New president Morsi faces hostile media

Egypt’s newly-elected President Mohamed Morsi has been the target of a media campaign aimed at tarnishing both his image and that of Islamists.

The campaign, launched by several Egyptian media outlets suspected of having close links with both the former regime and the military generals (who ruled the country in the transitional period), has been defending the military council’s policies while vilifying their critics. (more…)

Crowds return to Tahrir Square to protest military power grab

Hundreds of thousands of activists returned to Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Monday night to protest supplementary constitutional amendments issued by the ruling military council in recent days. The amendments grant the military sweeping legislative and budgetary powers while limiting the powers of the country’s next president. Critics argue that the surprise amendments — announced as votes in the presidential run off were being counted — are a last-ditch effort by the military to retain power beyond the handover to civilian rule on 1 July. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has denied the charge, insisting it will hand over to the newly elected president on the scheduled date as promised.

The newly introduced amendments include re-imposition of martial law allowing military police to arrest civilians “to enforce order”. Shielding the military from accountability, they also grant the SCAF the right to form a panel to draft the constitution should the constituent assembly recently elected by parliament fail to complete its work. The military council would also have control over the drafting of the new constitution with the right to object to any article.

The new decisions by the SCAF unleashed a new wave of anti-military criticism. Rights lawyer Hossam Bahgat called the amendments “a declaration of war” while sceptics described them on Twitter as being tantamount “to a complete military coup” and “an inevitable end to a messy transitional period.”

The announcement of the new amendments came as Egyptians were still reeling from shock after the High Constitutional Court issued a ruling to dissolve the Islamist-dominated parliament on Thursday . The court also decided to allow Ahmed Shafik, a former air force commander and the last prime minister under Mubarak, to stand in the run-off election. The latter ruling dashed hopes of the youth-revolutionaries that the former regime remnant would be forced out of the presidential race under a so-called “political exclusion law” passed by parliament. The law, which bars former regime members from standing for office, was rejected by the High Constitutional Court as unconstitutional.

As pro-reform activists chanted anti-military slogans in Tahrir Square on Monday night, supporters of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi celebrated his victory after his campaign organisers announced he had won the election by 51.2 per cent of the vote. Shafik ‘s camp has disputed the vote count , declaring its candidate the winner. The two camps have also traded accusations of election violations. The Supreme Electoral Commission has stated it may have to delay the announcement of the official election result beyond Thursday as it continues to look into complaints of voting irregularities filed by the two camps.

The presidential vote has brought to the surface the Islamist-secular divide that has existed in Egypt for decades. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group — who have long been marginalised and oppressed by successive military presidents in Egypt — fears a renewed crackdown if Shafik wins the election.

Members of the movement have in recent days tried to rally the secularist youth-activists behind them, urging them to unify ranks to counter “the military challenge”. But the truth is there no love lost between the mostly middle class, educated pro-reform activists who led the January 2011 mass uprising and the Islamists. Despite giving the MB candidate Mohamed Morsi their vote, many of the young revolutionaries argue that they voted for him simply because they considered him “the lesser of two evils”. Many of them believe the Muslim Brotherhood betrayed the revolution to further its own interests.

Film director Khaled Youssef, a liberal who invalidated his vote, accuses the Islamist movement of aligning with the military dictatorship and “selling out the revolutionaries.”

“Not only did the Muslim Brotherhood attempt to excercise monopoly over the drafting of the constitution but they also reneged on a previous promise not to field a presidential candidate,” he charges.

He adds that the Islamist parliament had allowed the blood of the pro-reform activists to be spilled during last year’s Mohamed Mahmoud violent protests when MPs had charged that “the protesters were not the real revolutionaries but were thugs and criminals instead.”

With tensions escalating and political forces calling for another “million people march” in Tahrir Square on Friday, analysts predict that the unrest in Egypt is likely to worsen in the coming weeks before showing signs of improvement. The activists meanwhile are bracing themselves for another showdown with the military.

Voters flock to polls in Egypt’s first multi-candidate election

Fifteen months after Hosni Mubarak ’s ouster, this week Egyptians headed to the ballot box to choose a new President in the country’s first multi-candidate Presidential election. Unlike previous polls when election results had invariably been foregone conclusions, the outcome of this historic vote is uncertain with analysts and voters unable to speculate who the likely winner may be. Braving soaring temperatures, voters  lined up in orderly queues at polling stations across the country on Wednesday 23 May  (the first day of the vote) displaying passion and a rare patience to put up with the bureaucracy and the long wait.

“I’ve been waiting three hours in line but will wait no matter how long it takes,” said 32 year- old housewife Walaa Dweedar, one of the scores of women waiting outside the Thanaweya Girls School in the upper class residential neighborhood of Maadi. “We’ve never had a chance to freely choose our President.  In the past, the authorities had always fixed the results beforehand.”

She said she planned to vote for Hamdeen Sabahi, the left leaning social activist who’s fast becoming the “revolutionary” choice of many voters seeking change. Sabahi’s popularity has surged recently thanks to his campaign promise to bridge the vast gap between the country’s rich and poor.

Standing behind Walaa in the lengthy all-women queue was 33-year-old Injy Hamdy, another housewife who eagerly  told Index she was keen to vote “to diminish the chances of an Islamist contender”.

Security and stability are high priority demands for many voters worn out after months of chaos, street violence and  a surge in crime rates .

Standing a few meters away was a woman in a full face veil who introduced herself as “Om Ahmed”. Her choice was vastly different from that of the other two  women who were both younger and were clad in Western-style jeans and T-shirts.  She said she would vote for Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential nominee.

“I want a President who is honest and who is worthy of our trust. Morsi will implement Islamic Sharia law” she explained.

Morsi is the more conservative of   two Islamist Presidential hopefuls taking part in the race. He was nominated by the  Muslim Brotherhood after the group’s original nominee Khairat el Shatter was disqualified from the race by the National Electoral Commission because of  his “criminal record.”   Morsi’s last minute nomination has earned him the nickname of  “the  back-up” or “spare candidate”.

Addressing Cairo University students in a recent election campaign speech he stated that “ the Koran is our constitution, Jihad is our path and death in the name of Allah is our goal.”

Mohamed Yehia, a 21 year-old graduate of the Faculty of Agriculture at Cairo University paraded back and forth between the gender segregated lines carrying a placard that read “Martyrs of the Revolution , we shall not forget your sacrifices”.  Another young man raised a poster depicting some of those killed by security forces during the January 2011 mass uprising. Yehia said he and his friend  were hoping to remind voters that it was because of the spilt blood and the sacrifices made by the brave young people who confronted Mubarak’s brutal security forces, that Egyptians were  now able  to freely choose their President.  Yehia said he would vote for Abdel Moneim Aboul Fottouh who has been described as a “liberal Islamist”. One of the  front runners in the election, Aboul Fottouh’s moderate policies have earned him the support of liberals, ultra-conservative Salafis and Egyptians of  starkly different ideologies .

In the populous low income district of Boulak where voter turnout was low, there was clear rejection of  the Islamist candidates owing to what one voter described as “their broken promises.”

“There has been little change since they came to parliament. They’ve been concentrating on trivial issues and have not dealt with the important issues like security and the economy,” complained Nasser el Leithy, a trader in a workshop selling car parts .

“The revolution had no leader and so we have been left with the old regime remnants or felool and the Islamists. I’m voting for Ahmed Shafeek…better the devil you know,” he said shrugging his shoulders.

A former Air Force commander, Shafeek  is one of the Presidential candidates and a former Prime Minister under Mubarak .

“The country has stalled since the revolution. All we want is for things to starting moving again so that we can get on with our lives. And we don’t care who gets it moving. All we want is to be able to feed our children,” said Tamer Yehia, a mechanic.

Hence the strong showing by former regime figures who are seen by many in this deprived neighborhood as officials  with experience in government. But not everyone sees Shafeek as a force for stability  as was evident when some protesters threw stones and shoes at the presidential candidate minutes after he cast his ballot, taking aim at him for “being a felool” an expression used by Egyptians to describe those who served under deposed leader Hosni Mubarak.

“Down with military rule! Down with the old regime,” they chanted. “The blood of the martyrs is on your hands.”

With election results expected on the 29 May and a second round anticipated in mid June the country is polarised and skeptics doubt that the appointment of a new President will bring stability anytime soon. They worry that the choice of the new President may in fact deepen the divisions between the secularists and the Islamists and further fuel the already heightened tensions.