Monday, November 29, 2010

2010 Egyptian parliamentary elections

sign supporting Mohammed Beltagy (MB candidate) in Shubra

sign supporting Megahed Nasar (NDP candidate) in Shubra

police outside of polling station in Zamalek

car with posters supporting Hisham Mustafa Khalil (NDP candidate) outside of a polling station in Zamalek

poster supporting Gamila Ismael in the Qasr al-Nil constituency

poster announcing Seuodi Market's support for NDP candidate, Hisham Mustafa Khalil

poster for al-Ghad Party candidate in Abdeen

Election day in Egypt passed without much excitement.

Above are a few photos I took in the Downtown/Zamalek/Shubra areas on election day. Most polling stations seemed empty and their entrances were heavily guarded by police. I heard from one CASA professor that he was turned away at the polling station. There were also rumors of the regime setting up "polling stations" on the government employee buses so that government employees could "cast their votes" on buses.

There were reports of fairly vicious electoral competition between Mohammed Beltagy and Megahed Nasar in Shubra on election day, but even those polling stations seemed dead by the afternoon.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

القصة تتكرر: اباء الحكومة المصرية لوجود المراقبين الدوليين إبان الانتخابات المقبلة

في غضون الأسابيع الماضية، رفضت الحكومة المصرية دعوة الرئيس الأمريكي باراك أوباما لقبول وجود مراقبي الانتخابات الدوليين بزعم أن مواطني مصر لا يريدونه نظرا لأن وجود مراقبين دوليين يمثل تحديا لسيادة الدولة. وأعلنت الحكومة المصرية أن مؤسساتها وقوانينها ودستورها تكفي لتضمن نزاهة وشفافية الانتخابات المقبلة لمجلس الشعب التي سوف تجري في ٢٨ من الشهر الجاري والانتخابات لرئاسة مصر التي سوف تجري في العام القادم.

ولكن إذا نلفت النظر إلى تاريخ مراقبة الانتخابات، لا يمكن أحد الزعم بأن وجود المراقبين يهدد سيادة الدولة. فتقوم مؤسسات متعددة بمراقبة الانتخابات منها مؤسسات ليس لها علاقة ببلد معين أو بأجندة سياسية معينة مثل مؤسسة الرئيس السابق كارتر. وتتم مراقبة الانتخابات في دول كثيرة ما بين بوليفيا وسيراليون. وفي الاعوام الأخيرة وصل التعاون بين المؤسسات المحلية والأنظمة الدولية في ما يخص معايير الانتخابات وتدريب المراقبين إلى درجة أننا لا نستطيع أن نقول إن عملية مراقبة الانتخابات عملية تأتي من الخارج فقط، بل لا بد أن نعترف بأن مراقبة الانتخابات لها تأييد ودعم من كثير من المصريين .

وأكثر من ذلك، لا يشير تاريخ الانتخابات في مصر إلى التزام الحكومة وأعضائها المختلفة بمبادئ الشفافية والنزاهة والاستقامة. فلا يمكن الانكار أن كل الانتخابات التي تمت خلال العقود الأخيرة عانت من التزوير والفساد وعدم الحريات الأساسية لإجراء الانتخابات. قد رفضت الحكومة المصرية الاعتراف ببعض الأحزاب المعارضة واعتقلت بعض قياد المعارضة وبعض أعضاء الأحزاب المعارضة بغض النظر عن وجود جرائم حقيقية إلا اعتراضهم على هيمنة الحزب الوطني الديموقراطي الذي سيطر على حكومة مصر منذ تأسيسه على يد السادات في عام ١٩٧٨. ونرى أن في هذا العام معظم مرشحي الانتخابات ينتمون إلى الحزب الوطني وفي بعض الدوائر الانتخابية مرشحو الحزب الوطني ينافسون أنفسهم فقط. هل نستطيع أن نسمي هذا منافسة حقيقية ومفتوحة للكل؟ أليس علينا أن نميز بين المنافسة الحقيقية وعبث المنافسة الذي يحدث الآن في مصر؟

ولا تقف المشاكل التي تواجهها مصر أثناء الانتخابات على التزوير والفساد وحسب، بل يواجه مصريون كثيرون تهديد العنف في أماكن قريبة من مكاتب التصويت لاسيما في المناطق فيها منافسة شديدة بين مرشح الحزب الوطني ومرشح المعارضة. وأضافة إلى ذلك، تواجه وكالات الأنباء تجديد القمع لنشر معلومات ورقابة صارمة ناهيك عن اعتقال بعض الصحافيين ومدونين المشهورين وإغلاق بعض مكاتب الصحف إطلاقا. كما أن بالرغم من وجود صحف محايدة أو صحف معارضة، فإن معظم وكالات الأبناء المصرية لم تزل تنتمي إلى الحكومة والحزب الوطني.

وإذا أردنا أن نرى تغيرات لهذا النظام الانتخابي، علينا أن نضيف أصواتنا إلى صوت الرئيس أباما ونطالب بوجود مراقبي الانتخابات الدوليين في مصر

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Five Days...

In preparation for the Egyptian parliamentary elections that are now only five days away, I am posting a link to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Egyptian elections guide. There is a ton of information on the site about the majors players and major obstacles. The Egyptian government's recent refusal to allow international observers to observe these elections is disappointing, although certainly not surprising. Election observation can have an tangible effect in terms of streamlining the complaint system and offering constructive criticism to the government with regard to voter registration, polling station protocol and campaign laws. Improvement in each of these areas (among many others) represents an important step in strengthening any nascent democracy.

In other news, Egyptian blogger Abdul Kareem Nabil Soliman was recently released from prison after a five year sentence for insulting Mubarak (calling him a dictator) and al-Azhar.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sexual Harassment: Egypt

For the most part, my posts have focused directly on Egyptian politics, sometimes without pointing out what effect government policies have on Egyptian society and everyday life in Cairo. This past week I read an article/blog post that discusses the growing phenomenon of sexual harassment in Egypt. Anyone who has visited Egypt cannot help but notice the leering, whistling and, at times, groping of women in the streets. But if you ask any Egyptian, this phenomenon only appeared in the last thirty years, after the introduction of Sadat's economic liberalization policies. Often it is attributed to the deterioration of traditional values, as well as the introduction of conservative religious ideas that limit the role of women in the public sphere or the arrival of Western social ills depending on who is commenting on the issue. In the article, however, Nehad Abu al Komsan,the Director for the Center for Women's Rights, adds another factor to the analysis, stating, "[the Egyptian regime] is more interested in political security, than public security." In practice, this means that some social ills are tolerated because they do not pose an existential threat to the regime. Although Egyptian and foreign women certainly pay a high price, sexual harassment is one of these nuisances that the government of Egypt is not willing or prepared to combat.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cairo Courts

Another interesting dimension of authoritarianism in Egypt is how the government and ruling NDP Party interact with the judicial system. Last year, Eva Bellin spoke at Tufts about the role of the courts as a (frequent, but not constant) force of liberalism in both Egypt and Israel. At the time, I remember also reading about the significant role that the Egyptian courts played in pushing for transparency in the 2005 elections. And, although they seem to have been successfully prevented from repeating those successes this electoral cycle, I recently came across another article that notes the independence of the Supreme Court in Egypt and its potential import as a center of political change. How did the courts develop as such an independent body while the legislative branch did not? How do the courts navigate that gray area between complicity with the ruling regime and marginalization as simply another mouthpiece for the opposition? These, for me, are provoking questions ripe for investigation in Egypt, especially in comparison to other authoritarian regimes in the region.

This article deals specifically with the issue of police presence on university campuses in Egypt, which critics say has been used to thwart any student activism on college campuses, especially in the political sphere. This change could be very instrumental in shaping the next generation of Egyptian leaders. In sha' allah!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Authoritarian economics 101

Here is another interesting article on the current political situation in Egypt. Walter Armbrust is right to point out that a Muslim Brotherhood boycott of the elections would be both a political earthquake - a recent article states that there are members in the Muslim Brotherhood ranks who are calling for a boycott. However, it remains a very unlikely event given the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood likes its position as the primary opposition movement in Egypt. But if you are into revolutionary change, you can hope!

The article also does a good job of touching on the economic situation in Egypt. The country has certainly moved far from the socialist model put in place by Nasser. Whereas in Syria health services are still largely subsidized by the government, the prerogative of the Egyptian upper class to accumulate more wealth triumphed over the right of Egypt's poor to affordable health care. The rich continue to get rich and the poor continue to hassle American students for tips since that is, for them, the easiest way to make ends meet (so much easier than demanding a fair wage). Sometimes I hope that I am doing my part to support the reform of this political system when I do not give baksheesh (tips) EVERY time it is demanded by a police officer for helping me use a broken ATM. My hope is that he will instead turn to the government and demand a living wage. In some ways it would even make economic sense for the government to pursue such a policy because: 1) If it had some idea of what people were actually earning, it might actually be able to tax income; 2) If tourists did not feel so harassed in Egypt, tourism to Egypt might actually increase. This is greatly needed since the Egyptian economy is almost solely dependent on remittances from the Gulf, US aid, Suez Canal $ and tourism.

This article also got me thinking about authoritarian economics. What is the best economic policy for an authoritarian regime to pursue? If everyone is getting free health care and a free education, will they start to demand more? If the economic disparity becomes more obvious, will people start to demand more? Is the neoliberal business agenda of the NDP one tatic for the perpetuation of the NDP's power or is it simply a "get rich fast" scheme?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Arabic Lit

Just wanted to share this list of great Arabic lit in translation for anyone looking for a new book to read. I have not read many of the books on this list yet, but I am challenging myself to read most of them in Arabic by the end of the year (it helps that we have to read an Arabic novel every weekend). For anyone interested, I recommend Season of Migration to the North. I really loved it when I read it in English this summer and am looking forward to reading it again in Arabic later this semester.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It has been a long time since I had a chance to write. Lev and I were traveling in Europe for all of August and then trying to recover from the trip for the last two weeks! We had a great trip and made plans to live in many other foreign cities in the near and far future. One of the most interesting parts of our trip was returning to Syria after our summer in Cairo. I wasn't sure how noticeable the differences between the two countries would be; I figured the craziness that characterizes the Cairene streets would have its Damascene equivalent. But it did not. The streets in Damascus were spotless and the microbuses ran like clockwork. I walked on the sidewalks and no one stared at me obscenely or otherwise. And generally people seemed happier and healthier. It seems more and more to me that these superficial signs can be read as signals of the health of the regime. Yes, in both countries the military is the strongest institution; however, whereas in Syria the officers stand on most corners in clean, smart uniforms, seemingly ready for anything, in Egypt they sit slumped inside their post or car waiting for the shift to end. Or, as another example, the street sweepers in Damascus actually sweep. The Syrian regime has truly been able to reach down into the society and regulate the various levels and going-ons of Syrian society. Unlike in Egypt, where everyday you have to ask yourself how it is possible for things to continue as they do, Syria does not feel like it is on the edge of some unknown change or implosion.

Looking ahead: Will Mubarak run in the next elections or will his son take his place at the head of the National Democratic Party? Will the Muslim Brotherhood participate or boycott and will their choice have any impact on the country's internal politics?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fustat Crafts Center

Photos from the CASA trip to the Fustat Crafts Center in Cairo.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Night view of Cairo

Here are a few photos of Zamalek at night. The skyscrapers are along the Nile, which is unfortunately not visible from our apartment.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Protests and Elections

There are lots of protests here. But so far no significant movement on political reform or the lifting of the Emergency Law. Parliamentary elections are in October 2010 and presidential in early 2011. I heard Nathan Brown speak a few weeks before moving here and he emphasized that the Muslim Brotherhood was at a critical point after experiencing success in the 2005 elections but then being largely banned from participating in the 2007 and 2008 elections. It will be interesting to see how the Muslim Brotherhood navigates the upcoming elections (and how the government deals with the Brothers) and what position the Obama regime will take in terms of placing pressure on Mubarak to open up the elections. Adam Shatz offers an interesting view on the subject, stating that both the Mubarak regime and the Muslim Brotherhood "have reason to portray the Brothers as the only real alternative to the regime." According to Shatz, for the government the image of a Muslim Brotherhood electoral victory allows them to appeal to the West and evade any pressure for democratization. For the Muslim Brotherhood, it allows them to maintain their influence in Egypt and avoid total annihilation at the hands of the Egyptian security services.

Like Shatz, I have heard a few different names for the presidential race if the aging Mubarak decides not to run: Gamal Mubarak, his son; Omar Suliman, head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services and one of the lead negotiators between Fatah and Hamas; and finally, Mohammed ElBaradei, the previous Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. 2010-2011 will be an interesting year to test Shatz's theory that the National Democratic Party, Mubarak's party, and the Muslim Brotherhood have a shared interest in limiting the role of any other opposition party or movement, particularly in light of Brown's observation of growing frustration among the Brothers following what they view as a political re-stagnation since the 2005 parliamentary elections.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Egyptian Museum

I went to the Egyptian Museum yesterday for the first time and it was, as everyone says it is, an overwhelming experience. There are tons of incredible statues and mummies and busts. And at the same time it is not very well organized or well marked. There is so much history and no museum big enough to capture it all. However, we had a great AUC guide who took us through the museum somewhat chronologically and gave us a great overview of how ancient Egyptian art developed. We saw a selection of King Tut's treasures (and if anyone is trying to think of a gift for me, a pair of King Tut earrings would be great...). And it turns out that James Patterson's guess at King Tut's murder in his recent (bad) book is not that far off from what experts now think happened.

Last night I watched the USA-Ghana soccer match. It seems like Egyptians are really split over their soccer preferences. In my discussions with taxi drivers, all of them wish Egypt were in the World Cup and a number supported the USA against Algeria simply because they still have a strong hatred for Algeria since Algeria beat Egypt last year. The rest supported Algeria because they felt obligated by their Arab nationalist sentiments to support the only Arab representative. Last night was very similar--it seemed like most were supporting Ghana because of African unity and the desire to see Africa represented in the next round. Qaddafi must be proud. Although I wanted the USA to win, now I am supporting Ghana against all the European and South American teams. Y’alla Africa!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Getting Settled

Lev and I have finally settled into our new apartment in Zamalek, an island in the Nile in the center of Cairo. It's a great location and has a nice balcony with an almost-Nile view. Otherwise, the weather has been hot and our classes are in full swing, leaving us both exhausted and busy every day. I have 4 hours of class 4 days a week and a Qur'an reading class one day a week. Outside of class, I have tons of reading and other work to do and enough World Cup games to keep me entertained for a month or two (Go USA!).