Archive for category Elections

Tamarod movement to oust Morsi gains ground in Egypt

05 Jun 2013

By Shahira Amin (see original post)

A campaign called ‘Tamarod’ has already gathered millions of signatures calling for the ousting of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. Shahira Amin reports on the growing discontent with the country’s first post-revolution president

Demotix |Ahmed Ateyya

Woman signs petition to withdraw confidence from President Morsi in Giza

A campaign titled ‘Tamarod’ (the Arabic word for rebellion), calling for the fall of President Mohamed Morsi, is quickly gaining momentum in Egypt. The brainchild of the country’s ‘Kefaya’ (which means enough in Arabic) movement — the petition calling for Morsi’s ouster has had more than 7.5 million signatures to date. The campaign’s organisers say they hope to gather 15 million signatures by 30 June, the first anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration. They have also called for a mass protest in front of the Ittihadeya Presidential Palace the same day, in efforts to pressure Morsi into stepping down from the presidency and call for early presidential elections.

Scores of youth volunteers have been standing on busy street corners in Cairo’s affluent Zamalek and Mohandesseen neighbourhoods, urging commuters to sign the petition highlighting Morsi’s failure to deliver on his campaign promises of improving the economy, narrowing the country’s economic divide, and restoring security on the streets. Curious drivers and pedestrians stop to read the leaflets, bringing traffic to a standstill as supporters of the campaign chant anti-government slogans, and flash victory signs.

“The response to the campaign has been overwhelming . Egyptians are growing increasingly frustrated with the faltering economy , soaring prices of basic commodities, the fragile security situation and persistent power cuts, ” said Naglaa Bakr, a Mohandesseen resident and housewife, who had just signed the petition. “Morsi has to go”, she added.

The popular movement has now begun to draw support different factions in Egypt’s fractured opposition. As the campaign picks up steam, members of the Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions, the Dostour (Arabic for constitution) Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Free Egyptians, the 6 April youth movement, and the Journalists’ Syndicate have lent their support.

Morsi, meanwhile, appears to be unthreatened by the initiative, saying that he “welcomes free expression as long as it is within a legal framework.” Prominent Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Al Betaguy dismissed the campaign as an “opinion poll”, and cast doubt on whether or not the organisers could turn the petition into mobilisation. The Salafi Al Nour party has also slammed the initiative, calling it “illegal and unconstitutional.”

In response to Tamarod, Morsi’s Islamist supporters have launched their own campaign called ‘Tagarod’ — the Arabic word for impartiality. Tagarod’s leaders say that theirs is “an initiative to support legitimacy”, accusing Tamarod of aiming to destabilise the country and spread chaos. Tagarod’s founder, Assem Abdel Maged, is confident that his campaign would garner more signatures than those of Tamarod. Abdel Maged, who is also a member of the Jama’a Islamiya group, aims to use his own petition to prove that there are more Egyptians rallying behind the Islamist President than his opponents. The Tagarod campaign has also vowed to organise a million-man march to show solidarity with Morsi.

“The campaigns accentuate the secular-Islamist divide in the deeply polarised country. Tensions are building up ahead of protests planned for 30 June”, said Hadia Abdul Fattah, a Tamarod campaign member, who has been gathering signatures in the northeastern city of Damietta.

In recent weeks, several members of the Tamarod campaign have faced detention for distributing the petition on or near university campuses in Cairo, Sohag, and Zagazig. The targeted campaigners were forced to sign documents stating that they would no longer distribute Tamarod petitions, or take part in political activities on campus. In March, the Supreme Council of Universities banned political activities on campuses, under the pretence of ending violence between different political groups.

Some have warned that a crackdown on the movement could spark the kind of civil unrest that Morsi has been trying to avoid. Opposition activists say they will no longer tolerate any kind of repression, and vow to continue to protest until their demands are met.

Even if the campaign fails to reach its 15 million signature goal, activist and human rights lawyer Tarek Moawad told Index that the initiative highlights the crisis of legitimacy facing Morsi, and sends a clear message that Egyptians will not be silent about injustice. Morsi’s usage of Mubarak-era tactics to silence critics — whether it’s targeting journalists or the green light given to Islamist supporters attacking opposition activists — is a sign of the government’s weakness and vulnerability, he added.

Some analysts have also suggested that Egypt’s liberal opposition could use Tamarod to their advantage, by galvanising support for the liberal opposition in the upcoming parliamentary elections in October.

“If the political opposition can close ranks and adopt a unified stance, Tamarod may have the potential to boost gains for the secularist opposition which has so far failed to organise,” said Dr. Mostafa Kamel El Sayed, Professor of Political Science at Cairo University.



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Giza Women Form All-Female List For Egyptian Elections

Women queue at a polling station to vote in the second and final round of a referendum on Egypt’s new constitution, in Giza, south of Cairo, Dec. 22, 2012. (photo by REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

On March 6, a Cairo administrative court ruled the election laws unconstitutional, suspending parliamentary elections slated to start in late April. The decision came after the Shura Council bypassed submission of the revised electoral-laws draft to the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), raising concerns about the laws’ constitutionality. After stating that he would respect the court’s decision, President Mohammed Morsi appealed the Administrative Court’s decision via the State Litigation Authority.

However, instead of waiting for the verdict regarding the previous law in what could become a dragged-out appeals process, the Shura Council is finalizing a new set of election laws to submit to the SCC for approval. The SCC is currently debating the laws on political rights and parliamentary elections, which together govern parliamentary elections in Egypt. Morsi announced that the parliamentary elections now will likely begin in October.

For Zeinab Afify, chair of The National Orphans Association and the Social Services Association, among others, the delayed election is good news. She is leading a group of eight women to form Egypt’s first independent all-women candidate list to contest the upcoming elections in the first disctrict of Giza. The chance for Afify to form an independent candidate list is the result of an amendment to the election laws after the SCC dissolved the previous parliament in June 2012. Previously, in what the SCC judged to be a breach of the principle of equality, only political parties could run lists in elections. Independent candidates were only permitted to run as individuals.

A gracious, articulate women who has spent the past 25 years conducting women’s development work, this is her first foray into politics. Like most ordinary Egyptians, she is frustrated with the current political options, finding no one who represents her interests or beliefs.

“We are the majority of Egyptians. We are Islamic, but not Islamists,” she says.

Her colleagues on the list are lawyers, doctors and engineers aged between 30 and 60 who also have no previous political experience. More than half are women with whom Afify has worked through her Charitable Pearls Association, an organization that she helped found and also chairs. Her approach to social work is reflected in her political beliefs: “The difference between us and the Islamists is [that we] teach women how to be independent and critical thinkers.”

Other political parties asked Afify to join their lists, but, disenchanted with them, she refused. For her, women voted, but did not benefit.

“The problems of women were not solved after the new parliament. No one from the Islamists, Salafis or liberals helped,” Afify explains. Moreover, the Shura Council voted against a proposed amendment requiring at least one woman to be in the top third of all candidate lists last week. Thus, the law remains as it was during the 2011-2012 parliamentary elections; at least one woman must be on the list, but in any position. This renders it a superficial provision to encourage women’s political participation, as many parties slot women toward the bottom of the list, where it is impossible for them to win a seat.

This change to the electoral law continues the “severe deterioration on the level of political rights of women,” according to a 2013 report issued by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights. Women’s representation in parliament decreased to two percent in 2011, after reaching 12.5% in 2010 under deposed autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s regime; this decline lowered Egypt’s status to 128 of 131 countries for female representation in parliament. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report ranked Egypt 124 of 135 countries regarding economic opportunities for women.

There have also been various draft laws put forward on women’s issues by the Islamist parties seeking to undermine women’s current rights regarding divorce and child custody. In a heavily criticized statement, the Muslim Brotherhood denounced the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, of which Egypt is a signatory but with reservations, claiming that it violates all principles of Shariah and the Islamic community.

Afify, who has long worked with divorced, widowed and abused women, is determined to change these conditions for women and ordinary Egyptians by engaging the political system. Although the liberal opposition has employed the strategy of boycotting elections and refusing discourse with the current regime, Afify refutes, “It is necessary to enter elections because if you don’t, your opinion will not count.”

Although her expectations for victory are realistic, hoping to be elected herself as the first candidate on the list, along with another colleague, she has grand plans after that, sharing, “In parliament, we will make a lobby of women from our NGO to support me. We must move society forward.” The women’s list is also an initiative for women from divided religious and ideological backgrounds to unite around women’s issues.

Tensions between Muslims and Christians have been high after the revolution, especially as many Christians fear that the Islamist government will attempt to limit their rights and status in society. Afify hopes to have at least two women representing Christians, liberals and Islamists respectively on the list. So far, she has struggled to find liberal and Christian women who are willing to participate with them in the list, saying, “The liberals see us in hijab and say that we are Islamists, but we are the people in the middle. Many of our ideas are liberal.”

The Charitable Pearls Association is well known in Giza and works closely with schools and mothers providing after-school programs for children and training for women. Amany Zaghloul, a board member and candidate on the women’s list, is confident that their detailed knowledge and reputation in local communities will help win over women’s support for them.

“Like many Egyptian women, I am a mother and a wife, who is also working in the social sector. I feel the problems of Egyptian women, who are like me, and also the problems of poor women because of my work,” Zaghloul explains.

Naglaa Fathy, a soft-spoken, poised young woman who was trained by the Charitable Pearls Association and is now a trainer herself, is leading the development of the campaign strategy. Armed with detailed constituency maps, voter registration figures and activity calendars, she explains that they have approximately 50 volunteers at the moment who are speaking to women in their communities about the list. According to Afify, “In the end, women vote, but most women are told how to vote. We want women to make their own decisions.”

While they are confident about winning much of the female vote, they are aware that persuading men to support them will be more difficult. The idea of an all-women’s list is still new and strange for many Egyptians, while others may continue to oppose them for ideological reasons. Laughing, Afify told Al-Monitor that her own brother is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and vowed to vote against her in the election for the Freedom and Justice Party’s candidate.

However, this group of woman is determined to prove to all Egyptians that women can help solve Egypt’s problems.

“We can work, we can have a place, and we can do it. Let us do it, let us take the chance,” says Afify.

Zenobia Azeem is a Cairo-based freelance writer. She has worked in the field of international election observation for the past five years, primarily in the Middle East. Follow her on twitter @elbowsymmetry.

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Yulia Tymoshenko: the truth about Shcherban’s murder is important to society

Yulia Tymoshenko’s appeal to the media 

by Yulia Tymoshenko (see original post)

pr_b3423.jpgDear friends!

I am forced to ask you to come to the Ukrzaliznytsia hospital in Kharkiv on Sunday, April 7, 2013.

I ask that you be present while the staff of the Kachanivska prison again forges a statement of my alleged “unwillingness” to go to court in Kyiv because only your presence can help stop the avalanche of false information.


I hope the prison management will let you in to see me and won’t interfere in your professional duties to record what will take place in the Ukrzaliznytsia hospital room before the questioning of the next witness in the Shcherban case.

If this happens, you will see that the video the regime has released has been edited and doesn’t reflect my position.

I want to again explain the difference in my attitude towards participation in the court proceedings in Kharkiv and Kyiv.

Let me remind you that in the fabricated case being heard by the Kyivsky District Court of Kharkiv I am charged with a number of imaginary “crimes” involving VAT refunds related to the activities of UESU at a time when I wasn’t even working in the corporation but was a member of parliament.

These charges from the 1990s were politically motivated – revenge for my opposition activities and participation in the Ukraine Without Kuchma movement.

The Prosecutor General’s Office and courts have repeatedly recognized the absurdity of these charges, and more than 50 judges of both chambers of the Supreme Court closed the case on 11 November 2005.

Given the Supreme Court decision in the UESU case it’s clear that it was reopened illegally, in gross violation of paragraph 7 of Protocol №7 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 61 of the Constitution of Ukraine regarding the permanence of court decisions. It should therefore be closed immediately and not subject to further review.

At the court hearing in the Kyivsky District Court of Kharkiv on 22 March 2013, my defenders voiced my motion regarding the review of this case in my absence and the need to close it immediately. I am still a patient in Central Clinical Hospital № 5 and don’t see any reason to do irreparable harm to my health during the transport and participation in the hearing of this absurd case in the Kyivsky District Court of Kharkiv.

The severity of my health problems, according to Article 249 of the CPC of Ukraine (1960), don’t allow me to be present at the hearing scheduled for 12 April 2013.

However, given the severity of the charges that Yanukovych’s regime has fabricated in the other politically motivated case – the Shcherban case – I continue to demand that I be personally present in court for the questioning of all witnesses. In spite of the critical state of my health and hospital treatment, I again stress that I am willing to be transported to Kyiv.

The regime is trying to illegally and without evidence give me a life sentence in the bogus Shcherban case. At the insistence of the PGO, using my status as a patient in Kharkiv hospital CCH № 5, violating Article 225 of the CPC of Ukraine (2012), based on acts forged by the Kachaniska prison management regarding my alleged “unwillingness” to go to the Kyiv court, they continue to question witnesses in my absence.

In response to the fabricated act of my “refusal”, the false evidence given by alleged “witnesses” based on the words of third-fourth-fifth parties or the deceased, there should be my word, because I plan to prove the absurdity of the government’s fictitious charges of my complicity in this serious crime despite my health problems.

I hope that you, dear journalists, will be at the Ukrzaliznytsia hospital on Sunday while the prison administration is drawing up the so-called “refusal” act and can present my position.

The truth about my relationship to the Shcherban case is important not only for me, but for all of society.

Yulia Tymoshenko
Ukrzaliznytsia Hospital
5 April 2013

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Turmoil in Egypt continues, as state of emergency is declared


JANUARY 30, 2013

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in three Suez Canal cities on Monday night, defying a night-time curfew and a month-long state of emergency declared by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi a day earlier.

“Down with Mohamed Morsi! No to the emergency law,”they chanted.

In a televised address to the nation on Sunday, the Islamist President announced the imposition of martial law in the restive cities of Port Said, Suez and Ismailia in a bid “to end the bloodshed and protect citizens.” The move came in response to four days of street violence that left more than 50 people dead and hundreds of others injured.

Egyptian police fire tear gas in Alexandria

The latest wave of unrest was sparked by nationwide anti-government protests on the eve of the second anniversaryof the mass uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak, that began on 25 Jan 2011. Opposition activists on Friday reiterated the now-familiar revolutionary slogans of “bread, freedom and social justice” and “the people want the downfall of the regime”.

They demanded quicker reforms and called foramendments to the Islamist-tinged constitution passed in a popular referendum in December. The situation deteriorated further after 21 defendants charged with involvement in last February’s violence at Port Said football stadium — the worst football-related violence in the country’s history — were sentenced to death on Sunday. The verdict triggered angry riots and attacks on police stations in Port Said.

The army has been deployed in Port Said and Suez in a bid “to restore stability and protect vital installations,” a military spokesman said on Egyptian TV. “Those who defy the curfew or damage public property will be dealt with harshly,” he warned.

In Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, demonstrators meanwhile staged rallies to protest the return of the much-detested emergency law, which was used for decades by Mubarak to round up opponents, silence voices of dissent and stifle freedom of expression. The protesters accused President Morsi of using the same repressive tactics as his predecessor.

“Morsi is Mubarak,” they shouted, “Down with the rule of the (Muslim Brotherhood) Supreme Guide.”

In recent weeks, a government crackdown on journalists critical of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood has fuelled concerns of restrictions on press freedoms gained after the January 2011 uprising. Several journalists have faced criminal investigations after being accused by Morsi’s Islamist supporters of “insulting the president”.

In December, a lawsuit was filed against Egypt’s answer to Jon Stewart of the Daily Show — satirist Bassem Youssef — for poking fun at the president on his weekly television programme Al Bernameg (The Programme) on Egyptian independent satellite channel CBC. Youssef appeared on the show hugging a pillow with the president’s picture on it — a gesture mocking Morsi’s repeated calls on Egyptians to “unify ranks and love one another”. While the court dismissed the charge, the case served as a reminder to journalists that the country’s controversial new constitution includes provisions forbidding insults.

Meanwhile the online editor-in-chief for state-sponsored newspaper Al Ahram, Hani Shukrallah, was forced into early retirement this month. Highly respected for his objectivity in covering the news, Shukrallah would not reveal the details surrounding his removal from the post, but some have suggested via Twitter that his dismissal was for not being pro-Muslim Brotherhood.

In December, Islamist protesters staged a sit-in outside the Media Production City calling for “the purging of the media” and accusing independent journalists and talk show hosts of vilifying the Islamist President.

In Cairo, security forces continued battling rock-throwing youths around Kasr-el-Nil, not far from Tahrir Square for a fifth consecutive day on Monday, disrupting traffic in the downtown area. The protesters hurled molotov cocktails at the police and set fire to a police armoured personnel carrier, in scenes reminiscent of“The Friday of Rage” on 28 January 2011.

Members of the 6 April youth movement that called for the mass uprising two years ago condemned the government’s slow response to the violence and warned that the state of emergency would further provoke Morsi’s opponents. They called for a political solution to address the root cause of the problem.

Emerging from talks with the president on Monday night, Ayman Nour, Head of the liberal Ghad Al Thawra Party said that the president had rejected the call for a national unity government but had agreed to amendments to the constitution including articles that opposition political parties say undermine women’s rights.

Rights groups denounced Morsi’s declaration of a state of emergency as “a backward step” that would allow police to resort to the heavy-handed tactics practiced under the ousted regime.

Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch in Cairo lamented Morsi’s decision to re-impose martial law describing it as “a classic knee-jerk reaction that would pave the way for more abuse by the Ministry of Interior, causing more anger.”

Analysts have expressed fears meanwhile, that the newly-declared state of emergency will plunge the country — battered by weeks of street violence — into deeper political and economic turmoil, and further polarising the already divided country. The emergence of the mysterious “Black Bloc”, a group that has vowed “to protect the goals of the revolution and rid the country of the fascist regime” has raised alarm. Islamists have so far exercised restraint and have stayed away from the protests, in order to avoid the kind of bloody confrontation witnessed in December outside of the presidential palace. They have warned warned however, that their patience is wearing thin, and that they are preparing for combat should the need arise. Such warnings have led some to even express fears of a collapse in Egyptian society. A scenario that would present Egypt’s powerful military with a fresh opportunity to return to power.

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Interview: Frank Beuken tells Al Rasub about the Arab Spring

Original interview at Al Rasub

Frank Beuken is a Blogger   and a political analyst, he talks to Al-Rasub about his coming novel and changing political conditions of Arab world..


Al-Rasub:     Frank, can u  tell us briefly about your younger years and school College life .

Frank Beuken:  I was born in Baarn, The Netherlands. I have seen many schools as my parents moved quite a lot. Several places in the Netherlands, France and Belgium. High school was my highest grade. Due to severe problems at home I ran away and lived temporary in a shelter home. I first tasted freedom when I lived in a town called Nijmegen in the Netherlands. I became active in protests against government decisions which were undermining normal civil rights. As well against American weapons to be place in the Netherlands. I spent many of these years in the so called underground culture of the town. Evenings were filled with philosophical discussions with friends which lasted often till the next morning.


Al-Rasub:     You have a very close look on Arab Spring, will you explain the context of Arab Spring ?

Frank Beuken:    From the first moment in Tunisia when a boy set himself on fire out of pure frustration against the authorities, my attention for the Arab spring was born.

Of course I was always against suppression and followed the news in Romania 1989 when the dictator Ceausescu was captured and shot by a military tribunal. The people of that country suffered for many years just because one man “owned” the country and found he had the right to abuse the people. With fear for their lives, young people, supported by miners dared the stand up against this cruel man. With the fast that 1 of 5 men in Romania had served the Securitate (Secret services) they were never sure who to trust. But they won with the right spirit.

In Tunisia the young people found the strength to stand up as well and they succeeded. Egypt followed, then Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and many more countries. The young people just had enough of these cruel dictators. All they wanted was respect, jobs and a normal future without fear.


Al-Rasub:    How do you think Arab spring gets its targets ?


Frank Beuken:  The Arab spring was already very successful. Several dictators fled or were killed. The people took back what belongs to them. The country itself. It is now important to stay focused. A good example is Egypt now with Mursi, who wants to get more power than Mubarak had. Maybe his intentions are good and does he really wants to protect the revolution but it is unacceptable for the people on Tahrir square. Many of their friends died or are in prison. Mursi needs to listen to them. Not to Tantawi, who in my opinion is still very much in power. Often I wonder if Mursi is a puppet from the army and with this idea, a democracy is still far away. And the youngsters on Tahrir are aware of this.


Al-Rasub:     There is a common perception in many groups in Muslim world that Arab Spring is American funded moment, what are your observation and opinion ?


Frank Beuken:   Personally I think it is the biggest offence for all these young people who have given their lives for the revolution. The first real proof that America couldn’t be in control, when Obama mentioned the resign date of Mubarak. But it didn’t happen. Mubarak stayed in charge. Obama lost his face with this awkward moment. People who believe that foreign powers have set up the Arab spring, are conspiracy thinkers. People who always believe that higher powers are behind it. The Arab Spring is pure and started and finished by these brave young people.


Al-Rasub:    Some critics says that Arab spring divided Muslim world or specially Arab world in two groups, Liberal and Fundamentalist and they give the examples of Tunisia and Egypt what you think ?


Frank Beuken:  These critics are often people from the west, with a huge lack of knowledge of the Arab world. Remember that Ben Ali, Khadaffi, Mubarak and now Assad as well, always mentioned the danger of fundamentalists? They wanted to warn the nation for a fear what doesn’t really exist. I mean of course there are extremist groups but they do not have the power to set the revolution in their direction. Personally I believe Al Qaida is a myth. In a sense that it isn’t a worldwide terroristic group. Every extreme group uses the name Al Qaida to impress the world. Fear is a tool to make the nation to believe in their leader, to protect them against evil.


Al-Rasub:     What will be or should but the outcome of Arab spring like moments ?


Frank Beuken:    To my opinion this isn’t an issue what will be solved in one or two years. Of course the expectations of the western world are probably the same as the people in the Arab world. We all hope that democracy is installed within a short time. That is the ideal world but unfortunately, reality is otherwise. People lived for over 30 years under suppression. Most of the people, survived by adapting them to the system. And for most families, the basic things are important: A home, a job, to be able to feed your family. Now everything is turned upside down. Suddenly the oppressor is gone. Security forces fell apart and people feel liberated. But then, reality of all day life comes around: Homes, jobs, feed the family etc. To be honest, I think it will take up to 30 years to have a full stable country again. Don’t forget; most people think the same way: Freedom. But still there are many groups who are still either supporting the former dictator or groups who want to take over control. Also these people need to be given a place in the new society. They cannot be ignored, as they are there. It will take a full generation before the whole consensus is a fact.


Al-Rasub:   What kind of lessons can be learned from Arab spring, especially in Muslim word.


Frank Beuken:   The revolutionaries must stay focused until the end. They have to stay alert until  a democratic constitution is established and protected.


Al-Rasub:    Tell us something about your Books and what inspires you to write a book ?


Frank Beuken:  With all the information and all the conversations I had with revolutionaries from Egypt, Tunisia and Libya I felt to do something. To write a book was a long time wish from my and what subject was better than the Arab Spring. What I did is I combined the protests in a novel. It is a story based on the Arab Spring. The reader will experience the protests in the streets, social behavior and to see a world which is so different than west Europe but so very much alike as well. After all, we are all human beings. This book is an ode to the young man, or the young girl in the middle of the freedom fights. The book is written in my language, Dutch, but soon it will be available in German and English. Inshallah soon in arab as well.


Al-Rasub:    What keep you busy during your free time?


Frank Beuken: Since August I started to write a new book. Again a novel in which east meets west. Still I talk a lot with people from “the arab spring” countries.


Al-Rasub:   What are your future projects on which you are working or you want to work?


Frank Beuken:   As said, my new book of course. Secondly, my wish for next year, is to meet the people I had contact with in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria.


Al-Rasub:  Your message for our readers ?


Frank Beuken:  Believe in mankind. Stay focused and let’s unite because, we are in a far majority compare to small extremist groups who want to tell us how we have to live. So we can win and make this world a better place for all. Respect, dignity, peace and a future for all.




Frank Beuken can be reach at:



Fasten your seat belts please

From the Daily News of Egypt:

  /   December 5, 2012  /

The mood was tense last Thursday as anti-Islamist protesters continued their sit-in in Tahrir Square, demanding that President Mohammed Morsy annul the constitutional declaration he had issued a week before.

Liberals and leftists had all come together to adopt a common stance: “No to absolute powers for the president.”They vowed to continue their sit-in until the president rescinds his edict. Judges also denounced President Morsy’s power grab that placed his decisions above judicial review, calling it an assault on the judiciary.

Islamist supporters had meanwhile planned their own rally the following day outside Cairo University to express solidarity with the president. With at least two protesters dead and scores injured already, concerns were growing that a bloody confrontation between Islamist supporters and opposition activists might take place on the so-called Friday of Shari’a and legitimacy. Some analysts even warned of an imminent civil war if the constitutional crisis was not contained.

Controversy over the draft constitution had also deepened. Liberals and Christians on the 100- member Constituent Assembly had walked out saying that the assembly was dominated by Islamists and was not representative of minorities and women.

President Morsy had given a two-month timeline to complete the draft charter saying that it would be put to a popular referendum and be followed by legislative elections.

Failing to persuade the liberals and Christians to return to the panel to complete their task, Morsy gave directives to the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly Counsellor Hossam El-Gheriany to finalise the draft by Saturday, ahead of a ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court that had widely been expected to dissolve the assembly and the Shura Council.

It was in the midst of all the political turmoil that I received a request from Presidential Spokesman Yasser Ali to interview President Morsy later that same day. An interview scheduled at such short notice could only mean that the president had an important announcement to make, I thought.

Perhaps he had decided to offer concessions to ease the standoff with the judges or scrap his extraordinary decree altogether. Those were my thoughts as I rode in a taxi to the presidential palace through the dense Thursday afternoon traffic.

I was proud to have been chosen as one of the two anchors who were to conduct the interview but I was also aware that viewers would expect me to challenge the president on his controversial decree and to ask probing questions.

On arrival at the palace, I was greeted by Yasser Ali and the Presidential aide for Political Affairs Pakinam El Sharkawy who both said that I was free to ask any questions as long as I observed the standard protocol of addressing the president as “His Excellency” or “Mr. President.”  That was the sole instruction given to me before the interview.

It was a far cry from the days of Morsy’s predecessor Hosni Mubarak when all state TV interviews had been staged and the content was more at the hands of the then-Minister of Information Anas El Fekky and before him, Safwat el Sherif. Co-interviewer Tamer Hanafi and I were then left alone to discuss our questions and plan for the interview.

Two hours later, we were led to the room where the interview was to take place immediately after Maghreb prayers. Morsy walked in minutes later and greeted us in a gracious manner. I was surprised that he shook hands with me as I knew that most male members of the Muslim Brotherhood are often reluctant to shake hands with women.

Having twice met Morsy (in 2005 and 2009), before he was elected Egypt’s first civilian president, I felt completely at ease. His modesty and down to earth attitude also helped me feel comfortable in his presence.

In the hour-long interview Tamer and I quizzed the president over domestic issues ranging from his controversial edict and a possible escalation in street violence, to Coptic fears that their rights would be undermined under Islamist rule.

I also voiced my concerns as a liberal woman about Shari’a Law, asking if it would curtail the rights of women. I also asked the president what had led him to change his position on the IMF loan, suggesting it was likely to put a heavy burden on the poor, already struggling to make ends meet.

Rather than offer the widely-anticipated concessions on the constitutional declaration, the president reiterated his earlier stance that his new powers are “temporary and necessary to take the country out of the bottleneck towards democratic transition.”

While welcoming peaceful opposition, he vowed to deal harshly with dissidents attempting to derail the political process or those who use violence to attain their goals. Insisting there was a ‘conspiracy’ aimed at hindering efforts to rebuild the country.

President Morsy did not elaborate on the “threats” that had led him to resort to what critics describe as “an authoritarian power grab.”

The president also downplayed the concerns of minority Christians who, in the past year, have faced threats from Muslim extremists and on several occasions have been forced to evacuate their homes.

Denying that many Copts had been forced to flee the country, Morsy repeated the Mubarak-era slogan that “Muslims and Christians were one fabric of the society.” He also rejected use of the term “minority” to describe Egypt’s Christian population saying Christians were equal citizens who would be protected by the law. He also appealed for unity and calm, urging Egyptians to show respect for one another and be more tolerant.  “Egyptians have had their first taste of freedom and are learning about democracy” he said.

Morsy’s words however, failed to pacify the opposition activists in Tahrir. Instead the interview triggered a barrage of criticism in both the traditional media and on social media networks.”No to dictatorship” read a front page banner in bold red print in the independent Al-Tahrir newspaper the following day.

Internet users meanwhile exchanged humorous posts on Facebook and Twitter stating that “love would help Egypt overcome its current woes.” My inbox was choked with hundreds of messages from viewers, some congratulating me on my scoop while others criticised my inability to get straight answers and from the president.

Moreover, a video clip of an angry Salafi Sheikh condemning me for being unveiled was widely circulated on the internet.

While it may be true that my less than fluent Arabic language did pose a hurdle, I remain fully convinced that even the most proficient interviewer would not have gotten more direct answers from the president. Besides, the opposition activists in Tahrir were not prepared to settle for anything less than a complete reversal of the president’s latest decisions.

At this time of deep polarisation, the level of tolerance among Egyptians is at an all-time low. This generation has inherited a legacy of mistrust and fear of the Muslim Brotherhood, for decades demonised as radicals who pose a threat to the society.

The liberals are suffering from Ikhwanophobia and fear Shari’a Law will be imposed under Muslim Brotherhood rule. A campaign by the independent media, vilifying Islamists, has in recent months fuelled such fears. Fierce denunciation by judges of the recent presidential decree has also raised serious concerns about the future independence of the judiciary.

As a matter of fact, the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate movement and the new charter that’s up for a popular vote in less than two weeks’ time has retained the exact wording of Article 2 in the previous 1971 constitution stipulating that the “principles of Shari’a are the source of legislation in the country.”

Responding recently to chants by his Islamist supporters of “The people want Shari’a law to be implemented,” President Morsy said that “Sharia Law means freedom, social justice and rule of law.”H is words however, have done little to allay the fears of a sceptical public.

Senior State Council Judges have now announced that they will oversee the referendum on the draft constitution on 15 December. Other lower-ranked judges from the influential Judges Club however remain defiant in their boycott of the referendum. Ahmed Abdullahi, a political columnist in the Daily Nation wrote in his column on 4 December that the judicial outburst that followed Morsy’s declaration was “the conundrum that faces agents of reform at times when the old order throws the last kicks of a dying horse.”

“How can a judiciary that for decades was so timid and loyal, and was an appendage of the Mubarak apparatus, be so loud during revolutionary moments like now? ” he asked, adding that “in dictatorships, the judiciary is always a strong ally used by the rulers as a legitimate tool to preserve their power and oppress the masses.

It is a powerful bulwark against the overthrow of the political order.”  I totally agree,  our first democratically elected parliament was after all dissolved by the Supreme Constitutional Court at the behest of General Tantawi . And haven’t former regime loyalists been acquitted in cases connected with the killing of protesters during the revolution? It makes one wonder if the judges’ symbiotic relationship with the old regime is the real reason why none of the accused have been convicted.

While I do not condone the constitutional declaration, it is my conviction that President Morsy will use the sweeping powers he gained to purge the judiciary and other state institutions of former regime loyalists – vital steps if Egypt is to make a smooth transition to democracy.

I expect a lot more instability in the period ahead as the former regime fights for survival within the new order. I hope that Egyptians will be cast aside their scepticism and be patient, strong and resilient enough to endure the coming period of turbulence. Please fasten your seat belts.

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Egyptians Bitter over Morsi’s ‘Broken’ Promises

Link to original article: RIA Novosti
Shahira Amin, Egyptian journalist, the former deputy head of Egyptian state-owned Nile TV and one of its senior anchors
Shahira Amin, Egyptian journalist, the former deputy head of Egyptian state-owned Nile TV and one of its senior anchors
CAIRO, October 15 (Shahira Amin for RIA Novosti)

A million-strong protest organized by Egypt’s secularists, political forces, and revolutionary youth-activists turned violent on Friday October 12, when clashes broke out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square between President Mohamed Morsi’s opponents and Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

Organizers held the protest, dubbed “Accountability Friday,” to demand a more egalitarian constitution, and express their anger at Morsi’s record in his first 100 days in office.

They accuse him of failing to fulfill his campaign pledges to tackle issues such as security, traffic, fuel, bread, and garbage collection.

Ahead of Friday’s protest, Morsi gave a nationwide televised speech defending his policies. He insisted that he had delivered on most of the pledges in his100-day plan, including those related to security, traffic and garbage.

Controversial Acquittals Spark Violence

Morsi’s supporters were protesting against the acquittal of former regime loyalists in the “Battle of the Camels” case, when men riding camels and horses charged at peaceful protesters in Tahrir Square on February 2, 2011.

The acquittal of all the suspects, including senior members of the former regime, in this high-profile case sparked a new wave of anger among Islamist groups and youth-revolutionaries alike. They have repeatedly called for “kassas,” or retribution for the martyrs of the revolution.

Eager to dampen public outrage over this ahead of Friday’s protests, President Morsi promised there would be a retrial, and ordered the dismissal of the Mubarak-appointed Public Prosecutor Mahmoud Abdel Meguid.

A spokesman from the Public Prosecutor’s office, however, has said that Abdel Meguid would not step down.

Morsi’s supporters defended the Islamists’ actions in Tahrir Square on Friday as “a response to provocation.”

“They were chanting anti-Muslim Brotherhood slogans and hurling insults at the President,” said Ahmed Mohamed Fayed, a Muslim Brotherhood and local council member.

Liberal activists in turn accused the Muslim Brotherhood of instigating the violence. “They came to break up our protest and divert attention away from our demands, which include justice for the martyrs and the purging of the judiciary and the media,” said Abdel Rahman Mohamed, a young architect from the liberal camp.

Revolutionary forces have been further angered by multiple acquittals of police officers accused of killing over 800 protesters during the January, 25, 2011 mass uprising. They want to see the police officers involved retried, and believe that Mubarak and his entourage deserve harsher sentences.

On Wednesday, Morsi granted amnesty to all political detainees tried in military courts in the initial phase of the post-revolutionary transitional period. While their release was one of the revolutionaries’ key demands, many felt Morsi’s decision was “too little, too late,” and said they would continue to pressure the Islamist president until they see “justice done.”

“We also want the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly to be disbanded,” Mohamed added, expressing concern that “the draft constitution threatens to undermine women’s rights by linking gender equality with Islamic jurisprudence.”

Legitimacy in Question

A Cairo court is expected to rule later this month on the legality of the Constituent Assembly – the 100-member panel tasked with drafting a new constitution. Critics argue that it is illegitimate, as many of its members were selected by a parliament that has since been dissolved.

“Political forces have come to express their dissatisfaction with the slow pace of reforms and the government’s lack of transparency,” explained 23-year-old Ahmed Hassan, an architecture student at Helwan University. “We also want to express our frustration with the decision to grant top military generals a safe exit,” he said.

October 9 marked the first anniversary of the “Maspero” protests in which 27 protesters – mostly Copts demanding the protection of their churches – were killed by the army outside Egypt’s State Television building.

Revolutionary activists hold Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the former Head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Sami Anan, responsible for the massacre.

They argue that it took place on their watch, when the country was under their control and are calling for their prosecution. Morsi dismissed the two top generals in August following a militant attack on a border post in North Sinai that killed 16 border guards.

The ‘Stolen’ Revolution

Waving their fists in the air, anti-Muslim Brotherhood protesters in the square meanwhile chanted “You have sold out the revolution, Badie!”

Mohamed Badie is the Muslim Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide and the opposition use this slogan to suggest that the Islamist movement “stole the revolution.”

“The people support the President’s decision to dismiss the Public Prosecutor,” yelled Morsi supporters, in an attempt to drown out the voices of the Muslim Brotherhood.

A fresh exchange of rock-throwing ensued, resulting in scores of injuries. Wounded youths, their faces bloodied, were ferried on motorbikes and carried by fellow protesters to ambulances parked outside the square.

“We’ve received a steady stream of injured young people in the last couple of hours,” said an emergency medic, tending to the facial wounds of a man who had just been brought in.

Some protesters threw Molotov cocktails, triggering a stampede and resulting in more injuries. Some mistook the sound of firecrackers (which appeared to be coming from nearby streets) for gunshots, causing further panic.

According to a Health Ministry source, at least 121 people were injured in the October 12 clashes. The protesters included large numbers of unemployed young people and seasonal workers who are frustrated with high living costs and lack of opportunities on the jobs market.

“I have three children. What has Morsi done for my family?” asked Amr Menaweesh, an unemployed mechanic. “Tell him we are waiting for him to fulfill his promises.”

Shahira Amin is an Egyptian journalist, the former deputy head of Egyptian state-owned Nile TV and one of its senior anchors.

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