Egypt’s top judges have accused President Mohammed Mursi of staging an “unprecedented attack” on the judiciary. The president passed a decree earlier this week granting himself extensive new powers. It includes a bar on any court dissolving the constituent assembly, which is drawing up a new constitution.
Outside a Cairo court where judges were meeting, police fired tear gas to disperse crowds. They have been charging with batons at protesters against the decree, reports the BBC’s Jon Leyne from the scene, while pro-Mursi demonstrators tried to disrupt the judges’ meeting. Thursday’s decree sparked angry demonstrations, and attacks on offices of Mr Mursi’s Islamist FJP party. The president has said he is acting to protect the revolution.
In a statement, the Supreme Judicial Council called his move “an unprecedented attack on the independence of the judiciary and its rulings”, and called on him to reverse it. Judges and prosecutors in Egypt’s second city Alexandria have gone on strike in protest, saying they will not return to work until the decree is reversed. The response of the judges has been tough, if fairly predictable, says our Cairo correspondent. One judge told the BBC their concerns were for Egypt, not their jobs. “We can’t work like this, we have to change it and we will change it,” Ahmed Shannan said. There had been reports that the council was about to disband the constituent assembly for a second time, he added, a move that could seriously derail the transition to democracy and further delay new parliamentary elections. This, in turn, could deter Egypt’s political leaders from taking tough decisions while they wait for the vote. Meanwhile, Egyptian human rights agencies filed a lawsuit at the Court of Administrative Justice calling for the decree to be annulled, Mena news agency reported.
Protesters in Egypt have set fire to Muslim Brotherhood offices in several cities, according to state TV. They were demonstrating against President Mohammed Mursi’s decision to grant himself sweeping new powers. His decree states, among other things, that the president’s decisions cannot be revoked by any authority – including the judiciary.
Rival rallies have been held across the country today by supporters and opponents of Mr Mursi. In the Suez Canal cities of Suez, Port Said and Ismailia opponents of the Islamist president reportedly set fire to the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood. Clashes have also been reported between opposing demonstrations in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.
Egyptians headed to the polls Monday to vote in the first election since an improbable revolt toppled one of the world’s longest-serving rulers.
Hundreds of people lined up on one street in downtown Cairo, all waiting patiently to vote in the country’s parliamentary elections.
“This is the first time in 55 years that I (can) vote,” said Sharif Shinawi, a 55-year-old businessman. “It was never in the history of Egypt, since Adam and Eve, that we’ve had this opportunity. I am willing to wait 10 hours, or until tomorrow morning if I have to, but I will vote.”
“Before, there was always cheating. Now, I could be wrong, but I think my vote will count,” the electrical engineer said. He said he refused to vote for members of ousted President Hosni Mubarak‘s disbanded National Democratic Party, and said he also wouldn’t vote for the Muslim brotherhood — “even though I have a beard and I am a very good Muslim. I voted for a middle party.”
Polls opened at 8 a.m. (1 a.m. ET ) for the first of many rounds to decide who will sit in the upper and lower houses of parliament.
Meanwhile, crowds continued to gather in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where protesters have demanded change since early this year. They overthrew Mubarak in February — a major victory in the Arab Spring uprisings — and are now calling for his military replacements to step aside.
Tour guide Mohamed Ali, like many Egyptians, is torn between the ballot box and a revolution he feels is incomplete.
“The election — it’s the chance now,” Ali said. “I’ll go (vote) — and (then) I’m back in the square.”
Problems surfaced in some polling areas. Fliers supporting various parties were handed out in parts of Cairo, in violation of election laws. Some people standing in line used them to fan themselves.
“Yes, there has been some limited reports of campaigning outside polls, which is illegal, but the military contained the situation and stopped them or confiscated their campaigning material,” election committee official Abdel Moez Ibrahim said.
He said in general, the election process seemed to be going smoothly, but “major reports of irregularities are related to (the) late opening of some polls.”
Ibrahim said such polls would stay open late Monday evening for the same number of hours for which they were delayed.
Activist Yousri Kamal said ballots had yet to arrive at one polling station in Cairo, hours after polls opened.
“Many people are angry and are starting to leave,” Kamal said.
‘At a critical crossroads’
On the eve of Monday’s election, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces — Egypt’s current ruling body — urged Egyptians to vote and warned of “dire consequences” if the nation’s political crisis continues, state-run Al-Masriya TV reported.
Some 50 million people are eligible to take part in the historic election.
“Please go and vote because we want a parliament that is well balanced from all the parties and groups. The elections will not be successful until everyone who has a right to vote participates. Egypt is at a critical crossroads. It either succeeds, or Egypt will face dire consequences,” said Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.
Elections for the lower house are scheduled to take place in three stages, the last one of which is set for January. Upper house elections will run between January and March.
Egyptians have dozens of political parties and thousands of independent candidates to choose from. The once-banned Muslim Brotherhood, one of the nation’s largest organizations, is expected to perform well in the election.
The polling is taking place against the backdrop of demonstrations calling for an immediate end to military rule.
At least 42 people have been killed in clashes over the past two weeks, including at least 33 in Cairo. An additional 3,250 have been wounded, according to the health ministry.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said presidential elections will be held by June. Military leaders say they will hand over power to a new government when one is elected. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt’s current ruling body, said presidential elections will be held by June.
“I fought for these elections in Tahrir Square and even got shot, but I am boycotting them completely. I don’t trust the military one bit … It’s a farce and more people will die in the next two days,” said Omar Ahmed, a taxi driver.
Egypt TV reported that 33 candidates from the revolution that ousted Mubarak have withdrawn their candidacy in protest of the current political circumstances.
Others expressed confidence and said they are excited about the opportunity to help decide the country’s direction. The streets are full of election banners — a strong sign of democracy in a country ruled for 30 years by Mubarak’s iron fist.
“I believe the election is a good thing. … If we are lucky, maybe we’ll get rid of Tantawi,” said activist Ashraf Nagi.
‘Will never turn back’
Like Ahmed, analysts have warned of increased violence if the vote is not considered legitimate by most.
The elections in Egypt are being closely watched as the nation is the most populous country in the Arab world and a major player in regional politics. Whatever becomes of the revolution here will have wider repercussions.
“It is easy to imagine a spiraling of unrest and violence if elections are perceived as illegitimate by a significant number of Egyptians or, worse, delayed altogether,” Shadi Hamid, an analyst at the Qatar-based branch of the Brookings Institution, wrote recently.
“Since its revolution, Egypt has not had even one national body with real legitimacy. Legitimacy requires elections, which is why the upcoming polls are so critical for both Egyptians and everyone else who wishes to see Egypt move toward democracy and some modicum of stability,” he said.
The country’s military rulers recently appointed Kamal Ganzouri, who served under Mubarak, to his former role as prime minister. He was chosen after then-Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and his government quit en masse, extending months of upheaval and instability.
“I think we’ve had peaks and we’ve had downs. Right now, we’re having another peak. Unfortunately, maybe it’s not the peak we hope for at a time like this,” said Mohamed Ghoneim, another activist.
But, he added: “I definitely think the wheel that has gone in motion … will never turn back.”
- Egyptians head to polls (cnn.com)
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- Egyptians Head to the Polls in Landmark Elections (foxnews.com)
- Voting begins in landmark Egyptian election (independent.co.uk)
- Long Lines Form as Egyptians Vote in Historic Election – New York Times (nytimes.com)
- Egyptians vote in 1st elections since uprising (msnbc.msn.com)
For the first time since the end of President Hosni Mubarak‘s 30-year rule, Egyptians will be able to choose their representatives to the nation’s parliament. Here’s a look at what’s at stake, how the process will unfold and why some are boycotting the elections.
Q. What are the different stages of the parliamentary elections?
Monday marks the beginning of many rounds of elections for both the upper and lower houses of parliament.
Voting will be carried out in waves — in different months and in different governorates — around the country up until March.
Elections for the lower house are scheduled to take place in three stages, the last one of which is set for January.
Upper house elections will run between January and March, and a presidential vote will follow.
Q. How many parties and candidates are participating?
Egyptians have dozens of political parties and thousands of independent candidates to choose from.
Two-thirds of the seats will be filled by parties, and the other third by open candidates.
The once-banned Muslim Brotherhood, one of the nation’s largest organizations, is expected to perform well in the election, which is taking place against the backdrop of demonstrations calling for an immediate end to military rule.
Q. Why are demonstrators still angry?
Demonstrators say they are concerned the military, which would continue to be Egypt’s top authority until a president is in place, wants to keep a grip on the country.
Many also have voiced anger about a proposed constitutional principle that would shield the military’s budget from scrutiny by civilian powers.
Military leaders say they will hand over power to a new government when one is elected. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt’s current ruling body, said presidential elections will be held by June.
Q. How deadly have recent clashes been?
At least 42 people have been killed in the recent demonstrations, including at least 33 in Cairo. An additional 3,250 have been wounded, according to Egypt’s health ministry.
Q. What’s at stake in these elections?
Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world and a major player in regional politics. The outcome of its revolution will have wider repercussions.
“It is easy to imagine a spiraling of unrest and violence if elections are perceived as illegitimate by a significant number of Egyptians,” Shadi Hamid, an analyst at the Qatar-based branch of the Brookings Institution, wrote recently.
Hamid added that the elections “are so critical for both Egyptians and everyone else who wishes to see Egypt move toward democracy and some modicum of stability.”
Q. How do Egyptians feel about the elections?
Some Egyptians are boycotting the parliamentary elections while others say they are excited about the opportunity.
“I fought for these elections in Tahrir Square and even got shot, but I am boycotting them completely,” taxi driver Omar Ahmed said. “I don’t trust the military one bit … It’s a farce.”
But some are hopeful in the streets full of election banners — a strong sign of democracy in a country ruled for 30 years by Mubarak’s iron fist.
“I believe the election is a good thing,” activist Ashraf Nagi said. “If we are lucky, maybe we’ll get rid of (Hussein) Tantawi,” chairman of the military council.
- Voting Begins in Egypt’s First Free Parliamentary Election (ibtimes.com)
- Egyptians vote in 1st elections since uprising (msnbc.msn.com)
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- Egypt’s Tense Waiting Game: What’s at Stake in the Elections (time.com)
- Egyptians vow to boycott ‘rogue’ vote (rt.com)
- Turmoil in Egypt casts shadow over vote (mercurynews.com)
- VIDEO: Young voters talk about Egypt elections (bbc.co.uk)
- A Look at Egypt’s Parliamentary Elections (abcnews.go.com)
- A look at Egypt’s parliamentary elections (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
Ramy Yaacoub, Free Egyptian Party: “We are deeply concerned about the security situation”
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said it regretted “the deaths of martyrs from among Egypt’s loyal sons”.
The unrest, which began on Friday, come days before the first elections since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted. At least 35 people have been killed.
Protesters have rejected a pledge to speed up transition to civilian rule.
They have vowed to continue their protest until the country’s military rulers stand down.
The military council issued its apology in a statement, in which it vowed to bring to justice those responsible for the death of protesters.
Senior generals also appeared on state TV on Wednesday to offer condolences to the Egyptian people.
They urged Egyptians not to compare them to the former regime of Mr Mubarak, insisting they were not seeking to cling to power.
The council is due to announce shortly how it plans to go ahead with parliamentary elections, which are due to begin on Monday.
On Wednesday street battles continued late into the night, and were heaviest around the fortified interior ministry off Tahrir Square in Cairo.
The clashes were followed by a lull. But the protesters vowed to continue occupying the square until their demands are met.
“He goes, we won’t,” one banner read in a reference to the head of the military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.
In Alexandria protests have been smaller than in Cairo, but one protester said clashes were continuing early on Thursday outside the security headquarters.
The clashes are the longest outbreak of violence since the 18-day uprising that toppled Mr Mubarak in February.
He says public opinion on the protests is divided. Some Egyptians want elections to go ahead unhindered while others believe the military must be swept from power first.
The main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is not supporting the protests and expects to do well in the elections.
On Wednesday the UN Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the “clearly excessive use of force” by Egypt’s security forces during the clashes.
She called for an independent inquiry into deaths.
Groups of stone-throwing demonstrators have battled riot police in the streets between Tahrir Square and the interior ministry since the weekend.
Protesters have spoken of gunshots and injuries or deaths from live bullets but Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawy said security forces were only firing tear gas.
The protests have continued despite an attempt by Field Marshal Tantawi to defuse the situation by promising presidential elections by the end of June, six months sooner than planned.
He also accepted the resignation of military-appointed civilian cabinet. But in his address on Tuesday, Field Marshal Tantawi offered no apologies for the violence.
- Egypt protesters reoccupy Tahrir Square (zokimag.wordpress.com)
- Egypt Unrest: Cairo Protests Continue Despite Military Concessions (stevebeckow.com)
- Egypt Protesters, Police Observe Truce – Wall Street Journal (online.wsj.com)
- Tahrir Square: Expanding protests force concessions from Egypt’s military (csmonitor.com)
- Egyptian clashes over military rule rage through the night (news.nationalpost.com)
- Egypt battles show revolution’s unfinished business (zokimag.wordpress.com)
- Tear gas returns to Cairo’s Tahrir Square (zokimag.wordpress.com)
- Cairo clashes die down as soldiers separate police, protesters (cnn.com)
- Protests Sets Back Egypt’s Brotherhood? (abcnews.go.com)