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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Egypt's problematic election

The Egyptian election, the country's first since Hosni Mubarak's 30-year dictatorship ended, is procedurally complex. More important, the exercise, which started on November 28, takes place in a profoundly uncertain political climate. It is not a general election; the bodies elected — the 498-seat People's Assembly, and the 270-seat Shura Council (upper house) — will have the task of writing a constitution ahead of the June 2012 presidential election. Both chambers will be elected under a version of the additional member system; the 50-million electorate will choose two-thirds of the members from party lists and one-third by simple majority, but if they do not also pick two independents on their respective ballot papers, their votes will be invalid. In addition, the three-phase process means different regions will vote at different times; the People's Assembly poll, which started on November 28, ends on January 10, 2012, and the Shura vote will last from January 29 to March 11. As many as 40 parties are involved, with over 10,000 candidates contesting. There were huge turnouts on the first two days; reliable initial estimates give a substantial lead to the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Islamist party of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The context, unfortunately, undermines some of the poll's legitimacy. Voting is compulsory; the fine of over $80 for not voting will inflate the turnout unrealistically, among an electorate already suspicious of the system. Secondly, the timing will skew the results; the FJP has by far the biggest party machine, and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has ignored the calls by other groups for more time to organise. In effect, the whole playing field is tilted in favour of the FJP. Many secular parties stopped campaigning in protest against the November killings of 42 protesters in and around Tahrir Square, but the FJP continued campaigning. Neither the party nor its parent body has condemned those killings or the earlier sectarian killings of Copts. Furthermore, the party has a vast, socially conservative, and predominantly rural voter base, whose attitudes it is sure to reflect when the assemblies deliberate on the place of religion in the new constitution. The movement, however, is not monolithic. Some senior figures have quit over the failure to condemn the killings, and a generational divide is also appearing. Above all, the holding of the election itself is an achievement not of the Brotherhood but of the Tahrir Square protesters. They challenged and overthrew one of the most enduring and repressive of the many dictatorships and absolute monarchies in West Asia and North Africa. Egypt is a great nation and its secular democrats can still transform their country and the region.

Editorial - The Hindu

Legendary Hindi actor Dev Anand dies

Dev Anand, the ‘Evergreen Romantic Superstar’ of Indian cinema, has passed away here on Saturday night following cardiac arrest. He was 88.

Dev Anand, who had come here for medical check up, was not keeping well for the last few days, family sources told PTI. His son Sunil was with him when he breathed last.

Dev Anand made his debut as an actor in 1946 in Hum Ek Hain. By the time his Ziddi was released in 1947 he was a superstar and has never looked back.

Versatile Dev Anand has given countless hits like Paying Guest, Baazi, Jewel Thief,CID, Johny Mera Naam, Amir Garib, Warrant, Hare Rama Hare Krishna and Des Pardes.

For his outstanding contribution to Indian cinema, Dev Anand was honoured with the prestigious the ‘Padma Bhushan’ in 2001 and ‘Dada Saheb Phalke Award’ in 2002.

He established his film production company ‘Navketan International Films’ in 1949 and has produced more than 35 movies.

Dev Anand has won two Filmfare Awards in 1958 for his performance in the film Kala Paani and in 1966 for his performance in Guide.

Guide went on to win Filmfare Awards in five other categories including “Best Film” and “Best Director” and was sent as India’s entry for the Oscars in the foreign film category that year.

He co-produced the English Version of Guide named The Good Earth with Nobel Laureate Pearl S. Buck.

In 1993, he received Filmfare “Lifetime Achievement Award” and in 1996 he received a Screen Videocon “Lifetime Achievement Award“.

Of late he was involved in the direction of a new all American film Project Song Of Life — a musical love story which was to be shot in the United States.

He was to play the central character in the film which was to have a predominantly American star cast.

Dev Anand is the second of three brothers who were active in Hindi Cinema. His brothers are Chetan Anand and Vijay Anand. Their sister, Sheel Kanta Kapur, is the mother of renowned film director Shekhar Kapur

The Hindu

Israel says Egyptian election results are ‘disturbing’; Hamas welcomes them

Israel’s defense minister said Saturday that initial results from Egypt’s parliamentary elections are “very, very disturbing.”

Few official results have been released from the first round vote, but leaked counts point to a clear majority for Islamist parties led by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he hopes Egypt’s first parliament to be seated after the ouster of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak will respect international treaties, including its shaky 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

Israel’s main fear is the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been cool to the peace treaty and has close ties with Gaza Strip’s rulers, Hamas. The election is being held in stages and the final outcome won't be known until next year.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Ben Dor said Israel is not surprised by the Muslim Brotherhood's initial election gains and is convinced the Israel-Egypt peace treaty will remain intact.

“We respect the election results in Egypt. This is the Egyptian people’s choice,” Ben Dor said.

Meanwhile, Hamas on Saturday welcomed early indications of election success for Islamist parties in neighboring Egypt.

“It is a very good will mean more and more support for Palestinian issues,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP. “The relationship of the next regime in Egypt with the Palestinians will be very good.”

Partial results emerging on Saturday for areas of Egypt that voted in record numbers showed that in Port Said, the moderate Islamist alliance led by the previously banned Muslim Brotherhood triumphed with 32.5 percent of votes for parties, while the hardline Salafist al-Nur party won 20.7 percent.

In the southern Red Sea district, the Brotherhood’s alliance reached 30 percent, while secular coalition the Egyptian Bloc came in second with 15 percent, Egyptian newspaper reports said.

Barhum said the Egyptian poll results and Islamic gains in Tunisia, like Hamas’s own landslide win in 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, served notice to the West that its attempts to politically marginalize Islam were failing.

“We’re asking the United States and Europe to respect the Egyptian people’s democracy,” he said.

In a statement on a Hamas website, top Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk said that “the Egyptian people have voiced their confidence in the Islamists. ... We do believe that Egyptian support in the future will be more for our cause.”


Friday, December 2, 2011

Egypt's Islamists swear by secularism

Islamist parties, set to win the majority of seats in the first round of the Egyptian parliamentary elections, have shifted into top gear to negate fears that their country could evolve into a theocracy.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) could end up winning around 40 per cent of the votes during the two-day poll, which wrapped up on Tuesday. The Al Nour coalition formed by the more doctrinaire Salafists is running in second place behind FJP in several constituencies.

“I expect Islamists [FJP and the Al Nour coalition] to win at least 65 per cent of seats in the first round,” said Diaa Rashwan, an expert on Islamic movements and head of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. In the first round of the three-phased election, nine of 27 governorates went to the polls to elect deputies to the Lower House of Parliament.

Sources inside the Muslim Brotherhood said the FJP had done exceptionally well in Fayoum, south of the capital, and had also distinguished itself in the Cairo and Red Sea governorates. The Al Nour coalition offered stiff competition to the FJP in the governorates of Alexandria and Kafr al-Sheikh governorates, which have become Salafi strongholds.

The spectacular performance of the Islamists has jolted their secular and liberal opponents. “Egypt will get into its darkest era ever if the Brotherhood reached the Parliament and then assumed power, it will be the worst epoch ever … I think the country will suffer as long as the Brotherhood represents the majority,” author Gamal El-Gitani was quoted as saying by the Al Ahram website.

Analysts point out that the result has alarmed minorities such as the Coptic Christians, as well as leftists and secularists. Women activists, fearing the imposition of a dress code and Sharia law, are also wary of the Muslim Brothers' vibrant assertion at the polls.

But Islamists, including those belonging to the Al Nour coalition, are emphatic in dismissing these fears as groundless, which, they say, result from the complete ignorance of doctrinal evolution that Islamist parties have undergone over the past 60 years. “Some people are promoting the idea that Islamists would diminish women's rights and freedom of speech, damage the country's relationship with Israel and also prevent non-Islamic forces from being politically involved. That's among other allegations which are baseless,” said Essam Darbala of the Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiyya, an Al Nour alliance partner. In an earlier statement, Essam El-Erian, Vice Chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), reassured minority groups by saying all Egyptians had equal rights. While calming fears of Egypt's possible slide into theocracy, echoing, however faintly, the 1979 Islamic revolution of Iran, Mr. El-Erian, on Thursday, served notice to the military to give way to elected representatives.

In an op-ed in the Guardian, and was posted on the Muslim Brotherhood website, he said: “It is impossible for millions of Egyptians to go to the polls and vote for a Parliament without authority. So the military council must now announce the handover of legislative powers to Parliament, and the caretaker government must present any new legislation to the Parliament for approval.”

He added that the military council “must also affirm that any government that does not enjoy the confidence of Parliament will not be able to remain in office and that the formation and survival of a government will be decided by the Parliament's majority”. Buoyed by the trends, he urged youth protesting at Tahrir Square to adopt “constitutional mechanisms while maintaining calm in the constituencies and Egyptian street”.