Tahrir tumbles and tumbrels

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

Philip Whitfield

April 9 2012

CAIRO: It appears the Salafi Sheikh Hazem Abu Ismail’s mother did obtain American nationality on October 25, 2006 putting paid to his presidential bid.

Doesn’t the Egyptian Administrative Court’s ruling on Saturday doom the Muslim Brotherhood’s Khairat Al-Shater too? The judges overturned Field Marshal Tantawi’s restoration of Ayman Nour’s full political rights. Al-Shater relies on Tantawi’s condonation as well. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

It may explain the labyrinthine language used by the Brotherhood. Pulling a rabbit out of the hat. they announced Mohamed Morsi, the Freedom and Justice Party’s chairman, would run as a backup in case Al-Shater is barred: a necessary precaution… in face of attempts to fabricate barriers and hurdles to prevent some presidential candidates from completing the march of national duty, the Brotherhood said.

Intriguing is a flurry of new information emerging about the mountain of cash earmarked for democratic reform that’s been pouring into Egypt. Let’s try to follow the money. Without cash, the candidates don’t stand a ghost of a chance. LE10 million is the most presidential candidates are supposed to spend, LE2 million more if there’s a run-off. A proper media campaign requires at least 10 times that, one campaign manager says.

Apparently LE10 million is soon splurged. Advertisements can soak up LE500,000 a pop. Those billboards on the bridges are costing LE80,00 a month. To recoup, bumper stickers and window posters are on sale for 50 piastres outside mosques.

Legal? Campaigning is not allowed until April 30. So we’re asked to believe what you see is the work of enthusiastic volunteers. Individual donations are restricted to no more than LE 200,000. A loophole in the election law is its silence on company donations. None may come from abroad.

Revisiting the NGO ruckus we find that in the year before Tahrir toppled Mubarak the umbrella organization for the American organizations, the National Endowment for Democracy dug deep into its pockets.

Allen Weinstein, who helped to write the legislation for Ronald Reagan establishing the NED declared: A lot of what we do was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.

The NED doled out $1.5 million in 2009 to promote reform in Egypt and upped it to almost $2.5 million in the 12 months before Mubarak was let go, according to their annual report.  $370,954 went to youth groups for new media and activists.

Post-Mubarak, the NED went into overdrive, opening five new offices in Egypt training and funding the youth movement in Egypt. The amount of cash hasn’t been published yet. On February 26 Al Jazeera reported a former NGO employee’s claim that their personal bank accounts were used to channel money covertly from Washington. She and some colleagues resigned after Sam LaHood ordered them to ship the office files to the US.

You might think the NGO furor had blown over after the US put up $5 million bail for those charged. Heed this. Last week the Obama administration moved to deny a request from Egypt to Interpol to issue a so-called red notice to arrest the NGO workers on trial.

A red notice is serious, according to Douglas McNabb, a Washington-based international criminal lawyer who specializes in extradition law. It’s issued ahead of extradition proceedings, which is open to Egypt to pursue under a treaty signed in 1874 with the US. Those on Interpol’s red notice list would effectively be landlocked, McNabb says, facing arrest if they travel abroad.That opens up a can of worms. If Egypt requests extradition the US would be obliged to arrest the suspects and, ironically, represent Egypt in court.

Why are authorities in Egypt pursuing this issue tenaciously? An attempt to turn the presidential election debate on its head — America working behind the scenes siding with those bent on destabilizing Egypt is xenophobic kindling to fire a mob?

It’s another reason to separate the judiciary from the president, the cabinet and the legislature. Turkey is unique in having a 99 percent dominant Islamic population and a secular government while not operating under Sharia law. Their secular constitution has survived since 1924.

Senegal has given the Mouride Brotherhood, a large Islamic Sufi order, legitimacy in the post-colonial era with a binding social contract between the Muridiyya and the state.

Lest Egypt’s election numbers be forgotten, 27 million of 50 million eligible voters took part in the November parliamentary election. The Muslim Brotherhood-led Democratic Alliance for Egypt won just over 10 million votes and the Salafi’s Islamist bloc 7.5 million.

Two million voted for NDP offshoots. That’s the tinder for Omar Suileman’s spark. He needs to rally the 9.5 million that didn’t vote for the Brotherhood or the Salafis and hope their internecine scrapping disperses their votes over several candidates.

The issues have come into sharper relief. An opinion poll found 84 percent supporting an Islamic identity for the state but only 27 obsessed with the idea. They’re more concerned with stability, security and economic revival.

You’d think that would play into Suileman’s hand. His entrance flexes the muscles of the Brotherhood and the military, according to Khalid Fahmy a political analyst at the American University in Cairo.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s standard-bearer Khairat Al-Shater has tilted towards conservatism to cut the ground from under the Salafis and distance himself from the reformist inclined Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh. Al-Shater says Sharia is his ultimate goal.

Without Abu Ismail out of the race Al-Shater could move towards the pragmatic middle ground, focusing on security and the economy.

To make his mark Suileman needs to catch Amr Mousa, the former foreign minister and Arab League general secretary whose early lead in the opinion polls, most recently identified among Copts as well, suggests he’s the non-Islamist to beat. Conversely their rivalry could damage each other’s chances as much as Islamists at each other’s throats.

The Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies finds the most important issues for Egyptians are security, prices, unemployment, dismantling the former regime’s remnants, and eliminating corruption.

It seems most Egyptians will be relieved to be spared the ignominy of Islamic candidates slandering each other. The presidential vote could split between candidates inexperienced in government and those tarnished by association with a discredited regime.

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow — Albert Einstein.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator



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