimacy boost after the atrocities committed by soldiers and Central Security Forces in the area around Tahrir over the last two weeks.

This leads into another very common argument for boycotting the elections: they are meaningless in the absence of any guarantee that SCAF will actually meaningfully surrender power to a civilian government.  Despite flaws in elections, the establishment of a somewhat democratically elected civilian government will proceed as planned.  However, he military will not surrender any of its control over this civilian government.  When un-elected officials hold all of the power over elected officials, the system can hardly be called a democracy; it will be back to business as usual in Egypt for the last 60 years.

From what I understand, the fear in Tahrir is hardly related to who wins the elections because they will ultimately have very little say over what actually goes on in Egypt. Instead, they fear that the military is hijacking the revolution to preserve its complete control over not just the government, but the economy of Egypt as well.  Under the current Egyptian constitution, the military owns every piece of land/property that is not deeded to a person or commercial entity.  That means that every bit of undeveloped land, as well as any estate that has not been legally willed to someone, becomes the property of the Egyptian military, not the civilian government.  In addition, it is estimated that the Egyptian military controls anywhere between 30-40% of the country’s economy.  This incredible control over the country’s economy allows the military to essentially hold the civilian government hostage without having to visibly use force.  Simply put: the elections mean nothing because they are electing a puppet, not a government.

And, whats more, SCAF makes no secret of the fact that they will not relinquish any of their supra-constitutional powers.  Last Sunday Field Marshal Tantawi made the following statement: “The position of the armed forces will remain as it is.  It will not change in any new constitution.”  When the head of the armed forces says the same thing Mubarak has for the last 30 years, how can anyone reasonably expect these elections to mean anything?  While the military has no reservations over beating, shooting and using chemical weapons against their own citizens, how can that be considered a civil state?  When at least 12,000 Egyptians are being held without charges by the military and (if tried) sentenced in sham trials by military courts, how can that be considered a state which respects the rights and freedoms of their people?  These are the things which need to change before any election will have any meaning.  Any incremental gains made by a slightly less flawed election pale in comparison to what is lost if SCAF is allowed to continue its dictatorship in Egypt.  This is why Tahrir still means so much, this is why Egypt’s revolution is far from over.  Egypt is perilously close to being hijacked by yet another dictator.  Will we help this happen or will we actually support the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people?

Thanks for reading, I would love to hear any of your comments/questions.

-Mike

 

As millions of voters continue to flock to polling stations in all Round-One Governorates, election monitors have reported a number of violations.  Before reporting on those, it is worthy to note that, given the miserable state of voting and democracy in Egypt for the last six decades, these elections are still unprecedented and exceptionally promissing not only because of wide-spread attendance but also because the number and scope of violations has decreased dramatically.  These are shaping up to be the most free and fair elections in Egyptian history.  However, they still have a long way to go, as thousands of trained election monitors are reporting.

The most common problem from across the country is illegal advertising near and even inside of polling stations, namely by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party as well as the Salafist Nur Party.  Salafists are a very conservative sect of Islamists.  The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), while still proponents of an Islamic state in Egypt, are considered more moderate in their thinking than Salafists and, as such, have a much wider support base.  While it is unlikely that Salafists will have much success at the polls, the Freedom and Justice party is expected to win at least 40% of the vote.  The MB has been active in Egypt as both a political party and a grassroots organization which provides a variety of services to poorer areas in Egypt.  From homeless shelters to schools, the MB has a tremendous advantage in not only organization but also grassroots campaigning ability via all of their various service organizations.  Their projected successes are largely a result of the fact that they have existed as an institution for far longer than any of the other competing parties.

This begs the question: why break the rules if you are almost guaranteed to experience success at the polls?  Why bring into question not only the legitimacy of the vote as a whole, but also the legitimacy of your success?  I believe it is a reflection of the political culture in Egypt.  After decades of habitual corruption and rigged elections (intensified under Mubarak but a practice which predates his rule), it will take a very long time for Egypt to kick that habit.

The other most common problem observed in these elections thus far is polling locations not only opening late (in some cases polling stations didn’t open at all), but those that do open frequently run out of ballots and/or the phosphorescent ink used to mark fingers.  These delays have created a lot of frustration across the country as throngs of people have had to wait for hours outside of polling centers.  However, Egyptians stayed resilient, waiting in line for as long as it took to have their voices heard.

Whether this is a deliberate attempt to dissuade voting by the government, or an example of pure logistical incompetence remains to be seen.  However, the determination to vote on the part of the Egyptian people is more than just inspiring; it is evidence of the determination they have towards achieving a democracy.  Even those who are well aware of the likeliness of fraud and lack of transparency want to be a part of their government, regardless of whether or not the results truly represent their wishes.  I spoke to a man in his late 50′s outside a polling location yesterday.  He said he knew there were forces trying to undermine the elections.  However, he sees the elections as another step in the revolution and, even though SCAF’s dictatorial rule over the country prevents the existence of any sembelence of real democracy, he believes that a high level of participation will send a clear message that the people want democracy; they want it now.

More updates will be posted later as I have to get back to translating.  Please follow the Facebook page “Egyptian Elections 2011 Monitoring” as well as @eicds on twitter to receive all of the latest updates on election monitoring efforts as well as a comprehensive list of recorded violations.  Information is available in both English and Arabic as well as updates from the field available in French.

Best and thanks for reading,

-Mike

Hi everyone,

Busy times here in Cairo.  Elections tomorrow and, as I work for the NGO responsible for coordinating/organizing national election monitoring efforts, I will be taking part as a foreign monitor.  That is assuming that the Egyptian government allows monitors to perform their duties tomorrow, much less get certified (which is the current dilemma).  So things are pretty frantic right now with most of the staff here running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to get all of our monitors and members of the press certified in time.

On a personal note, I am getting really nervous.  I am excited to be able to take part in this momentous occasion; it is a huge privilege to be a witness to what could be the flagship of the Arab Spring.  However, as the last week’s violence has shown, Egypt could just as easily become an example of an incomplete or stagnant revolution.  So, these elections and the coming months/years are crucial not just for Egypt, but for the Arab World and indeed the world as a whole.  The elections are important, in my mind, not so much because of who gets elected, but as a demonstration of what, if anything, has changed about electoral culture in Egypt.  After thirty years of rigged elections and deeply ingrained culture of corruption, can post-Mubarak/NDP Egypt have free, fair, and transparent elections?

Aside from concerns for Egypt, I am concerned for myself and other monitors.  To those of you reading this at home I don’t want you to worry (but know you will anyways), but tomorrow is completely unpredictable.  Perhaps I am freaking myself out a bit too much, but I know in the past monitors have been seen as ‘soft targets’ for harassment by state security.  I am sure nothing serious will happen to me, American passports are good for that kind of thing, but there is a really unfortunate precedent of detention and intimidation of monitors.  So please, for our sake and the sake of Egypt, tomorrow and in coming elections, the monitors are going to need to have the world monitoring them.

And now, for something completely different.  The weather here is legitimately cold.  It is raining ever so slightly, which of course has people freaking out.  Have not seen a cloudy/gloomy day like this since I left WI, which I cant help but feel is kind of foreboding given elections tomorrow.  At the very least it has me in a foul mood. Will post again with election experiences and confirmation that I am still alive and not in prison.  At least if I get arrested it will be for a good cause rather than the idiot AUC kids who got arrested after making molotovs in Tahrir last week…

Best,

-Mike

UPDATE: Sunday November 27th, 9:15pm.

Based on restrictions it would appear that my role is going to be limited to monitoring conditions on the outside of the polling stations.  I am currently working on organizing a group from the American University in Cairo so that they will get to share in this experience.  It has been chaotic, at best, trying to get all of the appropriate approvals.  Regardless, I am exceptionally excited to be able to be a part of this in any way.  I would like to repeat my earlier request to everyone reading this to please keep an eye on the situation in Egypt.  Live updates will be posted via the Ibn Khaldun Center’s twitter account (@eicds) in Arabic, French and English as well as through our Facebook page dedicated to monitoring which is titled Egyptian Election 2011 Monitoring.  I hope you will take the time to check in on what is going on and keep abreast of developments.

There has been a lot of scepticism about these elections, and for good reason.  I believe that while these elections are likely to face many of the same problems as those of the previous 30 years, the simple fact that they are being held and that there will be thousands of trained Egyptians present to monitor them is a good first step.  Even if they are as corrupt as those of the past, there is still enough of a monitoring framework in place that those problems will be thoroughly documented.  This will allow Egyptian Civil Society to really see what progress (if any) has been made and what areas we can target our efforts towards to try and improve the process.  As with any revolution, change will take years but every bit of knowledge we gain is building towards a solution and, inshallah, a free, peaceful, democratic Egypt.

So to Egypt: I still vehemently urge participation.  It is highly unlikely that these elections will be illegitimate for more reasons than the fact that SCAF’s complete control over the civilian government undermines any government, even one that is elected by the people legitimately.  However, if Egyptians show up in large numbers to vote it will send a message to SCAF that the people want democracy and they want a civilian government.  To the rest of the world: keep watching.  People are risking their lives not just by voting, but by monitoring the elections too.  The least the rest of the world can do is pay attention.  You risk nothing by keeping informed and if the world is aware, evil men will no longer have the impunity they have enjoyed for too long.

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