Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Egypt, Jordan
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Anti-military crowds mass in Cairo's Tahrir
Tens of thousands gather to protest disputed court rulings and moves by military seen as attempts to cling to power.
Evan Hill Last Modified: 23 Jun 2012 11:48
Robert Fisk: Only the military are guaranteed victory in this Egyptian election
Returning to Cairo, Robert Fisk finds the city gripped by the demise of its former president – but fearing the outcome of the vote to decide his successor
ROBERT FISK THURSDAY 21 JUNE 2012
Hosni Mubarak's ghost – whether or not he is still alive at midday – will preside over today's Egyptian presidential election results. For Ahmed Shafik and Mohamed Morsi represent the two faces of the narrative which Mubarak always used to maintain his power: stability or the Islamist nightmare. Shafik, Mubarak's last Prime Minister, is the "stability" candidate who has already claimed victory. Morsi is the Muslim Brotherhood man who has already claimed victory. Add to this the childish and arrogant claim by the army and its greedy field marshal, Mohamed Tantawi, to hold on to all its privileges, no matter how Egyptians have voted, and today promises to be one of those bookmarkers that historians love.
Of course, if Mubarak dies today, the conspiracy theories will out-plot any other conspiracy theory in recent Arab history. How better to ameliorate the fury of a Shafik or a Morsi victory than the announcement of a state funeral for the grand old man who represented an Egypt which had an economy even if it didn't have freedom? Egypt's kindly people would surely not desecrate the memory of any great Egyptian leader, however cruelly he ruled them. After Sadat was assassinated, his funeral cortege passed through the streets in silence. Few were the crowds. But nowhere was there a hint of violence or anger.
But Mubarak – dead or alive – cannot change the awful significance of the election results. If they are as narrow as predicted – 52 per cent or 51 per cent – they will represent a divided nation and one torn in half not so much by sect or family but by capitalism and Islam. For Shafik, at the end of the day, is an elitist Mubarakite whose interest in freedom is overwhelmed by his promises of security – which means freedom only for his supporters – while Morsi's Islamism, tempered though it may be for the moment by an all-embracing fellowship with his fellow Egyptians, will surely lead to a soft sharia-state in which the minaret will always tower higher than the parliament building.
Yet when the military have already ripped up the results of earlier parliamentary elections – which the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies effectively won – and have decided that they, and they only, are capable of writing a new constitution, and that they, and they only, will define the powers of the new President, there is little to debate, whoever turns out to be the official winner of the presidential elections.
For be sure, if there is an official winner, there will also be an unofficial winner (for they will not be the same man) and thus the military – or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), as we are enjoined to call them – will step in to guarantee public safety and, in their infinite wisdom, rule Egypt until they have decided to crown the man who will do their bidding.
If this sounds too sinister – pharaohs have a bad track record in Egypt – it should also be remembered that the Scaf has blundered rather than ruled its way through the 16 months since Mubarak's deposition. It did not know whether to close down the revolution in Tahrir Square, it allowed senior police officers to get away – quite literally – with murder and then permitted its young soldiers to run amok in front of television cameras, molesting and beating women. Tantawi may be Mubarak's life-long chum, but he is no Nasser or Sadat or Hafez al-Assad, men who would never trip up in public. The Scaf's spokesmen, burdened as they are with the insignia of the cross-swords of a general on every shoulder, sound oddly ill-at-ease, shy, even unhappy at their press conferences. Dictatorship? Us?
And of course, even if Shafik wins with his supposed 51 per cent of the vote, that is hardly a mandate for dictatorship. And unless the Brotherhood declare the result a fraud and take to the streets en masse – it is not difficult to imagine how police provocation could turn such an event violent – the army can hardly adopt the techniques of massive repression so favoured in the past. Surely, they would try to divide the Brotherhood from the Salafists who scored so unexpectedly well in the parliamentary elections, but Egyptians are unlikely to participate in a civil war between Islamists.
More likely – and here comes the corrosive politics of the old Egypt – there will be tantalising opportunities held out. If Morsi is declared President, the army can trumpet their loyalty to the winner of a democratic election while ensuring that he remains muzzled. And the Brotherhood, let us remember, were negotiating with Mubarak's government even while the protesters in Tahrir Square were still being shot down by the state security police. The idea that the largest Islamist movement in Egypt has spent its darkest years in clandestinity is not true; Mubarak, for his own reasons, encouraged them to participate in elections as independents; and the Brotherhood duly obliged.
In other words, the Brotherhood are not necessarily the other side of the emperor's coin. They can be stroked and bargained with, and lavished with false praise, and – as long as they do not try to dissolve the army and the security apparatus which has tortured them (literally) for so long – may well work within the system of the "deep state" which is emerging in Egypt.
This will not satisfy the real revolutionaries, the young and the brave and the intellectuals (not necessarily all the same) who feel so betrayed by the events of the past year-and-a-half. The ElBaradeis will still be there to speak up, along with the political failures of the first presidential poll. And the West will be there to bellow if their human rights are violated by either "winner" in the election results today. Ah, that Mubarak might live to see all this ...
US warns Egypt's military over 'power grab'
Washington urges ruling military to transfer full power to civilian government as Muslim Brotherhood calls for protests.
Last Modified: 19 Jun 2012 04:31
Egypt Army grabs more powers, Mursi claim win
Monday 18 June 2012
Robert Fisk: Mubarak's 300,000-strong army of thugs remains in business despite elections
The Long View: The military has played a shrewd game – insisting Mubarak go on trial while realigning supporters to preserve their privileges
ROBERT FISK MONDAY 18 JUNE 2012
Mohamed ElBaradei warns Egypt it is letting a 'new emperor' take over
Nobel laureate blames Muslim Brotherhood and revolutionary youth for letting the generals engineer coup
Jack Shenker in Cairo
guardian.co.uk, Friday 15 June 2012 22.33 BST
Brotherhood says Egypt uprising 'overturned'
Court ruling to dissolve parliament leads Brotherhood to warn of "dangerous days" such as those under Mubarak regime.
Evan Hill Last Modified: 15 Jun 2012 13:49
Men attack women's rights protesters in Tahrir Square
SARAH EL DEEB CAIRO SUNDAY 10 JUNE 2012
Hundreds of men have attacked a march by women demanding an end to sexual harassment in Egypt. They broke through a cordon of male supporters and groped and molested the women protestors in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the centre of last year's democracy protests.
Friday's march was called to demand an end to sexual assaults. Around 50 women participated, surrounded by a larger group of male supporters, who joined to hands to form a protective ring around them. The protesters chanted: "The Egyptian girl says it loudly, harassment is barbaric." As the marchers entered a crowded corner of the square, a group of men waded in, heckling and groping the women. Male supporters fought back. Eventually, the women were able to take refuge in a nearby building.
Mariam Abdel-Shahid, a 25-year-old cinema student who took part in the march, said: "Sexual harassment will only take us backwards... This is pressure on the woman to return home." During the 18-day uprising last year, women say they briefly experienced a "new Egypt" in Tahrir, with none of the harassment common in Cairo's streets
Robert Fisk: In Cairo, they know revolutions don't always pan out quite as they wanted
Is Hosni Mubarak's ghost going to be reinstalled, substituting a security state in place of democracy?
ROBERT FISK CAIRO WEDNESDAY 06 JUNE 2012
Egyptian women: 'They were doing better under Mubarak'
In Egypt, women were at the forefront of the Arab spring, but in the new regime their rights are being eroded
guardian.co.uk, Monday 4 June 2012 20.00 BST
Robert Fisk: Mubarak will die in jail, but that's no thanks to us
As the former Egyptian dictator is sentenced, our writer remembers the West's determination to overlook his regime's violence
ROBERT FISK CAIRO SUNDAY 03 JUNE 2012
Mubarak's sons face fresh charges
Gamal and Alaa Mubarak charged with making unlawful profits through dealings in shares in Al Watany Bank of Egypt.
Last Modified: 31 May 2012 05:45
Jordan’s Islamists term new electoral law provocative, threaten boycott
Wednesday 20 June 2012
AMMAN: Jordan’s Islamists said yesterday they plan to boycott early polls expected this year over a “provocative” new electoral law, as analysts warned against an “official rigging” of the process.
A day after MPs endorsed the law, the Muslim Brotherhood said it was “in touch with centrist political parties and other groups to form a ‘shadow government’ and "shadow Parliament," which means a definite boycott of the general elections.” “We expect many to boycott the polls. Those who bet on the participation of the Islamist movement in the vote are wrong and delusional,” Zaki Bani Rsheid, deputy leader of the powerful Brotherhood, told AFP.
The new law increases the number of parliamentary seats to 140 from 120, including an expanded quota for women to 15 from 12. It will go into effect after King Abdallah approves it, giving voters the right to cast two ballots: One for individual candidates in their governorates and one for parties or coalitions nationwide.
But only 17 seats can be contested by party and coalition candidates.
“This is retarded and provocative... it will not produce representative lower house deputies. It does not honor those who have been demonstrating for reform since last year. It will kill political life,” Bani Rsheid said. According to the constitution, elections take place every four years, but Jordan held early polls in 2010 after the king dissolved Parliament.
The Islamists boycotted those elections in protest at constituency boundaries, saying they over-represented loyalist rural areas at the expense of urban areas seen as Islamist strongholds.
“Under this law, the elections will turn into a crisis, instead of a solution,” Bani Rsheid warned.The king is pushing to hold crucial elections before the end of 2012 as Jordanians have held relatively small but persistent Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations almost every week since last year to demand sweeping reforms.
“(The) focus should be on the participation of all powers in the parliamentary political process,” King Abdallah told the London-based Al-Hayat daily in an interview published yesterday.
“The coming elections will be a test of intentions and plans,” said the monarch.
He added that the Islamists’ position on reforms “has become dictated by subjective considerations and regional inputs. This is the political reality in the region.”
Jordan's MPs play musical chairs as the Arab spring rages outside
Protests have remained small and peaceful in Amman but critics say government's lack of real reform will lead to discontent
Ian Black in Amman
guardian.co.uk, Friday 11 May 2012 19.24 BST
It was only his second day in office, but Fayez al-Tarawneh, Jordan's brand new prime minister, was already getting a hard time from the demonstrators streaming out of the mosque, shouting slogans against him, against corruption, price rises and the peace treaty with Israel.
Tarawneh – and the watching police – need not have worried: only a few hundred people turned out earlier this month to attack the government – the country's fourth administration in 18 restive months. As Syria bleeds and Egypt faces its first post-revolution presidential election, Jordan's political elite is playing what opposition critics dismiss as "musical chairs".
Protests, in the capital and beyond, remain small and peaceful, and state repression is mild by Middle Eastern standards. "It's true there has not been much violence because Jordan has not yet reached the tipping point," said one young civil society activist. "But I think it will happen."
Officially, the mood is upbeat. Over coffee served by liveried servants in the royal palace, King Abdullah's advisers insist he is fully behind reform: an independent election commission is being created; new laws and parliamentary elections are due by year's end. Loyalists wax lyrical about the "gentle breeze" of the Arab spring wafting across the kingdom and a "Jordanian model" of managed change. It is the job of Tarawneh, a former prime minister with a reputation as a yes-man, to speed things up.
"I am convinced that his majesty has a vision," insists Malek Twal, director of the ministry of political development. "Elections will happen because we can't afford for them not to happen – for the sake of the stability of the country and the survival of the regime. They are not a luxury or a gift from above."
Yet many doubt the king's commitment. "The results so far show the appearance of reform rather than real reform," argues political scientist Mohammed al-Masri. "We are at a standstill," complains Ali Abu Sukkar, of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan's best-organised political force. Blogger Naseem Tarawnah admits that he does not know whether the king is serious. "But whether he wants reform or not, he and everyone else wants stability," he says. "If that means sacrificing reform he will do it. Stability means buying as much time as possible."
Elections will not resolve a severe economic crisis in a country that is heavily dependent on aid from the US, the EU and Saudi Arabia. Jordan, as the wry saying goes, has a "caviar budget" when it can barely afford hummus and falafel. In 2011, 15% of the population lived beneath the poverty line. Opulent west Amman, with its smart shopping malls, palatial villas and Filipino maids, is the glittering exception. The new prime minister's first serious crisis looks like handling a long-postponed hike in electricity prices.
Belt-tightening is risky because of Jordan's enormous public sector – providing the livelihoods of perhaps 40% of the entire 6.5m population.
Abdullah's recent visits to tribal areas, with promises of more jobs in the police and gendarmerie, are designed to demonstrate that he is still looking out for his most loyal constituency. "You are the symbols of nobility and bravery," he told cheering members of the Howeitat tribe after Bedouin soldiers on camels and horses escorted his convoy of black Land Cruisers into their flag-festooned encampment.
The crisis is writ large in Tafila, a grim southern town that has seen protests by al-Hirak, a movement that expresses the "dignity deficit" that unites all the Arab uprisings. Unemployment – perhaps 30% nationally – is especially high among graduates and there is no sign of the wealth generated by the nearby newly-privatised potash mines. The arrest of tribal activists charged with insulting the monarch was an exception to the "soft containment" policy masterminded by the Mukhabarat secret police. Twenty were pardoned after elders paid homage to the king.
Topping the list of popular concerns is corruption, with a rash of unresolved cases that, it is whispered, may lead back to the palace.
Claims that the king ordered MPs to block an investigation landed one journalist in a state security court for incitement. Mohammad al-Dahabi, a former Mukhabarat chief, faces charges of money laundering, abuse of power and embezzlement – though some suspect he may be a convenient scapegoat.
"Five years ago, none of our listeners would dare talk about politics," says Daoud Kuttab, who runs the independent Radio Balad. "Now the phone is ringing off the hook. We hear about corruption on air, on the record, all the time. There is a new public discourse about holding people responsible. In many ways the genie is out of the bottle."
Even the king, once beyond public criticism, is coming under direct attack. Comments and caricatures posted on social media sites mock him and his penchant for Harley Davidson bikes – a savage contrast to a culture of official deference symbolised by the golden crown logo of Petra, the official news agency. Abdullah's close links to the US and firm support for his father's 1994 peace treaty with Israel are other weak points.
"Now young people are cursing the king and that's a problem," muses Laith Shubeilat, an outspoken opposition leader who urged Abdullah to change to save his throne. "We are tumbling economically and, in terms of corruption, it's a farce."
The official narrative is that reform must be gradual and take into account Jordan's "specifics" and regional complexities. "There's too much talk about constitutional monarchy and too much talk that the Islamists will not take part unless the king's powers are limited," argues Twal. "The large majority of Jordanians do not want to hear anything about touching the king's powers." Decoded, those "specifics" are largely about the ever-sensitive relations between East Bank Jordanians and Jordanians of Palestinian origin who make up at least 50% of the population, many of whom support the IAF. This worries those who fear an Israeli plan to annex the West Bank and turn the kingdom into an "alternative" Palestinian homeland.
"The state has used divisions between Jordanians and Palestinians to divide and rule and contain the protests," said al-Masri. "The decision-makers are relaxed and feel they are still in control. But it's the Arab spring and the world is changing. We need leaders who think about the future, see things in a wider perspective and don't just go for quick fixes."
Abdullah, say critics, seems to think the tide has turned in favour of the Middle Eastern status quo: factors include Bashar al-Assad's survival in Syria, Islamist disarray in Egypt and, crucially, the lack of US pressure on Jordan. Those who reject this assessment include Awn Khasawneh, Tarawneh's predecessor, who resigned after being blamed for moving too slowly on reform when his real crime, many feel, was reaching out to the IAF and thus falling foul of the palace and the Mukhabarat. "Spring is a seasonal thing," Khasawneh quipped, "it keeps coming back".
Lamis Andoni, a columnist for al-Arab al-Yom, put it more bluntly: "The regime has reached the conclusion – I think it's a miscalculation – that it can carry on without making fundamental changes. It's betting that the protest movement will get weaker and that it can fall back on its traditional power base of tribal leaders. It also feels certain that the majority of Jordanians of Palestinian origin will not turn against it. But the risk is that the economic situation will undermine those assumptions. People in Jordan are demoralised for more than a year. They are not sure demonstrations will make any difference. They are unhappy but fear the alternative."
Sudan police disperse anti-austerity protests
As protests enter sixth day, police use batons and tear gas on demonstrators amid reports of crackdown on journalists.
Last Modified: 22 Jun 2012 02:52
Anti-austerity protests in Sudan have entered its sixth day amid reported crackdown on Sudanese and foreign journalists.
Riot police have fired tear gas and civilians armed with machetes and swords attacked protesters during demonstrations sweeping Khartoum to demand the resignation of Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, a Sudanese opposition leader said on Thursday.
The protests are in response to austerity measures that will cut government jobs and raise fuel prices.
Saata Ahmed al-Haj, head of the opposition Sudanese Commission for Defense of Freedoms and Rights, said hundreds of protesters have been detained over the past five days.
He said they were later released but were badly mistreated.
Al-Haj said security forces shaved off the protesters' hair, stripped them naked, flogged them and then left them outside in the scorching sun for hours.
"I am under house arrest along with several opposition members, and security forces are encircling the place," he told The Associated Press over the phone.
"Our 'offence' is we are searching for freedom, and this is a crime in Sudan,'' he said.
"This is the outcome of political, economic and military suffocation felt by people here," al-Haj said.
Salama el-Wardani, an Egyptian journalist who works for the Bloomberg news agency, told the Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm that she was detained and interrogated for five hours along with a Sudanese activist, Maha al-Senousi.
The two were arrested while covering protests at Khartoum University on Thursday.
El-Wardani is now reportedly under house arrest awaiting notice if she will be deported. A reporter with the AFP news agency was also detained.
She uploaded this video of Sudanese police firing tear gas and warning shots in front of the Sudan Banking Academy.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists urged authorities to stop harassment of journalists. Spokesman Rob Mahoney said in a statement that "journalists should be allowed to carry out their work freely without the threat of arrest".
Al-Bashir has said the austerity measures are necessary to pay for his country's conflict with South Sudan and to replace Sudan's oil revenues. He said Sudan no longer exports oil.
On Thursday, al-Bashir issued new decrees to cut expenditures as "part of the austerity plan", according to Sudan's official news agency SUNA.
The demonstrations started on Saturday night at the University of Khartoum. Students protesting transportation fare hikes took to the streets outside the downtown campus, where security forces fired tear gas and rounded up dozens of them.
Since then, Khartoum has been the scene of daily protests, spilling out to different of the capital.
Echoing calls heard in Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, protesters chanted, "The people demand to bring down the regime."
Al-Bashir, 68, has ruled Sudan since 1989, when he carried out a bloodless military coup. Sudan was then in midst of two decades of civil war with the south, which declared independence last year and became the nation of South Sudan.
In the wake of another conflict, this one in the Darfur region in western Sudan, al-Bashir became the first sitting head of state indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Dozens killed in Darfur clashes
Both rebels and Sudanese troops claim to have inflicted heavy casualties following clashes in northeastern Darfur.
Last Modified: 03 Jun 2012 10:06
Rebels in Sudan's Darfur region have launched an attack on government troops, with both sides claiming to have inflicted heavy casualties.
The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), part of a rebel alliance that wants to topple the government in Khartoum, said it attacked an army camp in Wad Ganja, east of the state capital El Fasher on Saturday, killing several soldiers, destroying 15 army vehicles and taking several prisoners.
Army spokesman al-Sawarmi Khalid confirmed the attack but said the rebels had been defeated.
"They suffered heavy losses. Twenty-five fighters of the Justice and Equality Movement were killed, 10 of their trucks were destroyed," he said, adding that JEM had earlier attacked a market in the area and stolen goods.
Such casualty claims are impossible to verify from a region where access is restricted.
Violence in Darfur, where the United Nations and the African Union maintain a huge joint peacekeeping operation, has subsided since its peak in 2003 and 2004, but rebel and tribal fighting has continued.
In April, the head of the African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) expressed concern that the region's rebels were exploiting tensions between Sudan and South Sudan along their disputed frontier.
JEM and other Darfuri rebel factions belong to a "Revolutionary Front" which aims to topple the government in Khartoum, which they regard as unrepresentative of the country's political, ethnic and religious diversity.
Khartoum alleges that South Sudan backs JEM and other rebels, a charge the Southern government denies and in turn accuses Sudan of supporting insurgents south of the border.
The Sudanese government puts the death toll at 10,000. Almost two million people are still displaced.