Saturday, December 15, 2012

Egyptian Vote on Referendum: 26 Polling Stations Have Inadequate Judicial Review

Egypt referendum UPDATE: 26 polling stations in 4 governorates lack judicial supervision

Ahram Online, Saturday 15 Dec 2012

Egypt's Judges Club's referendum monitoring room said that 26 polling stations in Cairo, Alexandria, Daqahliya, and Gharbiya governorates lacked judicial supervision.

The club, which had announced a 90 per cent boycott by its members against supervising the referendum, said earlier, however, it would "keep an eye" on the voting process.

The general assembly of the club had previously taken a stance against the referendum due to a previous constitutional declaration by President Mohamed Morsi that made him impervious to judicial oversight.

The Supreme Electoral Commission had announced that over 7000 judges decided to break rank with the club and monitor Saturday's vote in more than 6375 polling stations in 10 governorates voting today.

Morsi a polarising figure in Egypt's referendum: Reuters

AFP, Saturday 15 Dec 2012

Voting in Egypt's referendum on a new constitution may have started calmly on Saturday, but there was no mistaking the highly charged atmosphere that has polarised citizens for weeks

Hostility and fear of the Islamist line espoused by Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood were major reasons many voters gave for casting "no" ballots, rather than the text of the draft charter itself.

"I'm voting because I hate the Muslim Brotherhood. They're liars," said Abbas Abdel Aziz, a 57-year-old accountant, lining up at a polling station in Cairo's central Sayyeda Zeinab district.

"I voted for Morsi and it was a big mistake. This constitution fails to forbid children from working and paves the way for underage marriage," Ali Mohammed Ali, 65 and unemployed, said.

Nearby, police and soldiers guarded the front gate of the school acting as a polling station, on the lookout for any of the violence that since last month has marked protests for and against Morsi and the proposed constitution.

But in the same queue to vote there were others who backed the new charter, on what they saw as its merits.

"I have read the constitution to see if what the opposition say is true, and it's not. It's a good constitution," said Enayat Sayyed Mustafa, a retired woman.

In a women-only polling station in the capital's Shubra neighbourhood, where a large Coptic Christian community lives, a somewhat chaotic situation reigned, with women unsure of in which classroom they were supposed to cast their ballots.

Illiterate voters had to be asked out loud by organisers whether they wanted to vote "yes" or "no" to the constitution, an AFP photographer there said.

Here, too, the divisions were evident.

Sally Rafid, a 28-year-old Christian casting her ballot, said: "There are many things in the constitution people don't agree on, and it's not just the articles on religion. I'm voting against it."

A veiled Muslim women in her 30s, carrying an infant son who gave only her last name, Sabbah, disagreed.

"The constitution is excellent," she said, "and with it freedom is improving. And there are articles that deal with religion and Islamic law, which the previous constitution didn't address properly."

Diplomats ponder the good and bad on Egypt's constitution debate

Dina Ezzat, Saturday 15 Dec 2012

As the political tug-of-war continues over Egypt, concern is being expressed over the next phase - but so is hope

For many Western diplomats in Cairo it is exhausting to stay on top of the developments of the current political process. At times it can get disturbing or even worrying. However, as some told Al-Ahram Online on Friday evening,the current political process offers more reason for hope than for concern.

"The most disturbing part – and I know that not many of my Egyptian friends would agree on this – is the clear state of division that has hit society; it is as if Egypt has turned into two camps," said one European diplomat. She added that many of the Egyptian intellectuals and "ordinary citizens" she has been talking with over the past few weeks regarding the constitution up for referendum "which, of course, is part of a wider political debate" seem to be predominantly concerned over the "control the Muslim Brotherhood is trying take over everything in the country."

For this diplomat, who is nearing the end of her four-year term in Egypt, "Yes, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists are hoping to dominate; we could all see this, but we could also see that it's not easy for them," she added.

The "strong and very vivid reaction" that many political forces have demonstrated should not be overshadowed by Islamists' manoeuvrings to monopolise and "marginalise" other political forces - to borrow a description used by some of her interlocutors.

According to this and other foreign, mostly Western, diplomats in Egypt, the outcome of the constitutional referendum is unlikely to end the political tug-of-war that began with the drafting of the constitution, which has been controversial since twice the Assemblies drafting it saw withdrawals of key non-Islamist representatives, including churches in Egypt.

"My thinking is that the result will be a 'Yes' vote – not by a big percentage but eventually a 'Yes' vote. People would accept it but they would continue to demonstrate and they would lobby for parliamentary elections," predicts a Western ambassador.

He added "throughout the course of this there might be some very tough and even sad moments, there might be blood, but eventually this political process would bring about a democracy by which the Islamists would have to adjust some to be able to continue to be part of the political scene."

But for some Egyptian diplomats who spoke to Ahram Online, what they see does not necessarily subscribe to this hopeful view, in face of a scary vision offered by the foreign diplomatic community in Egypt.

"A regime that starts with an attempt to force a 'Yes' vote on a controversial draft constitution is unlikely to be set to adjust to the demands of the nation," said an Egyptian diplomat who is based overseas.

He claims he was witness to what he qualifies as the "attempt of the ambassador to impress the Muslim Brotherhood by soliciting the leadership of the Egyptian community here to encourage Egyptians to come out to vote in favour of the draft constitution." This early-career Egyptian diplomat says that the most he could do was to decline participation in this "fiasco."

For other Egyptian diplomats the sporadic reports of attempts to interfere in the voting process overseas or in Egypt is not the biggest fear. "The most worrying part is that the Americans are very keen to keep this regime in office; they think it serves its interests in a way that even the [ousted president Hosni] Mubarak regime has not," said one diplomat.

According to this diplomat, Americans are "very comfortable with the role the current regime is playing with Hamas as it encourages Hamas to keep its anti-Israeli resistance activities at a minimum."

Other diplomats speak of more "significant services."

"The regime is now acting as mediator between Washington and other Western capitals with militant Islamist groups in Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East."

The militants in Mali and those in Syria, according to this and other Egyptian diplomats in Cairo and overseas, have been approached by the Morsi regime to abate their attacks in return for political integration.

"For the [US President Barack] Obama administration this is the way forward to deal with militant Islamist groups: encourage them to modernise. For this to happen there must be one or more examples of ruling moderate Islamic regimes - the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is designed to be the key example," said one Europe-based Egyptian diplomat.

He added that what he hears from the European capital he is based in indicates "hardly any interest in the march of democracy in Egypt; there might be a few concernsin some quarters over the state of Christians in Egypt, but beyond that there is a general acceptance that some time should be given to Islamists to try and rule – one way or the other."

Sources close to the Egypt – International Monetary Fund talks say the US used precisely this argument of "give the Islamists a chance to rule in Egypt and moderate other Islamist groups" to pressure the IMF to release the $5 million in funds they had delayed, despite the concerns over the country's political and economic status.

Egypt may lose $20 bln Qatari investments if people vote 'no' for the constitution: Qaradawi

Ahram Online, Friday 14 Dec 2012

A renowned preacher comes out in support of the constitution

The Qatar-based Egyptian Islamic preacher Youssef Qaradawi has called on Egyptians to participate and vote 'yes' in the constitutional referendum set on Saturday, Turkish news agency Anadolu reported on Friday.

Qaradawi, who heads the International Union of Muslim Scholars, said during the Friday prayer’s speech that voting ‘no’ in the awaited polling in Egypt will cost the country a ‘big loss’ as the attraction of investments will be hampered especially, $20 billion from Qatar.

“I will vote yes, I don’t care about neither [President Mohamed] Morsi nor Freedom and Justice Party, but I do care about Egypt, the greatest Arab country’’ Anadolu quoted Qaradawi as saying.

Qaradawi has condemned the wave of violence which Egypt’s streets saw last week rejecting the attack on Muslim Brotherhood, affirming that they want a civil state not a religious as some people claim.

Earlier on Friday, Thousands of protesters for and against the drafted constitution have held events across the country today. Qaradawi has come under scrutiny of the opposition who deem him as a staunch supporter of Morsi.

From the couch to sit-ins: Egypt's silent majority finds its voice

Egypt's silent majority also known as the 'Couch Party' joins the revolution after increasing public discontent with President Mohamed Morsi's decisions

Yasmine Fathi , Friday 14 Dec 2012

For three weeks, Mahmoud Nakhla has been driving frequently from his hometown of Suez, a seaport city on the north coast, to Cairo to join the anti-government protests.

Sometimes he would go to the iconic Tahrir Square in Downtown Cairo. Other times he would choose to join the protesters in front of the Itihadiya Presidential Palace.

“What was important for me was to be among the people and to protest the injustices that I saw,” Nakhla, an engineer said.

“I was so angry, I wanted to scream and shout ‘down with the regime' with all my heart,” he added.

Even though the Egyptian revolution will celebrate its second anniversary next month, this was the first time Nakhla joined any protest. In fact, till this point, his main vantage point during the revolution was his couch.

“That is why they say that people like me are members of the 'Couch Party,'” laughs Nakhla.

The term ‘Couch Party,' made its way into Egypt shortly after the 18-day uprising when furious revolutionaries complained about the Egyptians who refused to go to Tahrir Square or join the protests that continued to rock the country in 2011.

'Couch Party': Reasons for joining anti-constitution protests

But, President Mohamed Morsi made a series of decisions which seemed to irk many people, including the 'Couch Party.'

He released a constitutional decree that put his decisions above judicial review and allowed the Constituent Assembly to rush the final draft of the constitution through a 16-hour rushed voting session.

“After I heard these decisions, I felt that I cannot take it anymore,” explained Nakhla.

“I was also furious at the way the Muslim Brotherhood called for their supporters to back the president. I felt that they will burn the country and I need to go and help save Egypt,” he said.

Nakhla is not the only one to feel this way. Nagla Nosseir, a mother and telecommunications manager, also joined the protests for the first time after the constitutional decree.

“I joined the protests when I lost hope, when I could no longer see a better future for my country. I was waiting for things to get better after the transitional period, but they did not," she said.

Karim Mousafa, an employee in the educational sector, pointed out that he joined the protests for the first time, because he felt that the recent decisions gave Morsi exceptional powers.

“President Morsi is now becoming an even bigger dictator than Mubarak. He is playing with the constitution like it is a toy,” Moustafa said.

Gamel Rashed, who also joined the protests for the first time after the constitutional decree, said that many members of the silent majority felt that the political turmoil was starting to hit too close to home.

“The more it gets closer to people’s personal interests, the bigger the protests will get,” he said.

'Couch Party' participation in Egypt's past political turmoil

Rashed pointed out that members of the 'Couch Party' have not always been passive, but have appeared in crucial moments during the past two years.

“They made an appearance during the 19 March referendum. Again, with the parliamentary elections, and then the 'Couch Party' appeared again in the presidential elections because it was really starting to get close,” he said.

When Egypt's Constituent Assembly was formed by the parliament to draft the new constitution, many Egyptians, he said, were not concerned.

“They were sitting at home relaxed because they knew that the Supreme Constitutional Court will dissolve the constituent assembly,” he said. “When this did not happen, it was a shock and they felt that they needed to take action.”

Ahmed Khalil, a capital market expert, also cited the border attacks in Sinai, during the past couple of years, as one of the triggers that made him join the protests.

“There is a lack of national security and an increase in community terrorism,” he said.

Hania Shulkami, Assistant Research Professor at the Social Research Centre in the American University of Cairo, explained that many Egyptians felt snubbed by the current regime.

Shulkami pointed out that the turning point was during the celebrations for the 6th October war in the Cairo Stadium. President Morsi controversially invited an Islamist dominated audience to attend the celebrations and proceeded to address them.

“He behaved as if only the people inside the stadium counted and everyone outside did not. Since that day he proceeded to address only his people and ignored everyone else. Morsi made many people feel alienated in their own country," Shulkami said.

“As a result, the 'Couch Party' began joining street protests as a way of saying we are here and our voice counts,” she said. “This was their Tahrir moment,” Shulkami explained.

Shulkami added that the increasing hate speech used by Islamists against opponents has left a bitter taste among many people. “Calling people heretics, threatening them that they will go to hell has radicalised people, made them furious,” she said.

The arrival of these news faces has earned mixed reviews from long-time revolutionaries, who wondered why they waited so long to join the revolution.

They asked why 'Couch Party' members did not protest against human rights violations that took place in Egypt since the launch of the revolution, referring to the violent attacks and killing of protesters during the clashes with the ruling military council or the trial of thousands of civilians in front of the military court.

However, psychiatrist and human rights activist, Ehab El-Kharrat said that this is because the silent majority were not personally affected by these incidents.

“The indifferent majority did not feel any threat when activists were attacked in protests or tried in front of military courts. Now they feel that their livelihood or lifestyle is in real danger," El-Kharrat said.

El-Kharrat added that many members of the silent majority were also angry because President Morsi did not fulfil any of the promises he made to the public.

Will 'Couch Party' members become permanent political actors in Egypt?

“The deterioration of trust towards the Brotherhood has been remarkably rapid. I think those who are indifferent or mildly opposing Morsi are now staunch opponents of the regime,” he said. “This is not because of ideological reasons, but because of his sense of incompetence, dishonesty and lack of integrity that has manifested itself in a number of situations,” he said.

El-Kharrat also added that the fact that so many previously passive people joined the revolution lately signals a change in Egypt’s political scene, which has long been, dominated by Islamists. “The support to liberals and leftists among the middle class and the farmers is growing rapidly," El-Kharrat explained.

“The aristocrats and Cairo's upper class suburbs of Zamalek, Heliopolis, Maadi and others are also demonstrating in the streets. We are talking about people who earn thousands or are even millions of Egyptian pounds. They are not only opposing but putting themselves in the face of danger in the streets," he further added.

What comes next however is still unclear. Will the silent majority reclaim their places on the couch once the current political turmoil subsides, or have they now become permanent participants in the revolution?

“Right now everybody has been forced through an intense course of political education,” El-Kharrat said. “I am not sure if they will keep protesting in the streets. Yet, I am sure they will vote and join parties and political movements in the future."

For one, Nakhla says he will continue his newly found political activism.

“Once you find your voice, you can never be silenced again,” El-Kharrat said.

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