Saturday, December 17, 2005

Destroying to Create

Mohammed had a short layover in Egypt while he travelled back to Gaza after attending an international conference. He was able to interview a number of Egyptians about the problems surrounding their recent Parliamentary elections. The resulting article appeared in Norwegian in Morganbladet on 16 December.

"Democracy is dying, no, democracy has died in our
Egypt," said Abdel Hadi Hujazi.

Hujazi, an Egyptian election observer, was summing up
the violence and corruption he had seen first-hand in
his official capacity during last week's second round
of Egypt's parliamentary elections. "It's a big lie
when our officials appear on the media and announce
the elections are proceeding democratically. That's
far from the reality I saw at North Sinai polling
stations," he said. "The Egyptian government brought
in busloads of street fighters to instigate conflicts
at the polls where there was known support for Muslim
Brotherhood candidates. Some of the fighters were
actually security police in civilian clothes; they
attacked people waiting to vote while their colleagues
in uniform watched and did nothing. Our suspicions of
this completely illegal activity were confirmed when
Omer Abdel Rahaman, a security police officer
disguised in civilian clothes, was injured in the
fighting and had to be hospitalized. In my 46 years,
I have never seen anything so blatantly corrupt."

President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic
Party was stunned when the first round of
parliamentary elections resulted in 88 of 444 seats
going to Islamist Muslim Brotherhood candidates. The
Brotherhood exists in a legal gray area, originally
having been banned as an terrorist organization. In
an attempt to become a legitimate political party, the
Muslim Brotherhood formally renounced ties to violence
but the party remains under an official ban. That did
not, however, prevent Muslim Brotherhood candidates
entering the lists as independents and with their
"Islam is the answer" slogan, winning five times more
seats than their showing in the 2000
elections—shocking the ruling NDP party into a
violent response.

In an effort to be sure the Brotherhood's gains stayed
minimal, the NDP did its utmost to disrupt the
elections in areas where support for the opposition
candidates was strong. All through Egypt, citizens
trying to vote found themselves under attack by tear
gas, truncheons, and bullets and could only respond
with stone-throwing in scenes reminiscent of
Palestine's intifada. But here, the stone-throwers
were not heedless adolescents but mature adults trying
to exercise their constitutionally-protected right to
vote. The northern town of Damietta saw some of the
worst violence where two men were shot dead and dozens
wounded, according to medical sources. Another man
died of a heart attack after inhaling tear gas used
against protestors in the governorate of Sharqiya .
In all, since the first round of elections on November
9, six civilians have been killed, and many more
injured.

"The police attacked us again, they don't want to let
us vote," said Abdelsattar Al Mallah, who was injured
in the violence in his home town when he tried to
vote. In Al Zagazig hospital, a greengrocer Ayman
Abdel Hadi complained that police broke his leg with
a club before dragging him to a police station where
he had to wait two hours before being moved to the
hospital. "They systematically blocked the polling
stations where the Brothers achieved good scores in
the first round last week," he said.

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights backed up
their accounts in their official report that 355
polling stations had been closed. "Only NDP supporters
have been allowed to enter polling stations using
their party IDs," they said. During the first round
of elections, some resourceful voters evaded
harassment by using ladders to climb the walls
surrounding the polling places. Stunned by the Muslim
Brotherhood's gains, police squads confiscated ladders
throughout towns and villages where the opposition
party had scored majorities, as well as detaining
some 1300 known and suspected Moslem Brotherhood
supporters. Their tactics were effective—the
Brotherhood gained no new seats in the second
round—and the party complained the results had been
rigged.

The US State Department expressed concern about the
obviously flawed voting, saying it sent "the wrong
signal about Egypt's commitment to democracy and
freedom. . ." Washington , however, was scolded by
international rights groups for their relatively mild
protest of flagrant abuses. The Brotherhood's surprise
results have boosted the movement's case for
legalization as a party, an option that has so far
been rejected by both Cairo and Washington.

The US is once again caught between its rhetoric—its
loud and incessant demands for democracy in the
Mid-East—and the reality that honest elections in the
region often result in strong support for Islamist
parties that oppose US policies. During the run-up to
the US invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration was
stunned when the parliament of its ally, Turkey, voted
not once but twice to curtail US military use of
Turkish territory as a staging area for the invasion.
Palestine's elections, vetted by international
observers as fair and honest, resulted in notable
gains for the political wing of the militant Hamas
party. Iraq's US-backed provisional government
reflects US worries that a truly free election might
result in a government that would demand an immediate
end to Western occupation. "We had to destroy the
village to save it," became the infamous slogan of US
policy during the VietNam war. Perhaps that warped
thinking has now evolved into destroying democracy in
order to create it to the Middle East.

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