Vote result delay frays Egyptian nerves


Allegations of fraud delayed the result of Egypt’s presidential election on Thursday, fraying nerves as the Muslim Brotherhood, which claims victory, called for street protests against moves by the ruling generals to deny them power.

Thousands of protesters gathered for a third day in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, cauldron of the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak 16 months ago, to demand that the officers who pushed him aside keep their word and hand over to civilians by July 1.

There is little sign that will happen after the ruling military council dissolved the Islamist-led parliament and set strict limits on the new president’s powers. But prominent Islamists dampened talk of violence, for all their promise of permanent town square vigils until their demands are met.

Among thousands who packed Tahrir after dark, Ahmed Youssef said he and his friends from a province north of Cairo would camp out overnight to join a major rally after weekly prayers on Friday: “We thought the army would stand by the revolution, and were surprised when it didn’t,” said the bearded, 24-year-old electrical engineer, who supports a hardline Salafist group.

“We will stay here until the military council hands over power,” he added, voicing a widely-shared sense of betrayal by generals who promised to rule only until elections. “If they do this, we will carry them on our shoulders. We love the army.”

The state election committee has spent four days collating counts from the two-day run-off ballot but said it would miss a target of Thursday for announcing the result as it was going through hundreds of complaints from both sides. As the weekend starts on Friday, that might mean a wait until Sunday.

“We are taking our time to review the appeals to investigate them properly but, God willing, the results will be announced by Sunday at most, if not before that,” Judge Maher el-Beheiry, a member of the election committee, told Reuters.

The candidates – former general and Mubarak aide Ahmed Shafik and the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsy – have both called for national unity as the delay jangled the nerves of a nation increasingly suspicious of the military and the Mubarak-era establishment, or “deep state”, that survived the revolution.

Some see the delay as a bid to pressure the Brotherhood to accept the military decree that curbed the president’s powers before any Morsy presidency. The committee insists it is simply a procedural issue to ensure all appeals are fairly assessed.

Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said the delay “generates concern, no doubt”, expressing fear that the authorities were getting ready to announce Shafik the winner.

“The doubt extends to this possibility,” he told Reuters.

ON EDGE

In an effort to buttress its claim of victory, the Brotherhood has distributed what it says are copies of official records of the vote count at the local level. It says the margin of its victory means it is impossible for Shafik to have won.

But some have identified what they describe as flaws in the paperwork, saying, for example, that some of the documents did not bear official stamps or that the numbers did not add up.

“We cannot rely on them as numbers, because they contain great problems,” Hafez Abou Saeda, a human rights activist who is coordinating a monitoring initiative, said.

Egyptian media described a nation on edge.

“Egypt on the verge of exploding,” Al-Watan daily wrote in a front-page headline, highlighting worries about how supporters of rival camps will respond if their candidate loses. “Security alert before the presidential result,” wrote Al-Masry Al-Youm.

“The interest of the nation goes before narrow interests,” said reformist politician Mohamed ElBaradei on Twitter. “What is required immediately is a mediation committee to find a political and legal exit from the crisis. Egypt is on the verge of explosion.”

Cairo’s cafes and social media were alive with chatter about troops preparing to secure major cities, but military sources played down the idea that there was any unusual activity beyond extra alertness.

Adding to unease, Mubarak is himself back in the news, being let out of the prison where he began a life sentence this month for treatment at a military hospital. Security sources have said the 84-year-old was slipping in and out of a coma but “stabilizing”. Many Egyptians suspect the generals are exaggerating to get their old comrade out of jail.

Mohamed Abdel Razek, a Mubarak defense lawyer, said the former president had a stroke on Wednesday after he had a fall during an accompanied visit to a bathroom at Tora prison.

That incident prompted doctors to order he be moved to the hospital in Maadi that was better equipped, the lawyer said.

FUELLING SUSPICIONS

The political uncertainty has taken its toll on an already battered economy. The pound has hit a seven-year low against the dollar, and Egypt’s benchmark share index has tumbled 17 percent since the first round of the vote in May.

In a nation where vote-rigging was the norm during 60 years of military rule, and which is reeling from what critics called a “soft coup” by the generals in the past week, the delay in the results fuelled suspicions of foul play.

“There is absolutely no justification for the result of the vote to be delayed,” Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam el-Erian told Al-Jazeera on Wednesday, describing complaints from the Shafik camp as either invalid or too few to affect the result.

He called on Shafik to show “chivalry” and accept defeat.

Morsy said within hours of polls closing last Sunday that he had beaten Shafik by 52 percent to 48 percent. The group has stuck to those figures.

Shafik’s camp said on Wednesday it remained confident that its man, whom Mubarak appointed prime minister during the uprising, would win, although a spokesman for Shafik also described the vote as “too close to call”.

Whoever is declared winner, the next president’s powers have already been curbed in the last-minute decree issued by the army after it ordered the dissolution of the Islamist-led parliament.

The European Union on Wednesday joined the United States, both major aid donors, in expressing “concern” at what the army moves meant for a promised transition to democracy.

On Tuesday, election monitors from the Carter Center, founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who brokered the peace between Egypt and Israel that unlocked U.S. aid, said they could not call the election free and fair as they were denied sufficient access to polling stations and results collation.

The Brotherhood has called for open-ended protests against the army’s decree to limit the president’s role and retain powers, but said it would not resort to violence.

Reporting by Marwa Awad, Shaimaa Fayed, Edmund Blair, Patrick Werr, Ahmed Tolba and Dina Zayed in Cairo; Writing by Alastair Macdonald and Edmund Blair; Editing by Philippa Fletcher

Israel to delay transfer of tax revenue to Palestinians


Israel will delay the transfer of tax proceeds collected for the Palestinian Authority pending proof that the money will not go to the terrorist Hamas organization.

Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said Sunday that a routine transfer of $88 million will be delayed and that meetings scheduled for this week between his ministry and PA officials will not take place, according to reports.

The action is in response to last week’s announcement that the ruling Fatah Party of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, had reconciled and would form a unity government.

“The burden of proof lies with the Palestinian Authority to show that not even one shekel is given to Hamas and funds terror,” Steinitz told Army Radio. β€œIs it certain that none of the money will be transferred to a terror organization to purchase missiles and rockets?”

Israel collects taxes for the Palestinian Authority as part of the 1993 Oslo Accord. Tax revenues transfered to the PA from Israel amount to $1 billion to $1.4 billion annually, Ynet reported, citing an unnamed Treasury source.

“The agreement that was initialed recently between Hamas, which calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, and the Fatah movement must concern not only every Israeli, but all those in the world who aspire to see peace between us and our Palestinian neighbors,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the beginning of the regular Cabinet meeting. “Peace is possible only with those who want to live in peace alongside us and not with those who want to destroy us.”

Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon over the weekend that the United Nations should make a new Palestinian unity government recogntze Israel as a condition for cooperating with the government, Reuters reported.

Barak’s call to Ban came after the U.N. head said he welcomed the new cooperation between Fatah and Hamas.

Briefs: New chairman at Jewish Federation, AskMusa reaches out to Muslims


Federation to Tap Gold as Next Board Chair

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ board was expected to approve on Thursday, Sept. 20, the selection of Stanley P. Gold as its next chair. Gold, the president of Shamrock Holdings and chairman of the board of trustees at USC, would replace real estate financier Michael Koss, whose two-year term expires early next year.

Gold, 65, a former chair of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s board of governors who has volunteered throughout the Jewish community, could not be reached for comment by press time.

“He’s been involved for many years, and we would be very excited to have him as the chairman,” Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon said.

A man who calls Beverly Hills home but has made his mark across town, Gold was instrumental in the 1984 takeover of the Walt Disney Co. that gave control of the company to Roy E. Disney and placed Michael Eisner in charge. Two decades later, Gold and Disney forced Eisner out and resigned as company directors. Today, as president of Burbank-based Shamrock, Gold has moved the investment company owned by Roy E. Disney and family to be one of the biggest U.S. investors in Israel; this week he was scheduled to speak at the Beverly Hilton alongside the director general of Israel’s Ministry of Finance.

As chairman, Gold would help appoint committee chairs and set The Federation’s agenda. He told the nominating committee, led by former Chair Harriet Hochman, that he wanted to focus on three issues: expanding programs that connect the Diaspora with Israel; fostering stronger community relations, particular with Latinos; and increasing leadership training.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer

Holocaust Museum Lease Delayed by City-State Snafu

The Los Angeles City Council’s approval this summer to lease a section of Pan Pacific Park to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMH) was supposed to be the last major hurdle in the museum’s half-century quest to build a permanent home. And museum officials were told that after the approval all that would remain before the 50-year lease could be signed was a formality: Getting the state to transfer the title for the 30-plus-acre property to the city.

But three months have passed, and reports are that little progress has been made.

“My understanding was it should have been resolved within a matter of minutes,” said E. Randol Schoenberg, museum president. “That’s what they were saying to us a year ago. They said once they signed off on the lease, we’d be able to move forward. But they signed off on the lease, and now it’s been months, not minutes.”

At issue is the ownership of the park’s land. It was purchased by the state for about $3 million in 1978 and was operated by Los Angeles County as a regional park when it opened in the mid-1980s. But in the early ’90s, the county was short on cash and considered closing the park, adjacent to what is now The Grove in Mid-City, so the city Department of Recreation and Parks took over maintenance.

Shortly after, former state Sen. David Roberti introduced a bill that authorized the state to transfer title to the city or enter into a lease at below market value. But that transfer has yet to be made, and LAMH can’t sign its dollar-per-year lease with the city until it has.

Officials at both the City Attorney’s Office and the California Department of General Services said they are working toward a resolution.

“There are no ‘issues’ surrounding Pan Pacific Park,” General Services spokeswoman Liz Gransee responded by e-mail to a reporter’s inquiry about the delay. “The state is in negotiations with the city of L.A., and both parties are working for an amiable solution.”

The favored solution, city officials said, would be for the state to rent the property to the city with the option to buy the property at any point and apply its rent toward the purchase. That would enable the city to sublet to the museum, an effort unanimously supported by the City Council in June.

“It is a worthy supplement to the other important institutions and museums that we have in Los Angeles,” said City Councilman Jack Weiss, who represents the heavily Jewish district neighboring Pan Pacific Park. “It is not a substitute, but an important supplement.”

Designed by architect Hagy Belzberg, the 15,000-square-foot museum would be mostly submerged beneath the existing six black granite columns of the Holocaust Martyrs Monument, and would rise up to 10 feet above ground at its highest point. Before construction begins — planned for Yom HaShoah next May — the museum needs to raise about $10 million of the $20 million needed for the project.

“At this point I am dead in the water with fundraising,” said Mark A. Rothman, the museum’s executive director. “It is extraordinarily frustrating. Donors who have pledged money and have checks in their hands are saying, ‘At this point, I just want to wait until the lease is signed. I want to make sure this is a done deal.'”

— BG

Wiesenthal Center Web Site Explains Jews to Islamic World

AskMusa.org, a new Web site to explain Judaism and Jews to the Islamic world in its own languages, has been launched by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“We have no choice but to engage Muslims in the online marketplace of ideas,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean, who initiated the project.

The emphasis of AskMusa, which means Ask Moses in Arabic, is to describe the concepts and practices of Judaism, and present occasional testimony by Holocaust survivors, rather than engage in political arguments, said Cooper in a phone interview.

The site formally went online on Sept. 12, marked by a ceremony at the Wiesenthal Center’s New York Museum of Tolerance, attended by Jewish, Christian and Muslim dignitaries.

Zoning Snafus Keep New JCC Empty


Flashback to last fall, the opening ceremony of YESOD, a first-of-its-kind Jewish community center in the heart of St. Petersburg. This three-story modern stone-and-glass building — built by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) with funds raised primarily from North American federations and private donors — was pitched by the JDC as the new heart of the St. Petersburg community.

Now, four months after the impressive opening ceremony that brought together JDC leadership from New York and Israel, North American donors and local community leaders, the center is fully built — but stands empty.

The center is also the focus of criticism from some of its would-be occupants, who say that they haven’t been kept in the loop about planning the center from the beginning, that its opening has been delayed and that they are unsure about when they will be able to move in.

For its part, the JDC says that the delays are a result of bureaucratic snafus in obtaining zoning approval, and that it plans to move local Jewish organizations into the building later this month. JDC also wants to make the building economically self-sufficient; sources suggest that the project has stalled because JDC is also looking for commercial tenants to help achieve this goal.

YESOD, a bright and open space, is similar to state-of-the-art JCCs in cities across North America. It has space to house half a dozen Jewish organizations, a gym, a concert hall and a kosher cafe.

Although hailed as a landmark space uniting under one roof many Jewish organizations that have been scattered around the city, the center was received with mixed feelings by community leaders.

At the time, some criticized the JDC for organizing the center from afar and of not bringing the local bodies into the organizational process.

When the center held its ceremony, with Jewish federation guests from North America in attendance, its administration hoped that it would be ready for operation by the end of the year at the latest.

But the center is still not open.

“Everything has stalled and it is not certain when and how we are going to move,” said Leonid Kolton, director of St. Petersburg’s Hesed Avraham welfare center, which provides food and other services to Jewish elderly.

The JDC-run Hesed Avraham gave up some of its space in anticipation of the September move — space that it will need in its more active winter months. Hillel’s predicament is more serious: the student group’s lease is ending at the end of the month.

In an e-mail message, Jonathan Porath, JDC’s country director for Russia, said Hillel will move into the JCC before the end of the month.

But according to Leonid Smirnov, director of JDC in St. Petersburg, the finished building is still going through the lengthy process of receiving final approval from the zoning commission.

Local Jewish organizations should be able to move in at the end of January and “general activity” in the building should begin in the late winter or early spring, Porath said. Meanwhile, the amount that local groups will be expected to pay in rent is still unclear.

There are indications that the nonprofit tenants, St. Petersburg Jewish organizations, will need to pay rent for space in YESOD to cover its costly maintenance. Local Jewish leaders worry that the groups will be expected to pay commercial rates that some organizations cannot afford.

Smirnov says such criticisms and fears are unwarranted because most of the organizations relocating to YESOD are funded by the JDC and thus the JDC would just be paying itself.

“We are not interested in transferring money from one of our pockets to another,” he said.

Financial details are still being worked, out, JDC’s Porath said. According to Leonid Kolton, the overall situation puts a stain on JDC’s image and could even damage the structure of the Jewish community.

The JDC’s Smirnov says any large-scale operation spanning almost four years and involving the transfer of many organizations to a newly constructed building will inevitably run into difficulties and complications.

Added Joshua Berkman, a JDC spokesman: “JDC and its partners built YESOD to serve as a first-class facility where Jewish life in St. Petersburg can continue to flourish. Rest assured, we will do everything we can to make sure the organizations that are driving this historic Jewish rebirth can make YESOD their home.”

Center Construction Moves Ahead Despite Shortfall


Though Irvine’s Samueli Jewish Campus is $2 million short of $20 million required to finish a community building, the project’s supporters are moving ahead to avoid the potential costs of delay.

Permits for the 123,000-square-foot building adjacent to Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School were issued in March.

"We’re moving ahead as originally scheduled," said Ralph Stern, of Tustin, who is leading fundraising. In a communitywide appeal in May 2002, he promised a fiscally conservative stance: construction would start when financial goals were met.

"If it weren’t for potentially inflationary pressure, we wouldn’t have started," he said last month.

Waiting for the till to fill would incur extra costs from disbanding the building’s construction team, an expected hike in steel prices and bid escalation due to a predicted surge of postwar construction, Stern said. Known costs alone amounted to $500,000, said Irving M. Chase, of Irvine, a member of the capital campaign committee.

"This is one way to protect the bids we had," Stern said.

Adequate funds have been pledged for the $6.5 million first phase, which includes grading, utilities, a foundation and steel-support structure. Stern hopes to raise the remainder by July, as the initial construction nears completion.

An anonymous donor and Broadcom Corp. co-founder Henry Samueli provided two-thirds of the project’s total $60 million cost. Jewish agencies now in Costa Mesa anticipate relocating next spring.