Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wrapup: Egypt's Constitutional Referendum

Today Egyptians voted ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on proposed amendments to the Egyptian constitution. It is the first vote held since the resignation of Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, in February, after nearly thirty years of rule.

The amendments were drafted by a committee appointed by Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) last month. Among other things, the amendments ease the requirements for presidential candidacy, require judicial supervision of elections, and require that Emergency Law be approved by the people if it is to be in effect longer than 6 months.

Polls opened at 8am across Egypt, and within hours turnout was unprecedented. By 9am, over 1,000 people were qued outside a polling station in Cairo’s Zamalek neighborhood, and there were similar scenes at many other polling stations. Some voters reported waiting in line for as long as five hours to cast their ballots.

One report said so many people had come to vote at the Faculty of Engineering polling station in Cairo that new ballot boxes had to be brought in because the first ones were filled. So many voters turned out in Upper Egypt that the Egyptian military flew more judges in to observe.

Despite the wait, millions of Egyptians were willing to stand in line for the chance to cast a ballot in what many feel will be the first vote where their ballot will actually be counted, and where the outcome is not a foregone conclusion. Egyptians young and old took pictures of their inked fingers to share with friends or post on their Facebook profiles.

While the vast majority of Egyptians were willing to wait in long lines to cast their ballots, Cairo’s governor, Abdel Azim Wazeer, was kicked out of a polling station by voters for not waiting his turn. In contrast, Twitter was buzzing this morning over Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s refusal to cut in line. Instead, the Prime Minister waited in line with the people for his turn to cast his ballot.

As voting drew to a close, reports of irregularities and violations throughout the day continued to surface.

The most common irregularities in Cairo regarded the indelible ink and official stamps on ballots. Voters are required to dip their fingers in a bottle of ink which is supposed to stain their fingers for an extended period of time. It was particularly important today, as voters were allowed to vote with their national ID cards at the nearest polling station rather than with voting cards at a specific station.

While some Egyptians reported the ink was indeed permanent, others confirmed it washed off easily or wore off throughout the course of normal activity.

The second main complaint was that some ballots were missing the required official stamp, and voters worried those ballots would not be counted. However, a statement by the Supreme Judicial Committee in charge of supervising the referendum guaranteed the validity of the unstamped ballots so long as the signature of the supervising judge was present.

El-Sayyid el-Badawi, president of the liberal Al-Wafd Party, said the religious trends in Egypt abused the vote of the poor by telling them if they did not vote ‘yes,’ Article 2 of the Egyptian constitution will be canceled. Article 2 defines Egypt as an Islamic state and cites Islamic Sharia law as a source of legislation.

The Egyptian coalition for election supervision said the Muslim Brotherhood, generally considered Egypt’s largest and best organized opposition group, has used the slogan ‘Yes with Allah’ to convince its followers to vote yes.

In the city of Suez, mosques were used earlier in the day by Salafists to tell people they must vote ‘yes’ if they want to protect Sharia law. Also in Suez sources said there were many basic violations inside polling stations, including excessive presence of army personnel inside the polling stations and no curtains or voter privacy.

The campaigning has happened despite a statement from SCAF saying that any such campaigning was forbidden.

The Brotherhood is the only significant force outside the former ruling regime that called for a ‘yes’ vote in today’s referendum.

Despite its support of the amendments, however, the Brotherhood’s General Guide, Muhammad Badie, said the brotherhood will accept the outcome of the referendum whatever it is because it is the will of the Egyptian people and they are the real source of power.

Youm7 has learned that some polling stations have witnessed separate queues for Muslims and Christians, something not seen before in Egyptian polls. Separate queues - or even polling stations - for men and women are common.

According to reports, Human Rights lawyer Rajia Omran was arrested while monitoring polls in Bab el-Khalk after being asked to leave despite having a permit to monitor. Further details have not been made available.

Prominent Egyptian opposition figure and former head of the UN’s IAEA Mohamed ElBaradei was attacked by a mob throwing stones this afternoon as he went to vote in the Cairo neighborhood of Moqattam. According to reports, ElBaradei was met with chants of “we don’t want you” by people opposed to his presidential candidacy.

ElBaradei stated on his Twitter account that he went to vote with his family and was attacked by organized thugs who smashed his car with rocks. He said holding a referendum in the absence of law and order is an irresponsible act.

It is the first major report of violence from Cairo. There was also a report of a clash between two groups of voters in Daqahlia. The Egyptian Health Ministry said it has not received any reports of injuries related to today’s vote.

The lack of violence is significant: during November’s parliamentary elections, violence was widespread and three people died in Cairo alone.

Social media was once again an important tool for activists during today’s referendum. Egyptians discussed their experiences, shared which polling places were relatively empty and which had hours-long lines, and reported possible voting irregularities.

Despite the reports of violations, today’s vote saw far fewer irregularities and violations than are typical of Egyptian polls, in addition to seeing unprecedented voter turnout across Egypt. Many Egyptians are hopeful that the vote will be legitimate.

There were reports earlier in the day that polling stations would remain open past the originally scheduled closing time of 7pm due to high voter turnout, but it appears that polling stations were closed on time.

The past week saw intense debate over the amendments, but the vast majority of Egyptians will likely accept the results of the referendum, whatever they may be. Today, Egyptians had their first taste of democracy.

As one young Egyptian said on the social networking site Twitter, "Today Egyptians have demonstrated that they are ready for democracy, but the system is the one lagging far behind."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Full text of Egypt's constitutional amendments

The following is the full text in English of the proposed constitutional amendments which Egyptians will vote 'yes' or 'no' on in Saturday's referendum. Translation by the Egyptian governmentof the statement by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued Saturday 26/2/2011:

Article 75: The elected president must be Egyptian and has Egyptian parents and enjoys civil and political rights. Any of his parents should not have obtained the nationality of any other country. He should not be married to a non-Egyptian and his age must not be less than 40 years.

Article 76: The president is elected through direct public secret ballot. The nomination for presidency must be supported by at least 30 elected members of the People's Assembly or Shura Council, or at least 30,000 eligible voters in at least 15 governorates so that the number of supporters in any of these governorates should not be less than one thousand.

In all cases, support should not be for more than one candidate.

Any political party whose members obtained at least one seat by voting in the People's Assembly or Shura Council can nominate one of its members for presidency.

A judicial commission, called the Presidential Elections Commission, is to supervise the presidential elections starting from the announcement of candidacy until the results of voting.

The committee is to be chaired by the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court and comprises the head of the Cairo Court of Appeal, the eldest Supreme Constitutional Court deputy, the eldest head of the Court of Cassation deputy and the eldest deputy of the State Council.

The commission's decisions are to be final and binding and non-liable to any appeals. They must not be halted or cancelled. The law is to define the other powers of the commission.

The Presidential Elections Commission is to form committees that supervise the balloting and counting as stated in Article No. 88.

The presidential elections organization bill is to be referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court to decide whether it complies with the Constitution.

The Supreme Constitutional Court is to announce its decision within 15 days of the date of reference. If the court decides that one or more articles are unconstitutional, its decision shall be binding. In all cases, the court's decision is to be binding. The decision is to be published in the official gazette three days after its issuance.

Article 77: It states that the presidential term is four years. The president can be only re-elected for one more term.

Article 88: The law specifies preconditions for eligible People's Assembly members and sets the rulings of elections and referendum.

Article 93: The Supreme Constitutional Court is in charge of deciding the validity of membership of the People's Assembly MPs.

Challenges are lodged with the court within a period that does not exceed 30 days since the announcement of election results. The court passes a ruling on the challenges within 90 days as of the time of receiving the challenges.

The membership of any MP is considered null as of the date of notifying the PA with the court ruling.

Article 139: The president of the republic must appoint, within 60 days at most since his assumption of power, one or more vice president and set his powers. If the need arises to relieve the VP from his post, he must appoint another.

Preconditions and accountability rules applicable to the president of the republic are the same for vice presidents.

Article 148: The president of the republic declares a state of emergency according to the law. The declaration must be referred to the People's Assembly within seven days since its announcement to issue a resolution on this score.

If the announcement was made while the parliament is in recess, it is required that the parliament convenes immediately to look into the announcement while observing the period mentioned in the previous article.

If the parliament is dissolved, the issue is referred to the new parliament at its first session. The issue must pass with the majority approval.

In all cases, the declaration of a state of emergency must not be for more than six months that must not be extended except after the approval of the people in a public referendum.

Article 179: Cancelled

Article 189 last para added:

The president of the republic has the powers, after the approval of the Cabinet, and also half of the People's Assembly and Shura Council have the powers to ask for issuing a new constitution. A Constituent Assembly of 100 members, to be mostly elected by the two houses of parliament at a joint meeting, undertakes outlining the new constitution at a period of time not more than six months since its formation. The blueprint is referred by the president of the republic within 15 days of its drawing to the people for referendum. The new constitution is applicable as of the date of approval by the people in the referendum.

Article 189 bis

Non-appointed members of the first People's Assembly and Shura Council convene to announce the results of the referendum on constitutional amendments for choosing the constituent assembly in charge of outlining the new constitution within six months of their election. This all comes in line with the last para of article 189.

Article 189 bis (I)

The first Shura Council exercises its powers after announcing the results of the referendum on constitutional amendments.

The president of the republic takes over, immediately after his election, completing the formation of the Council with appointing one third of its members. The appointment should be for completing the term of the Council according to the law.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Egyptian recounts being tortured by the army

23-year-old Rami Essam was tortured by the Egyptian army on March 9. The following is his testimony, originally posted on a Facebook note and later translated by Alive in Egypt. Rami is known for writing The Tahrir Song, which can be seen here.

My name is Rami Issam, 23 years old
I was in Tahrir Square with the rest of the protestors and demonstrators on Wednesday. March 9 At approximately 5 pm and a half we were surprised when the army along with a large group of armed civilians attacked the sit-in with bricks and stones. Alongside each other, they started breaking the tents, cutting the signs/banners, attacking all who are inside the circle with sticks and then started to arrest demonstrators. I was dragged by a group of soldiers beside the museum and was handed to Officers who then tied my hands and my feet.
They began to kick my body and face, and hit my back and feet with sticks, whips, pips, wires, and hoses.
Afterwards, they got an Electric detonator, the same kind that was used in the demonstrations and started electrifying different places in my body – with one device at first, then with more than one device at the same time. The military officers would leave me, throw stuff at my back, step on me, and throw shoes at my face. They cut my hair (It was long), and finally they put my face in the dirt and then filled my body with dust.

Rami recounts his testimony in the following video. Parts of the video are GRAPHIC, viewer discretion is advised.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Photo of the Week: Coptic boy at Cairo demonstration

A Coptic boy has an Egyptian flag, a cross, and a crescent painted on his face during a demonstration of Coptic Christians in Cairo on March 9, 2011.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Egyptians uncover secret documents

The following are images of documents uncovered on Saturday, March 5, 2011 when citizens stormed the Amn Dawla (State Security) headquarters in Cairo. The fall of Amn Dawla could prove to be more significant of impending change in Egypt than the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

This is only a small sample - there are thousands.

Document revealing the verdict of Ayman Nour's 2005 trial, four days before it was announced. By @kareem_elshaer.

Document revealing State Security plan to get rid of documents.
By @AEIMassry.

Citizens sort through documents inside Amn Dawla in Nasr City.
By @PakinamAmer.

Document from the 'Copts' file in Amn Dawla.
By @PakinamAmer.

Piles of documents being guarded by the military.
By @WaelAbbas.

Document revealing 29,000 tons of imported wheat were known to have radiation.
By @Crinckle0.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Who, exactly, is currently running Egypt?

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was charged with the administration of Egypt when former president Hosni Mubarak stepped down on February 11, 2011. So for right now, they're the ones running the country. But who are they, exactly? This great chart, put together by The Arabist, explains:

To view the full-size image, go here: