Monday, November 14, 2005

US-led Bahrain conference and the Egyptian Parliamentary elections

Egypt now stands with Syria when it comes to keeping the status quo, entrapping their peoples under emergency laws and continues to crack down on human liberties. The Manama Forum for the Future was a wonderful occasion to set an agenda to promote political freedom and economic change.

The conference unveiled the freedom and democracy camp and the imposition of emergency law and continued human rights violations camp whereto the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East belong.

Egypt wants to pursue its control over the civil societies, opposition movements, and movements calling for change in Egypt which recently emerged with the widespread call by the US to promote freedom and democracy. Egypt wanted the conference's closing statement to stipulate that civil organizations, known as NGOs, to be ''legally registered'' under each country's laws. I love the word “legally registered”. They should say "Security or Government registered".

Why do I have always to feel that my country is like a hijacked plane? Are we out any soon of this situation or this plane? Why do I have to continue to live under circumstances created by irresponsible and extremist group of people.

The conference dealt a blow to U.S. President Bush's goals for the troubled region. Guess who is the reason? The answer is the so-called longstanding ally Egypt. Egypt, the second-largest recipient of U.S. aid, derailed the Forum for the Future by demanding language calling for giving Arab governments significant control over pro-democracy group.

Let’s think now, after Egypt refused the U.S. agenda for promoting freedom in the Middle East, about domestic offers to the Egyptian citizens.

I went to vote...First Time in my Entire Life
I went to vote last Wednesday in my constituency in Dokki. That was the first time ever to vote in my entire life though I have been issued my voting card the day I was eligible for one. That was long time ago. I know for sure that my vote will not be counted as seriously as it should be but I wanted to make a statement. I did not want anyone to rig my vote in favor of the Government’s National Democratic Party or the Muslim Brotherhood who had a strong candidate, knowing that both have good channels for striking deals at our expense. The Muslim Brotherhood candidate, who did not make it to the parliament, spent a fortune to be able to fill the streets with his banners and pictures and to pay hundreds to work for his campaign. He even hired people to visit houses to convince voters to vote for him. And because “true Muslim” men will be going to the mosques, it was normal to push his campaigners to meet their potential male voters there. I had two visits by a group of women wearing “Nekab”, long head scarfs close to the Afghan’s borka, asking me to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood candidate. I wasn’t at home those two times. Lucky me, but of course they left me all the necessary information to vote for their Islamist candidate. I have to admit they are so adamant and organized. And I have no idea from where did they get my home address from.

On Wednesday, I went to where I should be casting my vote. The government uses public schools as polling stations. It was crowded. Not because of the queues of voters but because of the fans of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate who were paid a good amount of money to hold banners and ask people to vote for him. Anyway, wearing a Western outfit with no scarf, I felt out of place among all those women wearing galabyia/abaya (long dress with no waist so that it won’t show the women’s body curves). Campaigners started giving me their little brochures making sure that I listen to which candidates I should vote for. I screamed at the end, saying: I am not voting for the NDP or the Muslim Brotherhood. The woman who was selling the NDP candidate to me told me that Mr. X is not with the NDP. In the paper she gave me that “Mr X” is an NDP candidate, in fact it was written everywhere. It was clear as day. The NDP hires ignorant people to talk to voters. Apparently she assumed that I cannot read and write well. Hellooooooo. At the end I picked up an independent who did not make it to the Parliament when I knew the results and another person for the workers' list whom I was sure would have never made it under any circumstances.

While talking outside the room where I voted, I noticed there was a big crowd. I asked what is wrong with this room? One guy working for an independent candidate told me the judge suspended the work in this polling room because 15 people from the NDP stormed the room and wanted to vote at the same time when they are not registered. The judge suspended the work until order returned.

Here comes the interesting part, after I voted I met an Islamist candidate for al-takafoul party and I had a long talk with him. He heard me saying I will not vote for the government or the Muslim brotherhood when campaigners were chasing me. Looks like he felt insulted because I am rejecting the Muslim brotherhood agenda and the “Islam is the Solution” as a political agenda. He had a beard, disguised as modern man. I made him sweat like never before, cornering him with basic political questions. This same man gave me his work agenda, before casting my vote. The things he will be asking for at the parliament on behalf of the Dokki citizens from my own point of view are naive.

The conversation started with the worst discriminatory question someone can ask. Are you a Muslim or Christian? I was disgusted but after I heard this question, I was appalled. I was not surprised though. Citizens in the Islamists’ eyes are not good or bad citizens but of Muslims and Christians. Jews are not a topic to discuss. I told him I am a Muslim. He felt relaxed. I truly spent a good time. I was so happy to be that unrepentant shameless Muslim woman, of course only in his eyes, to talk to an Islamist candidate. I even insisted on shaking hands at the end though I know that he does not, because women are the source of sin. I was quite frank and straight forward. I know their points of weakness and I started the attack.

The bottom line of this conversation is that he does not believe in equality between men and women. He asked me whether I am a Christian or a Muslim because he assumed I might be an extremist Copt. That’s what he told me. If I were a Copt, he would not have started the conversation in the first place. Apparently, he does not sell his precious party platform to Christians. He believes in discrimination. Equality and freedom are not an issue here. They guy believes in applying the Islamic Shariaa and that whoever steals should have his/her hands cut off…etc. Tolerance, forgiveness or applying civil law is out of question. He despises the current laws of Egypt. He is running for a parliament in a country of which he does not respect its constitution. The word constitution did not appear in the conversation because he does not recognize it. He thinks it is modeled against the French laws; which are pagan laws. I asked him whether his party allows women to attain a leadership position, he had no answer. I knew it. I assumed no, because women have to follow men according to his Islamic Shariaa.

Islamists believe that they are eligible for ruling the country. I truly believe they cannot take care of a pet at their homes not to mention a whole country.

Leaving the school or the polling station, I saw another funny scene. I saw a bus full of pre-paid voters arriving to vote for vice Speaker of the Parliament whose constituency is Dokki as well. I do not have to mention that she is an NDP candidate. I could not help laughing, seeing the pre-paid voters. This only happens in Egypt.

So Egypt is turning down an offer by the U.S. to promote freedom in the Middle East by which the world can support some popular groups in the region. In Egypt, that would be applied to Kefaya, Shayfenkoum and all movements calling for change that are not legally registered according to the Egyptian government. Hence they do not qualify for any international support to pursue their struggle for freedom and democracy.

Domestically, the Egyptian regime is offering us comic parliamentary elections, where all NDP party won the majority of the seats, applauding the Muslim Brotherhood in the mass media for their good performance. Internationally, Egypt turns down an offer by the international community to help movements for change.

I want to get out of this hijacked plane or find a way change its direction where the sun and light are promised. I want this doomed plane to be changed with a new crew. I want the hijackers to leave. Passengers in a hijacked plane have little to say.

I have some pictures that I would like to share with you from Wednesday parliamentary comedy. I have hard time downloading them here though I ll keep trying though.


At 9:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Muslim Brotherhood initiative controversial

By Pakinam Amer
First Published: June 5, 2006

While Akef and the Brotherhood have many people backing them, some are concerned about their policies (AFP Photo)

CAIRO: Regardless of its popularity among the grassroots population, Muslim Brotherhood policies and reform initiatives are still surrounded by controversy, especially among intellectuals; the idea of a constitution derived from Islamic law has given birth to speculation over the group’s political, economic and social policies.

The reform initiative, penned by senior leaders and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, was presented as a “national charter.” When it was first initiated (its presentation coinciding with last year’s presidential elections), the Brotherhood called on all political parties and powers to support it. Just a few weeks after its presentation, Essam Al-Arian, group spokesperson, and several other senior leaders were rounded-up from their homes or work, arrested and detained in Tora Mazraa Prison.

According to the group’s supreme guide, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, this initiative should “be met with interest, be discussed and talked over … The duty of this era makes it imperative for all political powers, cultural and intellectual groups, in addition to all those interested in public work, to gather around a wide frame based on the essential pillars of this society.”

The initiative not only outlined political and economic reform plans, but also highlighted steps that could be taken “in the field of building the Egyptian individual,” believing that “the happiness of man is the target of any development of progress” and that “man is also the method of achieving” this progress.

One of the main steps the group is taking is to put “a special focus on the younger generations” to give them “a base of faith, straightforwardness and good manners.” The group also said that in order to achieve this aim, they must urge people to be committed to “worship, righteous behavior and dignified dealings” in addition to filtering the mass media by “removing all that contradicts the rulings of Islam and the givens of straight manners.”

In the area of politics, the Brotherhood has been most controversial. Many opposition voices have criticized the group’s slogan of “Islam is the Solution.”

“It is dangerous to use such a slogan, saying that the Quran should be the source of law and order,” George Ishaq, Kefaya head, tells The Daily Star Egypt. “The Quran, above all, is a holy book and a heavenly scripture. We can’t put it to the test by deriving policies from it.”

However, according to Akef, “We stand no chance of achieving development in any field of our life unless we return to our religion, apply our sharia (Islamic law), follow the path of science and modern technology and acquire as much knowledge as we can, in light of the great religion’s basics … By this we seek Allah’s blessing and satisfaction.”

Not to say that the Brotherhood’s policy restricts freedom; the Brotherhood actually promises freedom and a “democratic, constitutional, parliamentarian, presidential” regime “in the framework of Islamic principles.” According to their suggested political reform plan, the group is keen on “establishing international relations based on equality, human brotherhood, mutual respect of rights and national sovereignty, respect of international laws and conventions, and stressing people’s right to self-determination.”

“The people are the source of all authorities,” says their declaration, “Power transfer [should take place] through free, general elections.”

The initiative also acknowledges the freedom of establishing political parties, freedom of each individual’s belief and practicing religious rites “for all acknowledged divine religions.” The group also claims it upholds freedom of opinion, “expressing it and calling for it peacefully within the framework of the public system, general traditions and the basic foundations of society.”

Their “national charter” in the field of politics also includes “freedom of public mass meetings and the right of peaceful demonstrations… non-violation of the public security, and forbidding using or threatening to use violence or carrying weapons.”

“The army has to be excluded from politics [and] to be dedicated for defending the country’s border,” reads the group’s charter. “The police and all security bodies of the state are civic jobs as stated by the constitution. Their mission must be limited to preserving the security of the state and society as a whole, not subjected to preserve the entity of government or taken as a tool to suppress the opposition.”

The charters added that the ruler’s responsibility should be limited, whereas the president should not interfere in the executive powers and should not “preside over any political party.” The charter also limits the president’s rule to two terms.

“Ill-reputed laws,” like the Emergency Law and the laws that restrict the formation of political parties, or restrict the press and syndicates will be revoked, promises the initiative.

In the fields of legal and electoral sections, the Muslim Brotherhood reform plan promises, above all, “independence of the legal system, in all its degrees and measures, making every effort possible to keep it away from any suspicions and doubts, respecting legal rulings and not playing around them.”

Changing the laws “and purifying them to be in conformity with the principles of the Islamic Sharia being the major source of legislation” is also a priority.

Concerning the electoral process, the group also says that authorities and security forces should be kept away from the process, and elections should be “handled and monitored by an electoral committee … Judges should form such a committee … without the interference of the Minister of Justice.”

“All runners [should be] entitled to all sorts of electoral campaigning; holding conferences, distributing electoral publications, holding marches and hanging fliers.”

In the area of economic reform, the Brotherhood has outlined specific projects in their charter, for instance, discovering sources of natural resources and using them, linking small and middle complementary industries with large ones to ensure their support, encouraging direct Arab and Islamic investment first then foreign investment (from the rest of the world) and using social funds in establishing small projects owned by workers. As part of their plan, the Brotherhood aims to raise awareness of the idea of “saving,” to enlighten citizens “with the rights of the future generations.”

In the area of educational reform, the Muslim Brotherhood initiative promises improvements such as raising the standards and the conditions of teachers, developing school curricula, providing continuous training programs for faculty, increasing “scientific missions” and raising the rate of funding allocated to education and scientific research from the national income.

The 38-page long charter also outlines reforms in fields like combating poverty, Al-Azhar reform, social reform and women’s issues; such issues have been the subject of controversy and have been questioned by analysts familiar with the policies of the Brotherhood, especially the fact that women are not entitled to high ranks within the Brotherhood’s leadership itself. Most female Muslim Brotherhood members contribute in social areas, including charity and development projects while few have real representation in political and legal areas within the group.

However, according to the group’s charter, women are entitled to “participate in parliamentary elections” and to be “a member of parliament in a frame that preserves her decency, neutrality and dignity.” They are also entitled to hold public posts, except for that of the grand imam and the president of the state.


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