Democracy – Egyptian Style [Archives:2008/1151/Reportage]

May 1 2008

By: The Media Line Staff
Hopes for political reform and increased participation in Egypt faded with the events that marked the 2008 local council elections, which have cast a gloomy shadow over the future of democracy, rights and freedoms.

The Muslim Brotherhood and some other opposition party candidates were prevented from obtaining the necessary documents or submitting them in order to participate in the ballot. They said they had aimed to nominate 10,000 candidates, 20 percent of the total local council seats.

Only 4,000 potential candidates managed to obtain official documents necessary for nomination. Only 485 managed to reach the relevant offices to submit their papers due to various obstacles, including a security blockade and unending lines made up of thugs and unemployed persons. Those who managed to get through were arrested or assaulted.

Muslim Brotherhood lawyer Mukhtar Al-'Ashry said the 2008 elections decree stipulates that a single court order is enough to stop elections. Accordingly, governors were not entitled to announce any election results.

“We obtained 940 court orders to stop the elections, in addition to another 4,000 orders to enable candidates to be registered, and a further 3,900 to enable them to participate. All were disregarded,” he added.

Ninety-one court orders were obtained in the Manoufiya governorate, where the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) was announced the winner for lack of competing candidates. The same happened in many other governorates, including Gharbiya, Kafr A-Sheikh and others.

Muslim Brotherhood parliament representative for Ashmoun, Manoufiya, Ashraf Badr A-Din, said that 1,100 group members had been arrested since the Muslim Brotherhood announced its intention in early March to participate in the local council elections.

“It wasn't only directed against Muslim Brotherhood members. NDP members not selected by the party, who wished to run, were prevented from doing so and eight were arrested,” according to Badr A-Din.

NDP Policies committee member and political science professor, 'Ali A-Din Hilal, said the party held primary elections to select the candidates to best address the new tasks of local councils.

“The NDP is moving towards decentralization. The local councils will be getting more responsibilities,” he explained.

He added that the NDP decided to nominate 70 percent of its candidates, while appointing the remaining representatives to guarantee women and Copts were represented on the councils.

Badr A-Din said that in Manoufiya alone an administrative campaign targeted commercial establishments of Brotherhood candidates, relatives and supporters, resulting in the closure of more than 450 enterprises. More than 1,000 families lost their livelihoods as a result.

“The NDP did not win due to the lack of competition, but because the Muslim Brotherhood and some other opposition candidates were prevented from participating,” he said.

This view was shared by the newly established Democratic Front Party. In a statement about the elections the party said it sought to participate in the elections but that “unfortunately the regime and the NDP insisted on using the same methods to stall any real political reform thus rendering the elections a farce.”

The Democratic Front statement warned against the “grim” consequences of such practices that “led the Egyptian people, losing faith in the elections, to turn their backs on them.”

Hussein 'Abd A-Raziq, a Tagammu' Party leader, said the party only nominated 600 candidates due to the lack of funding, and because the possibility that the elections will be rigged was high. He added that only 237 were able to submit their papers due to the obstacles placed by the government. This number increased to 400 through court challenges and contacts.

Lawyer Ahmad 'Amr said that in his village of Beni-Suef candidates managed to escape arrest and take the registration documents to the committee office where they were told they had to be taken to the home of NDP Shoura Council representative Ahmad Hafiz in the village of Beni Ali.

Entries and exits to the village were surrounded by security forces preventing anyone entering or leaving the village. The same thing occurred in a village in the upper Egyptian governorate of Minya. When only 21 candidate names were found to be on the list, the Muslim Brotherhood decided to boycott the elections.

“Continuing to participate in this farce gives it legitimacy so we decided to boycott the elections,” said Hussein Ibrahim, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood parliament members.

Hilal said there was no legal political organization called the Muslim Brotherhood. He further explained that, “any Egyptian has the right to run for elections but not in the name of an illegal political group.”

Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies expert Nabil 'Abd Al-Fattah said the ruling party would not allow any other groups to control the local councils because, as the link with the people, they were the backbone of political life in Egypt.

'Abd Al-Fattah added he believed the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to send a message that it was capable of reaching large numbers of people if given the opportunity.

However, Badr A-Din countered that the group would not make all the sacrifices – including detentions and loss of income – just to prove it was strong.

“Our objective is to deal with the public, present our project on the ground and achieve change through peaceful means,” he said.

He pointed out, however, that official coverage of the elections was far from balanced, as government newspapers seemed to depend for their coverage on statements received from official authorities, completely ignoring news about the numerous incidents where opposition candidates were prevented from participation, or about orders from official courts that they should be registered.

A-Dustour journalist Khalid A-Sirgany believes that official newspapers sided with the NDP. He noted that most official news publications focused on covering visits by party leaders Gamal Mubarak, Safwat A-Sherif and Ahmed 'Ezz in support of NDP candidates in various governorates, while private and independent newspapers showed the other side of the story.

Local council elections are not over for the Muslim Brotherhood. It intends to challenge the results using the court order they have obtained.

“We will file lawsuits against all the officials who ignored court orders in our favor. This is a crime punishable by imprisonment and dismissal,” said Badr A-Din.

He added: “We are committed to a peaceful and legal struggle for our rights based on the constitution and the law.”


'Umar'Afifi, author of a book advising people on how to deal with the police, escaped Egypt on Saturday to the U.S. after receiving warnings from friends.

The book, called To Avoid Being Humiliated, provides advice in simple language and in question and answer form about different legal situations.

Lawyer and former Interior Ministry official 'Umar 'Afifi said that he left Egypt after his house was searched and he found out he was being hunted.

“I learned that the Interior Minister wants to punish me,” he said.

He added that the book tells people their rights and obligations toward the police in all circumstances. It explains the procedural, traffic and civil status laws in a simple way.

'Afifi believes the Interior Ministry is trying to pressure him to abandon plans to publish this and other books.

A number of bookstores confirmed that state security personnel had visited them and confiscated all copies of the book “politely.”

One salesman, who preferred to stay anonymous, said the book contained nothing against the police, the law or the regime.

“I found it to be reasonable and moderate. All this has increased the already existing demand for the book,” he said.

Accountant Ahmad 'Eid said that he didn't understand why the book was confiscated since the writer quoted articles from Egyptian law and the constitution.

“For example, in answer to the question: “What should I do when asked to show my ID,” the writer tells people they are entitled to know who is speaking to them and to see a card that proves he is with the police. Had he violated any law he would be on trial now.”

'Afifi, who served in the Interior Ministry for 20 years, expressed willingness to return and be tried before a relevant, not a state security, court. He also suggested that the book be examined by a legal committee to judge whether it contained any violations.

The book contained no incitement or insults against the police, he said.