Israelis voted for reality


Regardless of what kind of coalition a bruised and humbled Prime Minister Netanyahu shapes in the new government, the prospects for peace will depend less on his government’s actions and more on the sentiments of Israel’s neighborhood.

To get a sense of those sentiments, consider the words of newly elected President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, a country that is technically “at peace” with Israel and is critical to its security.

As reported in The New York Times, three years ago Morsi was caught on video at a rally urging his followers to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred for them: for Zionists, for Jews,” whom later that year he described as “bloodsuckers,” “warmongers” and “descendants of apes and pigs.”

Morsi is far from the exception in his Jew-hatred. As Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a fellow at the Belfer Center’s Future of Diplomacy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School, wrote in The Times:

“All over the Middle East, hatred for Jews and Zionists can be found in textbooks for children as young as three, complete with illustrations of Jews with monster-like qualities. Mainstream educational television programs are consistently anti-Semitic. In songs, books, newspaper articles and blogs, Jews are variously compared to pigs, donkeys, rats and cockroaches, and also to vampires and a host of other imaginary creatures.”

The vile depiction of Jews and Zionists is especially prevalent in Palestinian society, something that has been exposed in detail by the group Palestinian Media Watch.

It is this vicious Jew-hatred, above all, that has killed every hope for peace.

As Ali writes: “So many explanations have been offered for the failure of successive U.S. administrations to achieve that peace, but the answer is in Morsi’s words. Why would one make peace with bloodsuckers and descendants of apes and monkeys?”

Israelis are not stupid. They read all this stuff. They haven’t given up on peace, but they’ve given up on peace illusions. 

The conventional wisdom before Election Day was that Israel is “moving right.” As I see it, it is reality that has moved right, and Israel has had no choice but to adapt.

Ever since the heady days of Oslo 20 years ago, Israelis have gotten burned whenever they stuck their collective necks out for peace.

They saw how all the years and hopes they invested in Yasser Arafat were wasted on a duplicitous conniver who launched a terror war that murdered a thousand Israelis; they saw how terror rockets were launched on Israeli civilians after they evacuated Lebanon and Gaza; and now they see their so-called “peace partner” Mahmoud Abbas trying to make peace with Hamas, a terror entity sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Israelis see an Arab Spring that has generated even more Jew-hatred and even worse conditions for peace.

When they look east, they see an Iranian madman building a nuclear arsenal to wipe Israel off the map. And when they look north, they count their blessings that they never gave up the Golan Heights to a murderous despot now fighting a horrendous civil war.

Simply put, Israelis have come to understand that no amount of concessions or settlement freezes or red-carpet summits will thaw the icy Jew-hatred that lies at the core of the conflict.

They’ve come to understand the perverted and ruthless logic of the Middle East: The more you want peace and show weakness, the more you get war.

The more desperate you appear for a solution, the further you get from it.

Many American Jews are perplexed and exasperated that Israel has not been more “practical” or done “whatever it takes” to get their enemies to come to the peace table. 

They assume that the more you push for something, the better your chances of getting it. They can’t see how “dig in and tough it out” can even be an option.

What they’ve missed is that, in recent years, Israel has taken on a very Middle Eastern attribute: patience. 

Essentially, Israel has been telling the Arab and Muslim world: We’ve waited 2,000 years to come home, and we’re ready to wait another 2,000 years to make peace. Whenever you’re ready to accept us, we’ll be here, ready to talk peace.

In the Middle East, patience is leverage.

Patience itself is a very centrist idea. It avoids the extremes of both sides.

Bibi is fortunate that a centrist party, Yesh Atid, has done remarkably well. This will help him shape a more reality-based coalition.

This reality cuts both ways. On the one hand, it means recognizing that Israel must eventually make peace with its neighbors, and never lose hope.

On the other, it means recognizing that if the conditions are not ripe for peace, pushing too hard actually can backfire.

Let’s hope that Bibi’s new coalition will be able to pull off that balancing act: to show the world that Israel is absolutely ready to make peace, while exercising the hard-nosed realism that the neighborhood demands.

Israelis have learned the hard way that pushing for peace with those who hate you can bring you further from peace, and that showing weakness with those who compare you to pigs and apes can be an invitation to another war.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Romney’s Libya comments landed with a thud, according to poll


Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was the loser in a political fight over U.S. reaction to attacks last week on American diplomatic compounds in Libya and Egypt, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday.

Four in 10 U.S. voters felt less favorably toward Romney after hearing about his criticism of President Barack Obama's handling of the attacks in which the U.S. ambassador to Libya was killed.

Only 26 percent of the registered voters polled felt worse about Obama after hearing about the Democrat's comments about the violence in the Middle East, the survey said.

“Romney probably did not do anything to shore up his foreign policy cred on this particular issue,” Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said, but she noted that foreign policy was typically low on lists of the issues most important to American voters.

Romney took heavy criticism for issuing a statement accusing Obama of sympathizing with Islamists who waged the attacks on U.S. diplomatic compounds in Egypt and Libya.

For his part, Obama vowed to work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers of the ambassador and three other Americans.

The poll found that 37 percent of voters felt more favorable toward Obama after hearing about his remarks, versus 29 percent who felt favorable about Romney after hearing about his statement.

The flap last week started a tough period for Romney, who struggled to stabilize his reeling campaign after a secretly recorded video showed him belittling Obama's supporters, raising questions about his ability to come from behind and win the Nov. 6 election.

The poll surveyed 792 registered voters.

The precision of the Reuters/Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points for all respondents. (Editing by Alistair Bell and Eric Beech)

Egypt stirs Islamist joy, Gulf, Israeli doubts


Egypt’s new president may lack real foreign policy clout for now, but the mere fact that a Muslim Brotherhood man is at the helm of the biggest Arab nation will embolden fellow Islamists seeking revolutionary change around the Middle East.

Mohamed Morsi’s tenure as head of state is likely to unsettle Israel, please the Jewish state’s arch-foe Iran, and dismay secularist critics of the Brotherhood at home and abroad who argue that political Islam is no antidote to unemployment, a flatlining economy and social misery, analysts say.

It will also stir misgivings among some Gulf Arab states still struggling to respond effectively to the ousting of their long-term ally, deposed president Hosni Mubarak.

Analysts say any variations in aid flows from the Gulf may be an indicator of the health of their relationship with Cairo.

“Morsi’s victory will not benefit us directly. But it is a symbol of a victorious revolution,” Abu Yazen, an activist from the Syrian city of Hama, the repeated scene of bloodshed during Syria’s 15-month-old uprising, told Reuters.

“Morsi and his victory illustrates that revolutionaries will not rest until they reap the rewards of their work,” he added.

Mustapha el-Sayed, political science professor at Cairo University, said Morsi’s victory in presidential elections confirmed a trend started in Tunisia “that the political force most likely to come to power in most Arab states after the fall of their regimes is the Islamists.”

The Brotherhood, the world’s oldest and most established contemporary Islamist movement, has wide influence in the Arab world even if, like in Egypt, its followers have often been repressed in Muslim-majority countries.

After wins by Islamists at legislative polls in Tunisia and Morocco, Morsi’s election is prompting the world to think again about how it deals with advocates of Islamic rule.

But the Egyptian military is expected to keep a tight rein on foreign policy and will protect a peace treaty with Israel that brings in $1.3 billion of U.S. military aid a year.

As a result, the ability of the Morsi government to provide immediate material support to kindred political forces in other Arab countries may be limited.

COLDER PEACE WITH ISRAEL

And in any case, his urgent tasks will be at home, namely to bring Egyptians the stability and prosperity they are desperate for after stagnation and corruption under Mubarak, followed by 16 months of crisis.

But his focus on domestic affairs will not stop critics of the Brotherhood from looking on with trepidation.

Israeli officials have said they respect the election result and expect Cairo to continue to preserve the treaty. But Former Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said in an interview with Israel Radio that while the peace treaty would continue, it would be “much colder” in future.

“There’s not a shadow of a doubt we have awoken to a new world, a different world, a world that is more religious, Islamist and anti-Israel. … the man is known for his extremist views against the peace treaty with Israel,” Ben-Eliezer said.

The Sunni Brotherhood, whose Palestinian offshoot Hamas rules the Gaza Strip, is strongly critical of Israel, which has watched the rise of Islamists in Egypt with growing concern.

Hamas hopes a Morsi presidency would loosen the economic shackles of a boycott of Gaza that Israel says is meant to stop the flow of arms to Gaza.

“The question is how Western states react, if they isolate Hamas further and keep trying to squeeze them out of power, then of course Hamas will turn to the Brotherhood for support, it is only logical,” said Michael Stephens, researcher at the Royal United Services Institute based in Doha.

“They’re a pragmatic party that takes help from anybody they can get.”

Britain’s Quilliam think tank said a topic to watch closely was increased rocket attacks from Sinai which “could destabilize the relationship between Egypt and Israel, particularly if Israel seek unilateral action inside Egyptian territory.”

MORSI WIN LIKELY TO INFLUENCE LIBYA

In Libya it is still unclear how well the Muslim Brotherhood-linked party, the Justice and Construction Party, will do in Libya’s first free elections slated for July 7 because the organization does not enjoy the same institutional popularity that it does in Tunisia or Egypt.

But experts and Libyan liberals alike believe that the Brotherhood win in Egypt will boost the confidence of their Libyan counterparts.

“The Brotherhood in Libya will see it not just as a victory for Egypt but a victory for the Brotherhood (generally),” said political scientist Omar Ashour.

He said if the Libyan Brotherhood were successful in Libya, an oil producer with big financial reserves, their Egyptian counterparts would look to them for contracts and opportunities to help the Egyptian economy through its struggles.

In Libya, secularists watch Morsi with some concern.

Watching a re-run of the Egyptian president’s speech on a news channel this morning in his office, Mahmoud Jibril, Libya’s wartime rebel prime minister who resigned last October told Reuters that Mosri’s win in Egypt would “definitely” boost the Libyan branch of the Brotherhood.

“It makes our task here as democratic forces calling for a civil state and calling for equal rights for all Libyans, and calling for a real democratic process much harder,” he said.

Gulf Arab states have reacted warily to Morsi’s win.

Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution Doha branch said Morsi’s win represented the first time an Islamist party had risen to the presidency in the Arab world.

“There is a symbolic power that is surely concerning to Gulf leaders especially those in Saudi and the Emirates because they are increasingly concerned about their own Islamist opposition.”

GULF ARABS SEEN PREFERRING ‘WEAK” EGYPT

Noman Benotman, a senior analyst at Quilliam, said Gulf states wanted the “weak Egypt” they were used to under Mubarak and did not want to regain the diplomatic weight it had in the 1950s and 1960s during the heyday of Arab nationalism.

“The Brotherhood is the group with the soft power and the influence to be able to revive Egypt and make it, once again, the most influential country in the Middle East,” he said.

“Watch the economic cooperation with the Gulf. Will they fulfill the projects they have promised? I suspect not.”

Hamid of Brooking said Gulf states would use economic clout to pressure the Brotherhood. “Egypt is going to need assistance – loans, foreign direct investment—and the Gulf leaders, if they’re smart, will use that to their own benefit,” he said.

Emboldened by the growing clout of Islamists elsewhere, members of Islah, or Reform, in the United Arab Emirates have stepped up demands for greater power to go to a semi-elected advisory council.

“It’s great, let the Islamists win, let them be demystified and show that they don’t have a special warrant to create jobs, or resolve the Palestinian issue—they are just regular guys,” said Mishaal al-Gergawi, an Emirati political analyst.

“Jobs, the economy, society, identity—all these issues that people are worried about in the Gulf, Islamists don’t have an advantage in addressing these,” he said.

Additional reporting by Hadeel Al Shalchi in Tripoli, Oliver Holmes in Beirut, Jeffrey Heller and Allyn Fisher in Jerusalem, Nidal al Mugrabi in Gaza, Regan Doherty in Doha, Joseph Logan, Raissa Kasolowsky and Marcus George in Dubai, Yasmine Saleh in Cairo

Editing by Samia Nakhoul

Egypt’s Morsi keen to renew long-severed Iran ties


Egypt’s Islamist President-elect Mohamed Morsi voiced interest in restoring long-severed ties with Tehran to create a strategic “balance” in the region, in an interview published on Monday with Iran’s Fars news agency.

Morsi’s comments are likely to unsettle Western powers as they try to isolate Iran over its disputed nuclear program, which they suspect it is using to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran denies this.

Since former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular uprising last year, both countries have signaled their interest in renewing ties which were severed more than 30 years ago.

“We must restore normal relations with Iran based on shared interests, and expand areas of political coordination and economic cooperation because this will create a balance of pressure in the region,” Morsi was quoted as saying in a transcript of the interview.

Fars said it had spoken to Morsi a few hours before Sunday’s announcement that declared him the winner of Egypt’s presidential election.

Asked to comment on reports that, if elected, his first state visit would be to Riyadh, Morsi said: “I didn’t say such a thing and until now my first international visits following my victory in the elections have not been determined.”

Rivalry between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran has been intensified by the “Arab Spring” revolts, which have altered political certainties in the Middle East and left the powerful Gulf neighbors vying for influence.

In a message to Morsi on Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad congratulated him for winning the vote.

“I emphasize expanding bilateral ties and strengthening the friendship between the two nations,” Ahmadinejad wrote, according to state television.

Iran has hailed Morsi’s victory over former general Ahmed Shafik in Egypt’s first free presidential election as a “splendid vision of democracy” that marked the country’s “Islamic Awakening” – a phrase Iranian politicians use to describe the events of the “Arab Spring” and its aftermath.

Western diplomats say in reality Egypt has little real appetite to change relations with Iran significantly, given the substantial issues the new president already has to face in cementing relations with regional and global powers.

“Iran is hoping for Egypt to become a deterrent against an Israeli attack as well as a regional player that Iran can use as a potential counter-balance against Turkey and Saudi Arabia,” said a diplomat based in Tehran.

“Egypt, at least under present circumstances, would side with either of these against Iran.”

CAMP DAVID REVIEW

In contrast to comments Morsi made in a televised address after his victory was announced on Sunday, Fars news quoted him as saying Egypt’s Camp David peace accord with Israel “will be reviewed”, without elaborating.

The peace treaty remains a lynchpin of U.S. Middle East policy and, despite its unpopularity with many Egyptians, was staunchly upheld by Mubarak, who suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood movement to which Morsi belongs.

The Sunni Brotherhood, whose Palestinian offshoot Hamas rules the Gaza Strip, is vehemently critical of Israel, which has watched the rise of Islamists and political upheaval in neighboring Egypt with growing concern.

Egypt’s formal recognition of Israel and Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution led in 1980 to the breakdown of diplomatic relations between the two countries, among the biggest and most influential in the Middle East. They currently have reciprocal interest sections, but not at ambassadorial level.

Egypt’s foreign minister said last year that Cairo was ready to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran, which has hailed most Arab Spring uprisings as anti-Western rebellions inspired by its own Islamic Revolution.

But Iran has steadfastly supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Tehran’s closest Arab ally, who is grappling with a revolt against his rule, and at home has continued to reject demands for reform, which spilled onto the street following the disputed re-election of Ahmadinejad in 2009.

Editing by Andrew Roche and Robin Pomeroy

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

Egypt’s election: an argument without resolution


When the clock ticked 9 a.m. on Sunday in the poor neighborhood of Boulak in the Greater Cairo governorate of Giza, Ahmed Hassan was having difficulty finding transportation to the polling station miles away.

A minivan had hardly slowed down near to him, but Hassan – noticeably tall, with hardened facial features that belied his determination to vote, as well as the bitter days behind – jumped inside and implored the other passengers crammed into the creaky vehicle to offer him space to stand. 

As Hassan boarded, Egypt’s first post-Hosni Mubarak presidential runoff election—taking place that day—was the topic of an argument brewing inside the vehicle. 

“Can you tell me what benefit the revolution has brought us?” one passenger asked another, while the others among them opened their eyes and pricked their ears, nodding in agreement. The scorching heat already was scarring the day and was particularly bad for those sitting close to the van’s broken-glass windows.

“It has brought us nothing but joblessness, high prices, and insecurity,” one man said. “The other day my son was robbed in broad daylight, and there was nobody to save him or arrest the thieves.”

The vehicle screeched suddenly to a halt, and the driver jumped out to engage in a fistfight with the driver of another car. A crowd formed to try to keep the battle from getting any worse, but inside the minivan, the verbal battle on the presidential runoff persisted, now with Hassan at its center.

“The revolution has brought us freedom, and this is enough,” he said. “I committed no crime, yet I spent 18 years in prison. My son was only 5 when I was arrested, and when I got out, he was a father,” Hassan told the others.

The presidential election runoff on June 16 and 17 was in the process of proving divisive in a country still reeling from decades from repression and political marginalization under Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in February 2011 as a result of a popular uprising orchestrated by educated, middle-class activists, and embraced and supported by millions of poor Egyptians.

The weekend’s runoff pitted a candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood—an Islamist organization that got its start in 1928 as a charity movement but later turned to politics to apply Islamic laws – against a man who served as Mubarak’s last prime minister and, before that, his aviation minister for eight years.

For some of the 50 million eligible to vote in the runoff, this was a battle between the future and the past, the revolution and the counter-revolution. The Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Mursi, an engineering professor who had done a stint teaching in the U.S., introduced himself as the candidate of the revolution, the future president who will bring justice to millions of Egyptians beggared by Mubarak’s policies for 30 years.

His rival, Ahmed Shafiq, an air force general like Mubarak himself, introduced himself as the representative of a secular state, where adherents of all religions will live in peace, and the man who will bring Egypt’s internal security and stability back. His opponents, however, fear he would revive Mubarak’s regime, thereby ending any of the gains of the revolution.

Nevertheless,  Shafiq’s campaign had some appeal for millions of ordinary Egyptians exhausted by skyrocketing food prices, scarce fuel for both car and home, security chaos and above all the ongoing demonstrations on Tahrir Square, which served as the primary gathering place to express anger against Mubarak last year, and continues to serve for the outpouring of anger against the ruling military junta now, along with other squares across this country.

The naysayers, however, pointed to the danger of a comeback by the former regime, whose head, the octogenarian former president, is now serving a life sentence in jail. More than 850 people were killed and thousands were injured when they took to the streets late in January and early in February 2011 to demand Mubarak’s ouster.

“I will vote for the Brotherhood’s candidate, not because I like the Brotherhood’s ideology, but because I want to see a real end for Mubarak’s regime,” said ex-deputy prime minister Aly el-Salmi. “I will vote for Mursi, because I do not want Egypt to fall in the military’s hands yet again,” he added.

Regardless of who would win – and by Tuesday Mursi was claiming victory, though the results were not expected to be made official until Thursday—the next president will have to quickly deviate from this revolution-versus-former-regime rhetoric and get down to serious business, economists warn, or there will be another revolution soon—this time led by the poor and the hungry. By Tuesday, on Tahrir Square, tens of thousands of people were protesting a declaration by the military government late on Sunday that would give the new president almost no power and focused everything in the hands of the generals. At the same time, thousands of people were celebrating Mursi’s victory, chanting, dancing, congratulating one another and setting off fireworks. Inevitably the celebrations will end, and the people’s reality will hit hard: The government announced a few months ago that almost 25 percent of Egypt’s 86 million people live in poverty, including 4.8 percent in extreme poverty.

The new president must find some $22.5 billion needed to bridge a budget deficit for the fiscal year 2012-2013. Unemployment is running at around 12.4 percent – around 3.4 million people out of a total workforce of 27 million remain unemployed, according to the Manpower Ministry.

Egypt spends as much as six percent ($16 billion) of its total GDP to subsidize energy and electricity every year – 20 percent of total government spending. Another $9.6 billion is spent on other government subsidies, according to the Carnegie Endowment.

The World Bank, however, says most of these non-targeted subsidies do not benefit the poor.

And in the absence of a strong government and law enforcement – both of which have lapsed in post-revolution Egypt—these poor suffer more than ever.

Back in the minivan, Amany el-Gamal 50, a civil servant and mother of four, told the group:  “I really want to see an end to this turbulence. True, Mubarak was a thief, but at least he gave us security and food to eat,” she added.

For his part, Hassan continued to defend the revolution and its candidate to the other passengers in the minivan, which had started to move once again, now that the driver had finished his street fight.

“Do you want to go back to Mubarak’s repression?” Hassan, a plumber by profession, asked the others, expecting them to tell him no. “We’ll be the laughing stock of the whole world if we bring Mubarak back to power by voting for his prime minister.”

“Don’t say laughing-stock,” riposted one passenger after darting a look at Hassan, who had started to sweat by then. “Nobody can laugh at us,” he said.

“You want us to vote for the radical Brotherhood,” another woman pitched in. “Don’t they say they will force working women to stay at home? They’ll impose the veil on all women. They are as repressive as Mubarak.”

“Yes,” the other passengers agreed.

“Yeah, right,” Hassan said, disembarking when the driver told him they had reached the polling station.


Al-Qotb (“The Writer”) is a pseudonym for The Jewish Journal’s Egyptian correspondent.

Analysis: No light at end of Egyptian tunnel for Israel


Egypt’s political upheaval is by no means over, but its uneasy neighbor Israel is not waiting for the outcome. Desert defenses are being strengthened and strategy revised as a once stable relationship splinters.

Shortly after the Muslim Brotherhood claimed victory in Egypt’s presidential vote on Monday, unidentified gunmen crossed the Sinai border and killed an Israeli worker.

There was no suggestion the two events were linked, but the violence underscores how security in the Sinai Peninsula has deteriorated since the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, with no hope of any swift solution while Cairo remains convulsed by political uncertainty.

“What is going on along the southern border worries me … and the ideology of political Islam in Egypt worries me, so I need to sleep with one eye open,” said Ilan Mizrahi, a former Israeli national security adviser and ex-deputy head of Mossad.

Israel faces a dilemma of major strategic consequences.

Its 33-year peace with Egypt has been a cornerstone of regional stability and an economic boon for both countries, thanks in part to generous U.S. aid.

No one expects Cairo to bin the peace accord any time soon, even if the Muslim Brotherhood, which is traditionally hostile to the Jewish State, does manage to consolidate power in the face of an Egyptian military out to conserve its own authority.

A demilitarized Sinai is the keystone of the peace. But for the past year there has been growing lawlessness in the vast desert expanse, as Bedouin bandits, jihadists and Palestinian militants from next-door Gaza fill the vacuum, tearing at already frayed relations between Egypt and Israel.

“We need to be sensitive about what is going on in Cairo and try to make Egypt understand that this needs to be stopped,” said Mizrahi in a telephone interview.

“If nothing happens, then I expect my country to react as we know how to react and stop these attacks on our civilians,” he added, suggesting that if needs be, Israel should cross the border to track down its enemies.

Such a move would mark a dangerous turning point in an already inflammatory region.

GROWING FRUSTRATION

Israel has remained largely silent as Egypt has struggled in the difficult transition from de-facto dictatorship to democracy, via revolution and growing Islamization. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered ministers not to talk in public about the situation for fear of exacerbating tensions.

But there are signs of growing public frustration in Israel.

Last August, eight Israelis died in a cross-border attack blamed on Palestinian militants from the nearby Gaza Strip. Earlier this week, Israel said two grad rockets that hit its territory were fired out of Sinai – a charge Egypt denied.

The worsening security in the south has come at a time of increased tensions in the north, tied to the 15-months-long Syrian crisis, and continuous, low-level warfare in Gaza.

A cartoon in Haartz newspaper on Tuesday showed Netanyahu crouching in a ditch alongside Defense Minister Ehud Barak as rockets fly in from Egypt. “Just make sure you don’t upset the Egyptians,” the prime minister says.

Israeli officials have so far ruled out direct intervention in the Sinai and have instead urged Egypt to resolve the problem by itself, letting its military dispatch more troops to the peninsula than allowed for by their historic, 1979 peace treaty.

At the same time, Israel is speeding up construction of a 16-foot high barrier that will run most of the 165 miles from Eilat on the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba up to the Gaza Strip on the Mediterranean.

“We are in a race against the clock to close the border,” said Gaza Division Southern Brigade Commander Tal Harmoni following Monday’s attack, in which the Israeli army shot dead at least two of the militants before they could return to Egypt.

But as the Israelis have discovered in Gaza, a fence does not keep out rockets or missiles. So unless it opts for direct intervention, it will have to depend on Egyptian intervention.

APPROVING MILITARY MANEUVERS

The Israeli government has remained in close contact with the Egyptian security apparatus since the downfall of Mubarak and officials, speaking off the record, say relations with the generals in Cairo remain essentially good.

Certainly there was no murmuring from Israel this week when Egypt’s military announced it would drastically limit the remit of the new president – most probably Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsy.

By contrast, Washington said it was “deeply concerned” by this and asked the army to transfer full power to an elected civilian government as previously promised.

“All in all, the play that was put in motion by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces against Morsy isn‮‮‮‮’‬‬‬‬‎t bad for us,” the leading Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth said on Tuesday.

But an analysis in the same paper warned of bad times ahead. “It isn‮‮‮‮’‬‬‬‬‎t the same Egypt, it isn‮‮‮‮’‬‬‬‬‎t the same border, the peace accords are on their deathbed and we had better change our operating manual,” wrote prominent columnist Alex Fishman.

One of Mubarak’s greatest services to Israel was the role he played in containing the Islamist Hamas movement, which rejects Israel’s right to exist and has close ties to the Brotherhood, limiting its access to weapons and hemming in its leadership.

Israel believes an empowered Brotherhood will reverse that policy, creating instant friction between the erstwhile allies.

“The announcement of the official presidential results will not mark the end of the turmoil in Egypt and will not bring us any relief. We are going to have a very long hot summer,” said Israel’s former ambassador to Egypt, Eli Shaked.

Editing by Jon Hemming

Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak ‘clinically dead,’ state news service says


UPDATE [2:54 pm]: Egypt’s ousted President Hosni Mubarak, jailed for life this month and who has been hospitalized for more than a year, is unconscious and on a respirator but is not clinically dead, two security sources told Reuters on Tuesday.

“He is completely unconscious. He is using artificial respiration,” one military source told Reuters, after the state news agency reported he was clinically dead after being taken from a prison medical facility to a military hospital.

Another separate security source gave the same account and dismissed the report issued by the state news agency saying: “It is still early to say that he is clinically dead.”


UPDATE [2:49 pm]: Egypt’s Mubarak unconscious and on respirator, not clinically dead, two security sources tell Reuters.


[2:46 pm]: Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for three decades until overthrown by a revolution in the “Arab Spring” last year, was declared clinically dead by his doctors on Tuesday, the state news agency MENA said in a report confirmed by a hospital source.

Mubarak is 84 and had been sentenced to life in prison earlier this month.

“Former president Hosni Mubarak has clinically died following his arrival at Maadi military hospital on Tuesday evening,” MENA said, quoting medical sources.

“Mubarak’s heart stopped beating and was subjected to a defibrillator several times but did not respond.”

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Kevin Liffey

UPDATE: Egyptian ex-president Mubarak on life support


Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for three decades until overthrown by last year, was on life support in hospital, military officials said on Tuesday, but they denied a report he was clinically dead.

Earlier the state news agency, amid high tension over the election of a new president, quoted medical sources as saying the former head of state, aged 84, was “clinically dead”. That description was used also to Reuters by a hospital source.

But three sources in the military and security services, which retain control following the revolt, said Mubarak was being kept alive and said they would not use the expression “clinically dead” to describe his condition.

General Said Abbas, a member of the ruling military council, told Reuters, that Mubarak had suffered a stroke but added: “Any talk of him being clinically dead is nonsense.”

Another military source said: “He is completely unconscious. He is using artificial respiration.”

A security source also gave the same account and said: “It is still early to say that he is clinically dead.”

The confusion over the state of health of the former leader came as his long-time opponents in the Muslim Brotherhood claimed victory over a candidate drawn from military elite in a presidential election held at the weekend.

Results have not been published, and supporters of Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s former prime minister who was running against the Islamist Mohamed Morsy, said it was he who had won.

State news agency MENA had earlier cited medical sources to say that Mubarak was clinically dead. His heart had stopped beating and could not be revived.

Later, however, the agency, citing medical sources, said a medical team was still trying treat a blood clot on the brain, adding that he had not left the intensive care unit at Tora prison, where he had been held since being sentenced to life imprisonment on June 2 for his role in the deaths of protesters.

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald, Marwa Awad and Edmund Blair

Egyptians rally for power, Mubarak ailing


Staking its claim to Egypt’s presidency, the Muslim Brotherhood rallied in Cairo on Tuesday to demand the ruling generals hand over real power, following moves by the army that its U.S. ally labeled an assault on democracy.

Up to 10,000 gathered as darkness fell on Tahrir Square, cradle of last year’s Arab Spring revolution, chanting the name of the Islamist who they say won the weekend’s presidential election and condemning measures to curb his powers that will leave much legal authority in the hands of the army for months to come.

The election result is due to be announced later this week.

“Down, down with military rule!” chanted the crowd, one of the biggest in months at the capital’s protest rendezvous, but showing no sign of seeking confrontation with troops as the Brotherhood treads warily through a shifting political arena.

“We are here to finish the revolution,” said Ahmed Badawy, a Brotherhood member bussed in, like many, from the provinces.

“We are showing the military council we can see that it is trying to reproduce the old regime and abort the revolution.”

In a mark of the movement’s desire to put violence behind it and assure Egyptians, fellow Arabs and anxious world powers that it can rule a democracy, one man held a poster of presidential candidate Mohamed Morsy reading “Egypt’s Erdogan”. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is a model, for some, of modern Islamic leadership in a nation also long used to influential generals.

“The military council should stick to what it is supposed to do,” said the man holding the sign, Hassan al-Attar, 60, adding they were clinging to power for fear of joining ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak – in prison for oppression and corruption.

News as the rally was breaking up that Mubarak, 84, had been moved from prison and was critically ill in hospital left most little moved. Their anger is directed at those who followed him.

The dissolution of a new, Islamist-led parliament on the eve of the presidential election run-off, and a decree issued as it ended that took new powers for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), have been widely condemned in Egypt and abroad.

But weariness after the turmoil and economic hardship of the past 16 months, and a lack of enthusiasm for two presidential contenders from the familiar old adversaries of the army and the Brotherhood, have dimmed many rebellious spirits.

Despite calls to rally, few of the young, urban activists who first launched the revolt turned out on Tahrir on Tuesday.

While many feel betrayed by the generals, who pushed out Mubarak to appease the revolt but now seem to be entrenching their own privileges, the latest anger has not turned violent; neither the Brotherhood nor the army, engaged in a hesitant new symbiosis over the past year, seem anxious to start a fight.

WESTERN DILEMMA

The rise of Islamists, not just in Egypt but other Arab states where autocrats were overthrown last year, has also left Western powers with a dilemma, so that criticism of SCAF’s moves seems unlikely to bring any immediate sanction for a military elite that has been funded for decades by the United States.

The Pentagon, which gave the Middle East’s biggest army $1.3 billion in annual aid this year, rebuked Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi’s military council on Monday and urged it to hand “full power” to civilians, as it had promised to do by July 1.

The State Department said it was “concerned by decisions that appear to prolong the military’s hold on power” and urged SCAF “to restore popular and international confidence in the democratic transition process by following through on their stated commitments”.

But worries in Washington’s vocal ally Israel about Islamist leaders in Cairo reneging on a 1979 peace treaty, or aiding Gaza’s Hamas militants, mean Washington is unlikely to alienate its Egyptian military allies for the sake of the Brotherhood.

A militant attack on Israel’s border was a reminder of the lawlessness Egypt’s revolution has brought to the Sinai desert. But Israeli officials say the fact that U.S. aid is conditional on peace with Israel will keep Egypt’s Islamists in line.

“Any rise of an Islamic regime … is worrisome,” Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said. “But on the other hand, Egypt today is dependent to a large extent on the peace agreement.”

Egypt’s election committee refuses to give results from the weekend’s presidential run-off before Thursday. The Brotherhood says its data show Morsy won by 52 percent to 48 over former general Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister.

Shafik’s camp shot back that they have a one-point lead.

But army and election committee sources say the count does show Morsy winning. The military seems to be prepared for that.

“SQUARE ONE”

Where the political system goes now is unclear. What had been seen as the final step in a “transition to democracy”, the inauguration of a president, now seems only a beginning.

“We’re back at square one,” Hussein Ibrahim, a senior Brotherhood member of the dissolved parliament, told Reuters.

“After Egyptians waited for the election of a new president to end the transitional period, we discovered that by electing a new president we are restarting the transitional period.”

At a news conference, a spokesman for the Brotherhood played down talk of head-on conflict with an army with which the movement has lately developed a cautious working relationship.

“Why do we rush to the word ‘confrontation’?” said Yasser Ali. “We do not seek any confrontation with anyone. No one in Egypt wants confrontation … There has to be dialogue between national forces, and the people alone must decide their fate.”

The secretive SCAF has appeared to make up rules as it goes along for what is supposed to be progress toward democracy, giving it considerable flexibility in interpretation.

With the economy, notably the tourist trade, suffering badly, Egypt is looking for financing from the IMF. For the generals to maintain influence but avoid taking all the blame for economic troubles, they have an interest in sharing at least some responsibility with civilian politicians.

Speaking publicly on Monday, generals from SCAF insisted they were still committed to a full handover of power and blamed squabbling politicians for the failure to draft a constitution.

One noted that the new president was free to appoint his own government, which could then draft laws that the head of state could pass into law. But the process will involve SCAF, in its role as legislator, able to amend or blocks laws as it sees fit.

Another general pointed out it was not SCAF but the constitutional court, staffed by judges from the old regime, that annulled the results of January’s parliamentary election.

In another potentially explosive judicial saga on Tuesday, a court adjourned until September one of several civil cases that challenge the Brotherhood’s very right to exist or engage in politics, using old laws aimed specifically at the Islamists.

Additional reporting by Tom Pfeiffer, Edmund Blair, Shaimaa Fayed, Patrick Werr, Alastair Macdonald, Saad Hussein and Samia Nakhoul in Cairo, Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Andrew Quinn and David Alexander in Washington; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Egyptian election results favor Muslim Brotherhood leader


Islamist candidate Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was victorious in Egypt’s first democratic presidential election.

Morsi defeated Ahmed Shafik, a former Air Force general and deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, in the second round of polling.

Results from early Monday morning showed Morsi with 51.8 percent of the vote to Shafiq’s 48.1 percent with 98 percent of the more than 13,000 poll centers counted. Some 24.6 million votes were cast.

Official final results are not expected until Thursday. The Brotherhood’s declaration was based on results announced by election officials at individual counting centers, where each campaign has representatives who compile the numbers and make them public before the formal announcement.

The Muslim Brotherhood has campaigned on a platform of bringing Egypt closer to a form of Islamic rule. Morsi, who was part of the movement that overthrew Mubarak, has promised economic and political reform.

Just as the polls were closing Sunday night, Egypt’s military issued a declaration granting itself sweeping powers that stripped the president of nearly all significant powers. Despite the decree, Egypt’s ruling military council has vowed to hand over power to an elected president by the end of June.

George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, said the U.S. Defense Department was deeply concerned by the move to issue an interim constitution and urged the ruling military to transfer full power to a democratically elected civilian government, as it pledged to in the past.

“We believe Egypt’s transition must continue,” Little said, “and that Egypt is made stronger and more stable by a successful transition to democracy.”

Egyptian military’s anti-democratic moves may benefit Israel


Egypt’s military coup is now nearly complete.

That may be distressing for Egyptian democracy, but it could help the Israel-Egypt relationship.

Sunday’s decision by military rulers in Egypt to rewrite the country’s constitution – a move that strips much of the power of the Egyptian presidency — confirms what many skeptics had warned about since Hosni Mubarak was deposed in February 2011: This wasn’t so much a revolution as a military coup.

It was the Egyptian army that played the decisive role during the 2011 uprising, siding with the people against the regime and overthrowing Mubarak. It was the military’s leaders who then assumed control of the country. And it was the army that again intervened this week in the middle of a presidential election that would have delivered control of the country to the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi.

A few days before this weekend’s presidential vote, in which Morsi edged Ahmed Shafik, a former Mubarak-era prime minister and air force general, the military dissolved the country’s Islamic Brotherhood-dominated parliament. It did so by declaring that up to one-third of the legislators were elected illegally. The Brotherhood controlled 47 percent of seats in the body after Islamist parties captured more than 65 percent of the votes In Egypt’s first real democratic elections six months ago.

The moves against the parliament and the presidency make clear that Egypt’s military rulers are unwilling to cede power to a democratically elected government, especially if elections empower the Muslim Brotherhood.

“With this document, Egypt has completely left the realm of the Arab Spring and entered the realm of military dictatorship,” Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said in widely quoted comments.

“It is a soft military coup that unfortunately many people will support out of fear of an Islamist takeover of the state,” Bahgat told The Associated Press.

That may be bad news for democracy and the Egyptian revolution, but it could be good for Israel.

Ever since Mubarak was overthrown, Israeli leaders have wrung their hands over increasingly bellicose signals from its neighbor to the south, once a key ally and broker between Israel and the Palestinians. Leading Egyptian political figures have threatened to cancel or promised to “review” the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

In April the state-owned Egyptian gas company canceled its contract to supply Israel with natural gas; its pipeline to Israel has been attacked 14 times since the country’s revolution. Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has been used as a staging ground for terrorist attacks against Israel, including a deadly one on Monday.

If the Muslim Brotherhood, the parent organization of Hamas, were to have taken control of Egypt, Israelis feared that things could get much worse.

After Israel was struck last Friday by Grad rocket attacks, unnamed Israeli security analysts told Haaretz that the Muslim Brotherhood had encouraged the attack. It’s not clear whether the analysis is true or who actually launched the rockets. Neither was it immediately clear who was behind a border attack on Monday that killed an Israeli contractor; Israeli forces returning fire killed two of the attackers from Egypt.

Despite this latest move, it’s far from clear whether Egypt’s military rulers – led by army Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, or SCAF – have successfully fended off the challenge by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Many Egyptians have denounced the dissolution of parliament and unilateral rewriting of the country’s constitution by the military leaders as illegal.

“The SCAF has become a state above the state with wide legislative and executive powers, a veto on constitutional and other political matters, and stands immune to any challenges,” a liberal member of Egypt’s Parliament, Amr Hamzawy, wrote in Arabic comments posted to Twitter and then reported by Egypt’s daily Al-Ahram. “We need to use all peaceful means to challenge this dangerous scenario, as it is a national duty and a necessity.”

Still, the election gives the Brotherhood’s Morsi some modicum of authority. Whether the Brotherhood will use that authority to challenge the army or seek some sort of accommodation with Egypt’s military rulers remains unclear.

Egypt parliament to be dissolved after ruling, court official says


Ahmed Shafik, Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, got the green light to continue his bid for Egypt’s presidency on Thursday when a constitutional court ruled against a law that would have thrown him out of the race.

In a further setback for his Islamist opponents, the court also declared that some rules in the post-Mubarak parliamentary election that handed control to Islamists were unconstitutional.

The head of the court said the lower house would have to be dissolved and a new election will have to be held, the court’s head Farouk Soltan told Reuters by telephone after the ruling was issued.

That could draw an angry response from supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest winner from the overthrow of Mubarak, who repressed the movement for decades.

A presidential run-off vote between Shafik and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsy takes place on Saturday and Sunday.

The rulings prompted clapping and dancing among Shafik supporters at a Cairo event where he was due to speak.

But outside the court by the Nile, protesters threw rocks at hundreds of troops and state security conscripts who were guarding the building, which was sealed off by rolls of barbed wire. Some of the security forces began unloading dozens of boxes of tear gas canisters.

The court threw out a law passed by the Islamist-dominated parliament in April that denied political rights to anyone who held a senior post in government or ruling party in the last decade of Mubarak’s rule.

The Brotherhood said it would accept the overturning of the law. “It’s a reality now, and we must deal with it as such,” said spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan.

Senior Brotherhood MP Essam el-Erian declined to comment on the parliamentary election ruling until he had seen the full details.

ELECTION SUSPENSE

The legal wrangling adds to the suspense around an election that is supposed to seal a transition to democracy after Mubarak was toppled in an Arab Spring uprising last year, but has laid bare deep divisions over how Egypt should be governed.

The law denying political rights to Mubarak’s officials had prompted a state election committee to disqualify Shafik from the presidential race, but he was let back in on appeal, pending the court ruling.

The drama is emblematic of the tortuous and messy transition overseen by a council of generals since Mubarak was ousted 16 months ago.

A first-round presidential vote last month pushed more moderate candidates out of the race and the choice now facing 50 million eligible voters reflects a society torn between desire for change after six decades of military rule and anxiety over the damage wrought on Egypt by the subsequent political chaos.

Unrest has simmered on the streets of Egypt’s cities throughout the period of military rule, with opponents of the army calling for the removal of “feloul”, or Mubarak-era remnants, from politics. The demand is far from unanimous.

“Shafik is a respectable man. We want him as president because we are not ready for Egypt to return to the Dark Ages,” said Shafik supporter Sawsan Ali Abdo.

“There is no such thing as ‘feloul’. We are all Egyptians. No to the plot seeking to divide Egypt,” read one banner in the capital.

Across the street, Shafik campaign posters were spray-painted red to obscure his face.

Additional reporting by Tom Perry, Shaimaa Fayed and Edmund Blair; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer and Kevin Liffey

Egyptian election promises uncertainty for ties with U.S., Israel


The Egyptians stunned even themselves in the vote to elect their next president — and observers are warning that the U.S. and Israel should be ready for continued uncertainty in their relations with Egypt.

Two finalists emerged following the roller-coaster first round at the polls last week: Mohammed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Ahmed Shafiq, who had been appointed prime minister in 2011 in the final days of the regime of deposed President Hosni Mubarak. Each took less than a quarter of the vote to reach the runoff, with three eliminated candidates splitting most of the remainder.

Morsi and Shafiq present strikingly different outlooks for Egypt’s future: Shafiq is stressing law and order, and at least a partial return to the days of the Mubarak regime. Morsi is promising governance based on Islamic values.

The runoff election is set to occur sometime before the end of June.

The two finalists — one an erstwhile Mubarak ally, the other a representative of the Islamist movement that was its bitter rival — are expected to make for a polarizing election. For the many Egyptians who supported the revolution against Mubarak but are wary of further empowering the Muslim Brotherhood, the runoff presents a dispiriting choice.

But whatever the results of the election, many observers expect that the country will be getting a government more inclined than its predecessors to play to the Egyptian street — a state of affairs that could lead to rockier relations with the United States and Israel.

“The individual result is probably not dispositive to U.S.-Egyptian bilateral relations or relations with Israel,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, a fellow at The Century Foundation, a think tank based in New York. “Those relations are going to change regardless because public opinion matters as it didn’t in the past.”

As an example, Hanna cited Egypt’s noninterference during Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, to the extent of maintaining strict controls on the Gaza-Egypt border.

“The government will not be able to take an affirmative role in terms of buttressing Israeli policy in relationship to Hamas,” he said. “The knock-on effect would be massive protests in the streets.”

Even Shafiq, the candidate better known to the West and with an established relationship with Israeli and U.S. interlocutors, would not be able to resist populist suspicion of Israel, said David Schenker, a senior analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Under Morsi, the 1979 Camp David Accords with Israel are likely to come under review, he predicted.

“We still don’t know if they will put the treaty to a referendum or push to renegotiate,” Schenker said of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Popular suspicion of the accords is likely to be exacerbated as the two largest blocs in parliament, the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Democratic Alliance for Egypt and the Islamist Bloc, aligned with harder-line Salafists, compete for the Islamist vote.

“Regardless of who is president, you will have ongoing competition between the Brotherhood and Salafists, which will push the Brotherhood to the right,” he said.

Schenker noted that even during the transition, under the West-friendly military, the relationship with Israel already has been affected. Egypt has effectively cut off natural gas supplies to Israel, a program that was unpopular with Egyptians. And last Sukkot, the first after the revolution, Egypt suspended the export of palm fronds, one of the four species needed to celebrate the holiday.

The key goal for the United States in the short run will be to preserve its interests and to promote a stable transition to democracy, whomever is elected president, said Schenker, who served as a senior Middle East policy official at the Pentagon under President George W. Bush.

“We’ll want assurances about access to the Suez Canal, the peace treaty with Israel, political pluralism, protection of women and minorities,” he said.

In the short run, at least, the continued preeminence of the military — in the form of the SCAF, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces — likely guarantees the perpetuation of the peace treaty, which affords Egypt $1.3 billion in U.S. assistance annually, as well as the good will of the international community.

It is not clear what powers Egypt’s president will have — a new Egyptian constitution has yet to be drafted. Jon Alterman, the director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that whoever wins will have some impact on how relations with the West go forward.

“The key question with Morsi is not how he will act in times of normal relations but how he will react in a time of crisis,” Alterman said. “Mubarak was dependable. It is unclear any leader of Egypt will be so dependable.”

The U.S. and Israel might have to accommodate a more hostile rhetoric, at least in the interim, while cultivating the new leadership, said Joel Rubin, the director of policy and government affairs at the Ploughshares Fund, a body that promotes peace initiatives.

“Israel and America will both have to accept there might be language coming out of the Egyptian parliament and leadership that is new playing to the crowd,” he said. “It’s not in our interests to see the relationship go in the wrong direction.”

Carter: Muslim Brotherhood to try to modify Egypt-Israel peace treaty


Former U.S President Jimmy Carter said after what he called long discussions with Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt that the group will try to modify the country’s peace treaty with Israel.

Carter said May 26 after the conclusion of the first round of voting in Egypt’s free presidential elections that the Muslim Brotherhood would seek to modify, but not destroy, the peace treaty signed between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat in 1979, Reuters reported.

The Carter Center helped monitor the elections.

“My opinion is that the treaty will not be modified in any unilateral way,” Carter said at a news conference in Cairo. Carter brought Sadat and Begin to Camp David in 1978, where they signed peace accords months before the peace treaty was signed at the White House.

The official first-round election results are due on Tuesday. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election will be held.

Preliminary results show that one of the run-off candidates, Mohamed Morsi, will come from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt holds first round of voting in presidential election


Egypt is holding its first round of balloting for its first presidential election since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak during an uprising more than a year ago. 

The balloting began its second day Wednesday. Nearly 50 million Egyptians are eligible to vote. 

Results for the election are expected May 29. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election will be held. 

While the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party now holds control of the parliament, the presidential election includes contenders from other factions of Egyptian politics. 

The top contenders for the race are two Islamists that include Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi and Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fouth. The other contenders are two officials from the Mubarak era—Ahmed Shafik, the former prime minister, and Amr Moussa, the ex-foreign minister and Arab League secretary-general. 

Following Mubarak’s ouster, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has maintained governing power over Egypt in order to ensure a smooth transition to the new government in parliament and the new president.

Israel becomes target in Egypt’s presidential vote


Israel has become a punching bag for politicians vying for votes in Egypt’s presidential election, playing on popular antipathy in Egypt towards its neighbor, but the realities of office are likely to ensure a 33-year-old peace treaty is not jeopardized.

Officials in Israel have watched Egypt’s political turmoil with increasing wariness after the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, who oversaw a cold yet stable peace.

An ex-air force commander in the race to be the new president boasts of bringing down Israeli aircraft in 1973, the last of Egypt’s four wars with Israel.

One Islamist often refers to Israel as the “Zionist entity” and the “enemy” and a leftist candidate pledges to support the Palestinian resistance against Israel.

None of the candidates want to tear up the treaty signed in 1979 but they repeatedly warn in rallies and debates it should be reviewed. Many of them grumble at provisions in the U.S.-brokered deal they say are biased in Israel’s favor.

Yet, beyond the bluster of the campaign trail, the next president’s in-tray will be full of more pressing issues such as reviving an economy on the ropes.

He will also preside over a nation where the entrenched establishment of the army and security services – who kept the peace secure – remains intact.

“Of course Israel is an enemy. It occupied land, it threatened our security. It is an entity that has 200 nuclear warheads,” Islamist Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh said in a TV debate when asked about Israel, referring to a nuclear arsenal Israel is believed to possess but neither confirms nor denies having.

Seeking to trip up his opponent in the novel TV face-off in a nation that has never had an open leadership contest, Abol Fotouh pressed former Arab League chief Amr Moussa on whether he too classed Israel an enemy. Moussa chose the term “adversary.”

Moussa, who like Abol Fotouh is a front-runner in the race, was Mubarak’s foreign minister in the 1990s before moving to the League. In both posts he was a vocal critic of Israel.

An Israeli newspaper commentator wrote last month that Moussa had intense disdain for Israel.

“I intend to review the shape of relations,” Moussa pledged, describing “big disagreements”, but he said the next president would need to lead Egypt “with wisdom and not push it along with slogans towards a confrontation we may not be ready for.”

Former Israeli ambassador to Egypt Itzhak Levanon said Israel’s main duty was “to tell the Egyptians loudly that the peace treaty is also in their interests and that they will have to do everything to keep it.”

He said comments made on the election trail did not always translate into action in office. “It is like that in all countries,” he said.

‘STRONG STATE’

Like Moussa, other candidates have also reflected a more cautious line when fielding inevitable questions about Israel.

Abol Fotouh, who often refers to Israel as the “Zionist entity”, said Egypt should review its treaties to ensure they were in the national interest but was not looking to start any war.

Ahmed Shafik, who like Mubarak was a former air force commander before joining the ex-president’s cabinet, told a rally when he was questioned about Israel: “A strong state is not just one with artillery and tanks but has a strong economy, strong science, strong culture.”

But tough talk still features on the campaign trail.

Leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahy pledged in a television interview: “I will support whoever resists Israel, not because of nationalism, Arabism or morality, although this is what it is, but because these are the laws of the United Nations.”

Safwat el-Hegazi, an independent preacher who backs the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Mursi, has used his campaign rallies to call for the establishment of a single Arab state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Mursi criticisms Israel but says he would respect the treaty, which brings $1.3 billion a year of U.S. military aid. An aide to Mursi said his candidate would not meet Israeli officials as president, though his foreign minister would.

Western diplomats say popular pressure on a newly-elected president could encourage more outspoken criticism of Israel. However, they say the top army and security officials who have for years kept close ties with their Israeli counterparts to coordinate across the border were likely to keep ties steady.

“There are red lines and I think everyone is aware of them. Egypt needs its close relationship with the United States, it needs the financial assistance, the investment and the loans to survive,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center.

The peace deal has been a cornerstone of Egypt’s foreign policy and, while it may not have the prominence Mubarak gave it, the generals who have overseen Egypt’s transition are unlikely to let that change.

The army is expected to remain influential long after the formal handover to a new president by July 1.

Nevertheless, Hamid said Egypt’s politicians could “test how far they can go … before arousing the wrath of the international community.”

Additional reporting by Tom Perry and Omar Fahmy in Cairo and Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem; Editing by Janet Lawrence

Islamists seek to extend gains in Egypt run-off vote


The Muslim Brotherhood’s party will seek to extend a lead over hardline Islamists in run-offs in Egypt’s parliamentary vote Monday, with liberal parties struggling to hold their ground in a political landscape redrawn by the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is set to take most seats in Egypt’s first democratic parliament in six decades, strengthening their hand in a struggle for influence over the Arab world’s most populous country.

Banned from formal politics until a popular uprising ended Mubarak’s three-decade rule in February, the movement emerged as the main winner from last week’s first-round vote and called on its rivals to “accept the will of the people.”

The phased election runs over six weeks, ending in January.

Opponents accuse the Brotherhood’s slick campaign machine of flouting a ban on canvassing near polling stations and say it handed out food and medicine to secure votes, but monitors said polling seemed fair overall.

“You cannot have democracy and then amend or reject the results,” Amr Moussa, a front-runner for Egypt’s presidency, told Reuters, adding that the shape of parliament would not be clear until the voting was over.

The Brotherhood, Egypt’s best-organized political group and popular with the poor for its charity work, wants to shape a new constitution to be drawn up next year.

That could be the focus of a power struggle with the ruling military council, which wants to keep a presidential system, rather than the parliamentary one favored by the Brotherhood.

Egyptians return to the polls Monday for 52 run-off votes for individual candidates, who will occupy a third of the 498 elected seats in the lower house once two more rounds of the complicated voting process end in January.

ISRAELI CONCERN

The run-offs will pit 24 members of the ultra-conservative Islamist al-Nour party against Brotherhood candidates.

Two-thirds of the seats in the assembly are allocated proportionately to party lists.

Figures released by the election commission and published by state media show a list led by the Brotherhood’s FJP securing 36.6 percent of valid party-list votes, followed by the Salafi al-Nour Party with 24.4 percent, and the liberal Egyptian Bloc with 13.4 percent.

The result has unnerved Israel, concerned about the fate of its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Egypt’s future rulers to preserve the deal.

“We hope any future government in Egypt will recognize the importance of keeping the peace treaty with Israel in its own right and as a basis for regional security and economic stability,” Netanyahu said Sunday.

The fate of the peace deal between Egypt and Israel is a concern for its sponsor, the United States, which has backed it with billions of dollars in military aid for both countries.

The rise of the Salafis has also sparked fear among many ordinary Egyptians because of the group’s uncompromising views.

Analysts say the Brotherhood, which topped the first-stage vote, has a pragmatic streak that makes it an unlikely ally for Salafis who only recently ventured from preaching into politics and whose strict ideology suggests little scope for compromise.

The leader of Salafi party al-Nour Emad Abdel Ghaffour made it clear he would not play second fiddle to the Brotherhood.

“We hate being followers,” Ghaffour told Reuters in an interview. “They always say we take positions according to the Brotherhood but we have our own vision… There might be a consensus but … we will remain independent.”

Additional reporting by Edmund Blair; writing by Tom Pfeiffer; editing Philippa Fletcher

Egypt awaits poll results, Tahrir protest starts


Egypt will hear the results of elections which Islamist parties expect to win on Friday and protesters rallied in Cairo to remember 42 people killed in clashes with police last month.

“Without Tahrir, we wouldn’t have had these elections,” said Mohamed Gad, in the Cairo square that was the hub of the revolt that ousted Hosni Mubarak in February. “God willing, the elections will succeed and the revolution will triumph.”

But many of the young people who took to the streets early this year now fear their revolution risks being stolen, either by the army rulers or by well-organized Islamist parties.

The Muslim Brotherhood, banned but semi-tolerated under Mubarak, says its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) expects to win 43 percent of party list votes in the first stage of a complex and lengthy election process that lasts into January.

Many had forecast that the Brotherhood would convert its decades of grassroots social and religious work, as well as its opposition to Mubarak, into a solid electoral showing.

But the Brotherhood’s website also forecast that the Salafi al-Nour party would gain 30 percent of the vote, a shock for some Egyptians, especially minority Christian Copts, who fear it will try to impose strict Islamic codes on society.

Nour said on Thursday it expected 20 percent of the vote.

As in Saudi Arabia, Salafis would want to bar women and Christians from executive posts. They would also ban alcohol, “un-Islamic” art and literature, as well as mixed beach bathing.

If implemented, such curbs would wreck Egypt’s vital tourism industry, which employs about one in eight of the workforce.

More secular-minded Egyptian parties, some of which were only formed after Mubarak’s fall, had always feared that they would not have enough time to put up a credible challenge to their experienced and better-funded Islamist rivals.

The liberal multi-party Egyptian Bloc has said it is on track to secure about a fifth of votes for party lists. The youthful activists who launched into politics after the revolt that toppled Mubarak on February 11 made little impact in the polls.

The first-stage poll results were due to be announced at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) after successive delays, state television said.

Local monitors have urged stricter procedures for the next two stages of voting so that irregularities are not repeated but said those violations did not void the vote’s legitimacy.

The world is watching the first post-Mubarak election for pointers to change in Egypt, the most populous Arab nation and one hitherto seen as a firm U.S. ally committed to preserving its peace treaty with Israel and fighting Islamist militancy.

The United States, which still gives Egypt about $1.3 billion a year in mostly military aid, has urged the ruling generals to step aside swiftly and make way for civilian rule.

Islamist electoral success in Egypt would underline a trend in North Africa, where moderate Islamists have topped polls in Morocco and post-uprising Tunisia in the last two months.

Egypt’s ruling generals, who have promised civilian rule by July, have said they will keep powers to appoint or fire a cabinet, even after an elected parliament is installed.

The Brotherhood’s FJP seemed to back away from a statement from its leader that the majority in parliament should form a government, saying discussion of the issue was premature.

The FJP says its priorities are ending corruption, reviving the economy and establishing a true democracy in Egypt.

It may not necessarily ally with its Salafi rivals in parliament, perhaps preferring more moderate coalition partners to help reassure Egyptians and foreigners of its pragmatism.

Senior FJP official Essam el-Erian said before the vote that

Salafis, who had kept a low profile and shunned politics during Mubarak’s 30-year rule, would be “a burden for any coalition.”

After Friday prayers, a few thousand demonstrators rallied in Tahrir Square, the hub of the anti-Mubarak revolt, to honor the 42 “martyrs” and push demands that the army step down now.

“I came to thank the youth for what they have done for the country. We have to bow to them,” said Zeinab al-Ghateet, a woman in her 50s wearing an Egyptian flag around her neck.

Kamal al-Ganzouri, asked by the army to form a “national salvation government,” aims to complete the task soon.

Protesters in Tahrir have rejected Ganzouri, 78, saying the army must give up power and let civilians take over now.

“It is unacceptable that after the revolution, an old man comes and governs. We don’t want the army council anymore. they should go back to barracks,” said Menatallah Abdel Meguid, 24.

Crowds chanted: “Run us over with your tanks. Oh country, revolt, revolt, we don’t want (Field Marshal) Tantawi or Ganzouri.”

Egypt Islamists expect gains in post-Mubarak poll


Egyptians voted on Tuesday in a parliamentary election that Islamists hope will sweep them closer to power, even though the army generals who took over from President Hosni Mubarak have yet to step aside.

The election, the first since a revolt ousted Mubarak on February 11, unfolded without the mayhem many had feared after last week’s riots against army rule in which 42 people were killed.

General Ismail Atman, a ruling army council member, said he had no firm figure, but that turnout would exceed 70 percent of the 17 million Egyptians eligible to vote in the first round that began on Monday. “I hope it will reach more than 80 percent by the end of the day,” he told Al Jazeera television.

Atman was also quoted by Al-Shorouk newspaper as saying the election showed the irrelevance of protesters demanding an end to military rule in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and elsewhere.

Les Campbell, of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, one of many groups monitoring the poll, said earlier it was “a fair guess” that turnout would exceed 50 percent, far above the meager showings in rigged Mubarak-era elections.

The United States and its European allies are watching Egypt’s vote torn between hopes that democracy will take root in the most populous Arab nation and worries that Islamists hostile to Israel and the West will ride to power on the ballot box.

They have faulted the generals for using excessive force on protesters and urged them to give way swiftly to civilian rule.

The well-organized Muslim Brotherhood, banned but semi-tolerated under Mubarak, said its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), had done well in the voting so far.

“The Brotherhood party hopes to win 30 percent of parliament,” senior FJP figure Mohamed El-Beltagy told Reuters.

The leader of the ultra-conservative Salafi Islamist al-Nour Party, which hopes to siphon votes from the Brotherhood, said organizational failings meant the party had under-performed.

“We were not dispersed across constituencies, nor were we as close as needed to the voter. Other parties with more experience rallied supporters more effectively,” Emad Abdel Ghafour said in the coastal city of Alexandria, seen as a Salafi stronghold.

But he told Reuters the party still expected to win up to half of Alexandria’s 24 seats in parliament and 70 to 75 nationwide out of the assembly’s 498 elected seats.

Abou Elela Mady, head of the moderate Islamist Wasat Party, made no predictions, but praised the turnout and said the party would accept the result despite electoral violations.

Soldiers guarded one banner-festooned Cairo voting station, where women in Islamic headscarves or Western clothes queued with their families. Judges kept an amiable eye on proceedings.

ISLAMIST VOTE-GETTERS

Islamists did not instigate the Arab uprisings that have shaken Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen, but in the last two months, Islamist parties have come out top in parliamentary elections in Morocco and post-revolutionary Tunisia.

Egyptian Islamists want to emulate those triumphs, but it is unclear how much influence the previously toothless parliament in Cairo can wield while the generals remain in power.

If the election process goes smoothly, the new assembly will enjoy a popular legitimacy the generals lack and may assert itself after rubber-stamping Mubarak’s decisions for 30 years.

“Real politics will be in the hands of the parliament,” said Diaa Rashwan, an Egyptian political analyst.

One general has said parliament will have no power to remove an army-appointed cabinet due to run Egypt’s daily affairs until a promised presidential poll heralds civilian rule by July.

The army council assumed Mubarak’s formidable presidential powers when it eased him from office on February 11. Many Egyptians praised the army’s initial role, but some have grown angry at what they see as its attempts to retain its perks and power.

ELECTORAL VIOLATIONS

The election is taking place in three regional stages, plus run-off votes, in a complex system that requires voters to choose individual candidates as well as party lists. Full results will be announced after voting ends on January 11.

Election monitors have reported logistical hiccups and campaign violations but no serious violence.

Armed with laptops and leaflets, party workers of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing and its Islamist rivals have approached muddled voters to guide them through the balloting system and nudge them toward their candidates.

In the Nile Delta town of Kafr el-Sheikh, Muslim Brotherhood workers were selling cut-price food in a tent where they also distributed flyers naming the FJP candidates in the area.

Some Egyptians yearn for a return to stability, uneasy about the impact of political turmoil on an economy heading toward a crisis sure to worsen the hardship of impoverished millions.

Others worry that resurgent Islamist parties may dominate political life, mold Egypt’s next constitution and threaten social freedoms in what is already a deeply conservative nation of 80 million people whose 10 percent Coptic Christian minority complains of discrimination from the Muslim majority.

Copts, like Muslims, were voting in greater numbers than in the Mubarak era. “Before, the results were known in advance, but now we have to choose our fate,” said Wagdy Youssef, a 45-year-old company manager in Alexandria.

“Copts like others want civilian rule,” he said. “I voted for Muslims because they represented moderate views and stayed away from a few Christians on the lists I saw as extremist.”

As voting resumed in the chilly, rain-swept coastal town of Damietta, Sayed Ibrahim, 30, said he backed the liberal Wafd Party over its main local rival, the Salafi Nour Party.

“I’m voting for Wafd because I don’t want an ultra-religious party that excludes other views,” he said, in jeans and a cap.

Additional reporting by Marwa Awad in Alexandria, Shaimaa Fayed in Damietta and Tom Perry, Patrick Werr, Peter Millership and Edmund Blair in Cairo; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Peter Millership

Egpyt’s post-Mubarak poll peaceful, high turnout


Egyptians voted Monday in the first election since a popular revolt toppled Hosni Mubarak’s one-man rule, showing new-found faith in the ballot box that may sweep long-banned Islamists into parliament even as army generals cling to power.

Voters swarmed to the polls in a generally peaceful atmosphere despite the unrest that marred the election run-up, when 42 people were killed in protests demanding an immediate transition from military to civilian rule.

“We want to make a difference, although we are depressed by what the country has come to,” said Maha Amin, a 46-year-old pharmacy lecturer, before she voted in an upscale Cairo suburb.

The ruling army council, which has already extended polling to a second day, kept voting stations open an extra two hours until 9 p.m. “to accommodate the high voter turnout.”

The Muslim Brotherhood’s party and other Islamists expect to do well in the parliamentary election staggered over the next six weeks, but much remains uncertain in Egypt’s complex and unfamiliar voting system of party lists and individuals.

Political transformation in Egypt, traditional leader of the Arab world, will reverberate across the Middle East, where a new generation demanding democratic change has already toppled or challenged the leaders of Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

Parliament’s lower house will be Egypt’s first nationally elected body since Mubarak’s fall and those credentials alone may enable it to dilute the military’s monopoly of power.

A high turnout throughout the election would give it legitimacy. Despite a host of reported electoral violations and lax supervision exploited by some groups, election monitors reported no systematic Mubarak-style campaign to rig the polls.

“We are very happy to be part of the election,” said first-time Cairo voter Wafa Zaklama, 55. “What was the point before?”

In the northern city of Alexandria, 34-year-old engineer Walid Atta rejoiced in the occasion. “This is the first real election in 30 years. Egyptians are making history,” he said.

ISLAMISTS SCENT POWER

Oppressed under Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties have stood aloof from those challenging army rule in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and elsewhere, unwilling to let anything obstruct a vote that may bring them closer to power.

In the Nile Delta city of Damietta, some voters said they would punish the Brotherhood for its perceived opportunism.

Nevertheless, the Brotherhood has formidable advantages that include a disciplined organization, name recognition among a welter of little-known parties and years of opposing Mubarak.

Brotherhood organizers stood near many voting stations with laptops, offering to guide confused voters, printing out a paper identifying the correct polling booth and showing their Freedom and Justice Party candidate’s name and symbol on the back.

“At least they are not giving people fruit inside the polling station,” said Mouna Zuffakar, of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, noting widespread breaches of a ban on campaigning near polling stations.

Many voters engaged in lively political debate as they waited patiently in long queues.

“Aren’t the army officers the ones who protected us during the revolution?” one woman asked loudly at a polling station in Cairo’s Nasr City, referring to the army’s role in easing Mubarak from power. “What do those slumdogs in Tahrir want?”

One man replied: “Those in Tahrir are young men and women who are the reason why a 61-year-old man like me voted in a parliamentary election for the first time in his life today.”

The world is closely watching the election, keen for stability in Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel, owns the Suez Canal linking Europe and Asia, and which in Mubarak’s time was an ally in countering Islamist militants in the region.

Washington and its European allies have urged the generals to step aside swiftly and make way for civilian rule.

The U.S. ambassador to Cairo, Anne Patterson, congratulated Egyptians “on what appeared to be a very large turnout on this very historic occasion.” British ambassador James Watt told Reuters the election was “an important milestone in Egypt’s democratic transition” that seemed to have gone smoothly so far.

SEGREGATED VOTING

In Alexandria and elsewhere, men and women voted in separate queues, a reminder of the conservative religious fabric of Egypt’s mainly Muslim society, where Coptic Christians comprise 10 percent of a population of more than 80 million.

Myriad parties have emerged since the fall of Mubarak, who fixed elections to ensure his now-defunct National Democratic Party dominated parliament. The NDP’s headquarters, torched in the popular revolt, still stands like a tombstone by the Nile.

Individual winners are to be announced Wednesday, but many contests will go to a run-off vote on December 5. List results will not be declared until after the election ends on January 11.

About 17 million Egyptians are eligible to vote in the first two-day phase of three rounds of polling for the lower house.

Egyptians seemed enthused by the novelty of a vote where the outcome was, for a change, not a foregone conclusion.

“It’s easy to predict this will be a higher turnout than any recent election in Egypt,” said Les Campbell, of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute. “We are seeing clear signs of voter excitement and participation.”

The army council has promised civilian rule by July after the parliamentary vote and a presidential poll, now expected in June—much sooner than previously envisaged.

But one of its members said Sunday the new parliament could not remove a cabinet appointed by the army.

Kamal Ganzouri, named by the army Friday to form a new government, said he had met the ruling army council Monday to discuss setting up a “civilian advisory committee” to work with his new cabinet, which he said could be unveiled by Thursday.

Polling day calm was reflected on financial markets battered by this month’s unrest. The cost of insuring Egyptian debt edged lower, with five-year credit default swaps slipping 10 basis points to 539. The Egyptian pound, which last week hit its lowest point since January 2005, held steady.

Additional reporting by Edmund Blair, Maha El Dahan and Tom Perry in Cairo, Marwa Awad in Alexandria, Shaimaa Fayed in Damietta, Yusri Mohamed in Port Said and Jonathan Wright in Fayoum; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Peter Millership

Egyptian police battle protesters, 33 dead


Cairo police fought protesters demanding an end to army rule for a third day on Monday and morgue officials said the death toll had risen to 33, with many victims shot in the worst violence since the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

Tens of thousands of people packed Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the anti-Mubarak revolt in January and February, as darkness fell, despite the clashes that threaten to disrupt Egypt’s first free election in decades, due to start next week.

Protesters have brandished bullet casings in the square, where police moved in with batons and tear gas on Saturday against a protest then dominated by Islamists but since driven by young people with secular aims. Police deny using live fire.

Medical sources at Cairo’s main morgue said 33 corpses had been received there since Saturday, most of them with bullet wounds. At least 1,250 people have been wounded, a Health Ministry source said.

“I’ve seen the police beat women my mother’s age. I want military rule to end,” said protester Mohamed Gamal, 21.

Army generals were feted for their part in easing Mubarak out, but hostility to their rule has hardened since, especially over attempts to set new constitutional principles that would keep the military permanently beyond civilian control.

Police attacked a makeshift hospital in the square after dawn on Monday but were driven back by protesters hurling chunks of concrete from smashed pavements, witnesses said.

“Don’t go out there, you’ll end up martyrs like the others,” protesters told people emerging from a metro station at Tahrir Square.

CLOUD OVER ELECTION

The violence casts a pall over the first round of voting in Egypt’s staggered and complex election process, which starts on November 28 in Cairo and elsewhere. The army says the polls will go ahead, but the unrest could deter voters in the capital.

In an apparent sop to protesters, the army council issued a law to bar from political life “those who work to corrupt political life and damage the interests of the nation.”

The announcement was unlikely to satisfy political parties and activists who have called for a blanket ban on former members of Mubarak’s now defunct National Democratic Party.

“This is a meaningless move by the military council. In fact this is a slap in the face of protesters and those who died to demand freedom and respect,” said activist Mohamed Fahmy. “The council is out of step with the people.”

Some Egyptians, including Islamists who expect to do well in the vote, say the ruling army council may be stirring insecurity to prolong its rule, a charge the military denies.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said violence must end. “This is quite evidently an attempt to thwart a democratic transition process,” he said.

Political uncertainty has gripped Egypt since Mubarak’s fall, while sectarian clashes, labor unrest, gas pipeline sabotage and a gaping absence of tourists have paralyzed the economy and prompted a widespread yearning for stability.

The state news agency MENA said 63 flights to and from Cairo had been canceled because of the latest unrest.

The instability could accelerate Egypt’s slide toward a currency crisis, forcing a sharp depreciation of the Egyptian pound in the next few months and conceivably prompting Cairo to impose capital controls, analysts said.

“Even in advance of recent events we were very concerned about the balance of payments and the burn-through in reserves,” said Farouk Soussa, Middle East chief economist at Citigroup. “The violence and political noise is going to erode whatever confidence was left in the Egyptian economy, and may result … in an acceleration of capital outflows.”

The military plans to keep its presidential powers until a new constitution is drawn up and a president is elected in late 2012 or early 2013. Protesters want a much swifter transition.

The army said on Monday it had intervened in central Cairo to protect the Interior Ministry, not to clear demonstrators from nearby Tahrir Square, whom it also offered to protect.

“The protesters have a right to protest, but we must stand between them and the Interior Ministry,” said General Saeed Abbas. “The armed forces will continue in their plans for parliamentary elections and securing the vote.”

“SAME MENTALITY”

The Interior Ministry, in charge of a police force widely hated for its heavy-handed tactics in the anti-Mubarak revolt, has been a target for protesters demanding police reform.

“Unfortunately the Interior Ministry still deals with protests with the same security mentality as during Mubarak’s administration,” said military analyst Safwat Zayaat.

The latest street clashes show the depth of frustration, at least in Cairo and some other cities, at the pace of change.

About 5,000 students marched in Alexandria, demanding an end to military trials of civilians and for those responsible for the recent violence to be brought to justice, MENA said.

“Military rule is defunct, defunct,” crowds chanted in Cairo. “Freedom, freedom.”

Residents reacted angrily when police fired tear gas into a crowd gathered below a burning building 200 meters (yards) from Tahrir Square, hindering the rescue of trapped residents.

Outside the apartment building, protesters chanted “Tantawi burned it and here are the revolutionaries,” referring to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak’s defense minister for two decades and leader of the army council.

Doctors in orange vests were treating casualties on pavements in the middle of Tahrir.

Liberal groups are dismayed by the military trials of thousands of civilians and the army’s failure to scrap a hated emergency law. Islamists eyeing a strong showing in the next parliament suspect the army wants to curtail their influence.

Analysts say Islamists could win 40 percent of assembly seats, with a big portion going to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Additional reporting by Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin and Andrew Torchia in Dubai; writing by Alistair Lyon; editing by Philippa Fletcher

US urges that Egypt’s elections go forward


The United States urged Egypt to go ahead with elections despite an upsurge in violence on Monday and urged restraint on all sides.

The death toll had risen to 33 as police in Cairo fought protesters demanding an end to army rule in the worst violence since the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

White House spokesman Jay Carney called for restraint on all sides and added, “The United States continues to believe that these tragic events should not stand in the way of elections.”

Reporting by Alister Bull and Steve Holland; Editing by Will Dunham

Stop and smell the roses in Pakistan


As an Egyptian whose country’s military dictators are either taken by God or an assassin’s bullet, I envy the Pakistani people’s ability to now use the term, “former president.”

As former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf contemplates how his friends in the U.S. administration dropped him quicker than you can say “hot freedom fries,” for those of us from the Muslim world — awash in military dictators who have friends in high places in Washington — his exit from Pakistan’s frenetic political stage is miraculous.

The naysayers will remind us of all the “ifs” and “buts” that remain for Pakistan. For starters, Musharraf’s two main rivals, who engineered the threatened impeachment elbowing him toward resignation — Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari — are nowhere near perfect leaders, especially since the only factor uniting them is now contemplating the real estate of exile sites in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Sharif — the former prime minister swept aside by Musharraf’s bloodless 1999 coup — was himself in exile until last year, when he returned home vowing political revenge. He wants to try Musharraf for treason. Meanwhile, Zardari, the widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has taken a more conciliatory line.

They might disagree on Musharraf’s future, but what they do have in common is ignominious histories of corruption — a reminder that dictators like Musharraf are experts at stifling the life out of their country’s politics and leaving poor alternatives to their rules by coup d’état.

We will be reminded that the Taliban and Al Qaeda and all those other scary figures Musharraf dutifully fought as part of his card-carrying membership in the war on terror are now celebrating in every cave that straddles Pakistan’s troubled border with Afghanistan.

Last year, militant friends of the newly insurgent Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies slaughtered hundreds of Pakistanis in waves of suicide bombings across the country. But much like his fellow Muslim dictators befriended by Washington, Musharraf just perfected his technique of using them as Islamist bogeymen.

My country’s president, Hosni Mubarak, points to the Muslim Brotherhood. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas points to Hamas. But neither can beat having Osama bin Laden allegedly hiding somewhere in his country.

Although he presented himself as a secular leader, Musharraf gave free rein to those same Islamists that he was warning the West about, because they were a foil to Pakistan’s vibrant liberal community.

It’s unclear who will become Pakistan’s next president, but there’s no doubt that the ruling coalition’s challenges are many now that Musharraf is out of the picture: fighting inflation, reducing the gap between rich and poor and continuing to fight militancy in the nuclear-armed country. For Pakistan, politics has been a roller-coaster ride since its birth in 1947 as a partition from India.

But let’s stop for a moment and appreciate what has just happened in Pakistan: The constitution and the justice system of a Muslim country were about to impeach a sitting president who was once head of the armed forces. Rather than face such accountability, that president resigned.

To further put Pakistan’s achievement in context, consider that had he insisted on fighting impeachment, Musharraf faced charges of violating the constitution and gross misconduct. Why?

Because he imposed six weeks of emergency rule and fired dozens of judges last November, when the Supreme Court met to decide his eligibility to stand for re-election for a third term as president while still army chief.

Egypt has lived under emergency rule for each and every one of Mubarak’s four terms in power straddling 26 years. In 2006, his regime showed a similar allergy to an independent judiciary. Mubarak’s regime disciplined two senior judges and arrested and beat dozens of their supporters when the judges had the temerity to press for an inquiry into electoral fraud during the 2005 parliamentary elections, which Mubarak’s party swept. The elections were marred by violence, several deaths and plenty of intimidation.

Just like Musharraf, Mubarak recognized the dangers of an independent judiciary — which in many Muslim countries constitutes the most potent secular opposition. But don’t hold your breath for Mubarak’s impeachment any time soon.

“Let’s hope we can learn from this in Egypt,” my dad told me as we discussed Musharraf’s resignation. “It will tell our dictators, ‘You are not more powerful than the people.'”

It will also signal to our various dictators that no matter how tight you are with Washington, no matter how well you have managed to persuade your American friends that you’re the only thing that stands between them and Islamist lunatics, they will look away when your people have had it with you.

For years, Pakistan has been home to much that ails the Muslim world: coups, dictatorship, militancy and corruption. Let’s recognize it now as home to judges and lawyers who won their staredown with the dictator.

And let’s remind Sharif, Zardari and whoever becomes Pakistan’s next president: “Hey, those same judges and lawyers against whom Musharraf foolishly picked a fight and lost are there keeping an eye on you, too.”

To the people of Pakistan — I salute you!

Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning New York-based journalist and commentator and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues.