Polls in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt fail to end crises

Developing Just Leadership

Ayman Ahmed

Safar 07, 1433 2012-01-01

News & Analysis

by Ayman Ahmed (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 11, Safar, 1433)

Exactly a year after peoples’ uprisings shook the Muslim East (Middle East) driving three dictators from power, considerable uncertainty still prevails. Elections have been held in Tunisia (October 23), Morocco (November 25) and Egypt (November 28–29; December 14–15 and the next round scheduled for January 9–10, 2012), but they have failed to stem unrest.

Exactly a year after peoples’ uprisings shook the Muslim East (Middle East) driving three dictators from power, considerable uncertainty still prevails. Elections have been held in Tunisia (October 23), Morocco (November 25) and Egypt (November 28–29; December 14–15 and the next round scheduled for January 9–10, 2012), but they have failed to stem unrest. Egypt, arguably the most important country in the region, appears to be the most affected, with people’s dissatisfaction boiling over. The Egyptian youth that led the uprising are especially upset at the continuation of the old corrupt order. They rightly fear the military tightening its grip on power. They have demanded the resignation of Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi who heads the military council and acts as de facto ruler after Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign on 2-11-2011.

Clashes between youth on the one hand and police and military on the other have continued. While Tahrir Square, the focal point of the protesters, was relatively quiet because people had congregated in front of the cabinet building, military sharpshooters posted atop the parliament building fired on them. At least 10 protesters were killed on December 16–17. Soldiers also dropped furniture from buildings injuring scores of protesters. The military-appointed prime minister, Kamal Ganzouri, not only accused protesters of staging a “counter-revolution”, he had the gall to deny on television that troops were mistreating protesters even when other footage showed soldiers ripping clothes off women protesters. This was a direct assault on the honor and dignity of women, a new low in Egyptian society that will inflame passions even more.

The December 16 protests came after the ones on November 8 lasting five days in which 40 protesters were shot and killed by the army. It was at these protests that youth leaders demanded Tantawi’s resignation. When troops failed to quell the unrest and the youth continued to resist their brutal tactics, the military issued a tepid apology saying it was a mistake to fire at protesters. Since November 25, the youth have staged protests outside the cabinet offices located near the parliament building.

In addition to demanding Tantawi’s resignation and that he hand over power to a civilian administration, the protesters have also called for an end to military trials of civilians and lifting of the state of emergency that has been in place since October 1981 after young Egyptian officers gunned down former President Anwar Sadat at a military parade. They were furious at Sadat’s surrender to Zionist Israel through what was referred to as the Camp David Accords.

While opinion between Egypt’s idealistic youth leading the protests and the more seasoned political players such as al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon (Muslim Brotherhood) is divided, there is near unanimity that the military is not sincere in its pronouncements; furthermore, that it was a mistake to assume the military was on the side of the protesters that forced Mubarak from power. The Tahrir Square protesters had called for boycott of the polls until a civilian government was in place, but the Ikhwan’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) rejected this. In the first round of elections (November 28–29), the FJP garnered nearly 40% of the vote. The Salafis’ party, al-Nour, won a surprising 25%. A coalition of secular parties operating under the label Egyptian Bloc got a mere 13.4%. Other parties did equally poorly. The old established Wafd Party got 7%, the Wasat Party (mildly Islamic) got 4.3% and the youth bloc’s The Revolution Continues secured 3.5%. What the polls indicate is that the Ikhwan’s decades of social work among people has paid off.

In the second round of polls (December 14–15), the FJP squared off against al-Nour with both parties further consolidating their gains making them the strongest bloc in parliament. The two parties, however, do not see eye to eye on many issues. It is well-known that the Salafis did better than expected because of huge sums of money that poured into their coffers from such leading “champions” of democracy as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Based on these results and the third round to be held on January 9–10 in a convoluted electoral process, the military high council announced that it would not allow the committee that will draft the new constitution after its appointment by the elected parliament, to be dominated by Islamic parties.

On December 7, General Mukhtar al-Mulla told a small group of Western journalists in Cairo that the military council would not allow Islamic parties to dominate the committee. He made the incredible claim that the newly elected parliament would not represent the will of the broader Egyptian public despite Islamic parties securing more than 65% of the popular vote. He went on to tell Western journalists — and through them the military’s masters in Washington — that the military planned to give the new advisory council and the military-led cabinet major roles in forming a constitutional assembly.

While General Mulla attempted to undermine the electoral successes of Islamic parties, the military council had earlier touted the holding of elections as proof that it was sincere in ushering in a democratic dispensation. Following Mulla’s announcement, the Freedom and Justice Party withdrew its representative from the advisory council. Mohamed Saad Katatni, secretary general of the party, said in a statement on December 8 that it had joined the advisory council on the understanding that it would give advice and opinion to the military rulers only until the parliament was seated. The group decided to withdraw because the military’s expanded mission for the advisory body amounted to “a derogation of the legislative institution and interference in the preparation of the Constituent Assembly which will draft Egypt’s new Constitution,” according to Katatni.

The party accused Egypt’s military rulers of attempting to undermine the legislature’s authority and interfering in the writing of a new constitution. After taking over power from Mubarak, the military had promised that the newly elected People’s Assembly would have the authority to draft the new constitution. It has since backtracked in a move designed to retain the military’s control over the affairs of the country as well as maintain its privileges that it has enjoyed for decades. The other overriding factor is that the military wants to assure its foreign sponsors, especially the Americans and the Zionists, that it will safeguard their interests even if it means ignoring the people.

The Egyptian military’s acrobatics confirm yet again that it is an instrument of the status quo and acts as an agent of external powers to the detriment of the interests of the people. While the youth leading the movement for change have great enthusiasm, they will have to press on until they remove the military from all the decision-making processes. Not one military in the Muslim world, with the exception of the armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has ever won a war against external enemies. Their only success has been in repeatedly conquering their own people.

Unless these dragons are de-fanged and driven back to the barracks under strict civilian control, they will continue to frustrate the people’s desire for a dignified existence.

Egypt’s Election Process

Under Egypt’s complex electoral system, three separate polls are being held.

  1. Elections to the 508-member People’s Assembly (lower house) are from 11-28-2011 to 1-11-2012. These are being held in three phases.
  2. Two-thirds of the 498 elected seats in the People’s Assembly will be picked through proportional representation, using lists drawn up by parties and alliances. The remaining one-third will be decided by a first-past-the-post-system, with individual candidates being required to win more than 50% of the votes to avoid a run-off contest.
  3. Elections to the 270-member Shura Council (upper house) are scheduled for 1-29-2012 to 3-11-2012.
  4. Presidential elections are to be held in 6-2012.
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