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2012-05-29

Report from Cairo: Protests Erupt in Egypt as Mubarak’s Ex-PM Secures Spot in Presidential Runoff

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Sharif Abdel Kouddous reports from Egypt, where protests erupted last night after final results were announced in the country’s first-ever competitive presidential election. The top two candidates in the first round of the race are Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahmed Shafik, the last prime minister under Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in a popular uprising 15 months ago. "[Shafik] speaks the language of Mubarak’s regime. And what that means is the retention of broad discretionary powers given to the executive and given to security forces, a very strong role for security agency involvement, whether the intelligence services or Ministry of Interior security agencies, to ensure stability and control over protests, which, as far as he is concerned, are the source of instability," says Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch. Morsi and Shafik will face each other in a runoff vote set to begin June 16. Special thanks to Democracy Now! video producer Hany Massoud. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Protests erupted in Egypt last night after final results were announced in the country’s first-ever competitive presidential election. The top two candidates in the first round of the race are Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahmed Shafik, the last prime minister under Hosni Mubarak who was ousted in a popular uprising 15 months ago. Morsi and Shafik will face each other in a runoff vote set to begin on June 16th.

The race was tight, with the top four candidates all garnering between 20 and 25 percent of the vote. But the so-called revolutionary votes, that were neither for Muslim Brotherhood or former members of the Mubarak regime, were split between third and fourth place. Three of the top candidates in the race filed appeals alleging violations in the vote, but they were all rejected by the presidential elections commission. The decisions by the commission are final and cannot be challenged.

Hours after the official announcement, protests erupted in Cairo and Alexandria. The headquarters of Ahmed Shafik was also stormed and set on fire. Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous is in Cairo covering events on the ground. He filed this report.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The presidential elections commission makes the official announcement. Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahmed Shafik, the last prime minister under Hosni Mubarak, are the two top winners in Egypt’s first-ever competitive presidential election.

Hours after the official decision by the presidential election commission, that announced that Ahmed Shafik and Mohamed Morsi are in the runoff, the streets of Tahrir have once again been filled. People are chanting against Shafik. They’re chanting against the Brotherhood. They’re calling for some kind of change. And they’re here to protest.

Tarek Shalaby is a member of the Revolutionary Socialists.

TAREK SHALABY: In Tahrir, there are hundreds growing into thousands maybe, hopefully. I think it’s just a reaction to the official results that have been announced putting Morsi first and Shafik in second place. And I think it’s just a lot of people expressing discontent, one way or the other. Maybe a lot of people feel that there was fraud. Others have boycotted and just don’t trust the system, and they’re just taking the streets. Others can’t believe that the Egyptians have chosen—if they choose to believe it, have chosen Shafik and Morsi to be the final two. So I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. It’s very difficult to generalize.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Not long afterwards, the campaign headquarters for Ahmed Shafik is stormed and set ablaze.

Outside the campaign headquarters of Ahmed Shafik here in Dokki, there’s a chaotic scene. Firetrucks are here. They put out a fire. People are blaming the Muslim Brotherhood for what happened here. People are blaming revolutionaries. They’re calling for people to respect what they say is the will of the people, respect the ballot box.

In Egypt’s first democratic presidential election, the outcome is a deeply divisive one. More than 23 million Egyptians took part in the landmark poll last week, a turnout of 46 percent. The race was very close with the Brotherhood’s Morsi coming out on top with 25 percent of the vote, followed by Shafik with 24 percent. The unanticipated first round result has been called "the nightmare scenario" by Cairo-based journalist Issandr El Amrani.

ISSANDR EL AMRANI: I do think, for a substantial number of people who were, I’d say, pro-revolution, as it’s defined here, that they had hoped for an outcome that wouldn’t be this binary choice that Hosni Mubarak had warned of so long: if it’s not him, it’s the Muslim Brotherhood.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The so-called revolutionary votes were mostly divided among the candidates who placed third and fourth in the election: Hamdeen Sabahi, a Nasserist whose dark horse candidacy surprised many by capturing 21 percent of the vote, and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a liberal Islamist who garnered 20 percent. Many had expected the Brotherhood to do well by virtue of the group’s vast grassroots network. Abdullah Al-Arian is an assistant professor at Wayne State University.

ABDULLAH AL-ARIAN: On the one hand, the Muslim Brotherhood has demonstrated a strength, a real ability to mobilize its own base. It has an unparalleled organizational structure and hierarchy. It has unparalleled discipline within its ranks, which brought it the 25 percent or so that they demonstrated in this first round.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: What came as more of a shock was the success of Ahmed Shafik in the election. As Mubarak’s last prime minister, he was forced out of office by popular protests just three weeks after Mubarak stepped down. In his race for the presidency, he has campaigned on a law and order platform, vowing to use brutal force to restore order within a month and says he’ll act as a bulwark against Islamists in government. Heba Morayef is a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

HEBA MORAYEF: He speaks the language of Mubarak’s regime. And what that means is the retention of broad discretionary powers given to the executive and given to security forces, a very strong role for security agency involvement, whether the intelligence services or Ministry of Interior security agencies, to ensure stability and control over protests, which, as far as he is concerned, are the source of instability.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: A former air force general, Shafik is seen as the candidate of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces that has been ruling the country since Mubarak’s ouster. And experts say his campaign was boosted by Mubarak’s old party networks.

ISSANDR EL AMRANI: There still remains, I think, patronage networks that perhaps we didn’t see it work in the parliamentary elections, where the old NDP, the former ruling party, networks did not perform well. But they seem to have come back with a vengeance in this election.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: As the preliminary election results began to emerge, allegations of voter fraud and violations quickly surfaced.

ABDULLAH AL-ARIAN: Of course, there are very widespread reports of violations and all kinds of irregularities with the vote. Several of the losing candidates have already called on the elections commission in Egypt to actually not authenticate these results until a thorough investigation has been held. There are numerous reports that hundreds of thousands of government and state employees who were not authorized to vote were given false documents to actually be allowed to vote in favor of Shafik. There are other reports that whole villages were given large sums of money to basically vote in a particular way.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: While the top three candidates filed appeals alleging violations, they were all summarily rejected by the presidential elections commission two days later. The Carter Center was one of three international organizations accredited to witness the vote. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said his group was not able to monitor the entire process because authorities only granted the observers permits one week before the vote, and observers were not allowed to witness the aggregation of ballots.

JIMMY CARTER: This is the 90th election in which we have been involved as observers for almost a quarter of a century. And we have had restraints placed on us as witnesses that have never been present before. There is no way we can certify that the entire process has been proper. But what we’ve observed, I would say, has been encouraging to me.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: At the press conference, Carter also pointed out a unique aspect of Egypt’s presidential election.

JIMMY CARTER: This entire process has been exciting and gratifying, but it’s a first time that I have ever participated in an election for president of a nation when there were no description of future duties of the president who was being elected.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The presidential elections are being held without a constitution in place. The country is being ruled under a constitutional declaration issued by the ruling military generals last year, and it remains unclear what authority the newly elected president will have when the military council hands over power on June 30th.

Further muddying the waters is the fact that Ahmed Shafik almost didn’t make it into the race at all. Last month, the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament passed a law to ban former senior members of the Mubarak regime from running, but the presidential elections commission allowed Shafik to take part.

ISSANDR EL AMRANI: The presidential election commission, that makes all decisions regarding to this race, decided not to apply the law in his case. Now, there could be legal reasons, that the law came after the beginning of the registration period. But it’s still very puzzling when a democratically elected parliament has issued a law and the current executive authority, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, has approved that law, that it should not be implemented, especially when you combine that with the fact that under the current system the decisions of the presidential election commission cannot be appealed.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Both Shafik and Morsi are now looking to pick up supporters from the other front-runners who finished behind them in the first round of the vote. Both candidates face an uphill battle.

Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, is set to go into a runoff against Ahmed Shafik, the former member of the Mubarak regime. The Muslim Brotherhood is now looking to gain support from some of the revolutionary forces and the liberal forces that they distanced themselves from over the past year and a half.

ABDULLAH AL-ARIAN: They had a turnout of support of roughly 47 percent in the parliamentary elections, but now, since then, we’ve seen that support dip almost by half, to only about 24 percent, in the presidential elections. How they’re going to make up that loss of support, I think, is one of the critical questions facing the Muslim Brotherhood. The reason for that drop in support has been the perception, widespread among all of the revolutionary segments, all of the different movements within the revolution, that the Muslim Brotherhood has really just been looking out for its own interests, that at certain times when it suited the movement and the organization and its political wing, that it has cooperated with the SCAF government at the expense of the revolutionaries. And at other moments, when its own personal interests were being threatened, they then joined with the revolution against the government or against the SCAF.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Mohamed El-Sawy is a member of parliament with the Hadara Party. He briefly served as culture minister in Shafik’s cabinet, yet he says he’ll vote for Mohamed Morsi to prevent Shafik from reaching the presidency.

MOHAMED EL-SAWY: I’m really convinced, long ago, has been my life dream to get rid of being a state that is run by military people. I’m not ready to keep on living in a state that is a semi-military state.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Voters now face a choice: the Brotherhood candidate or the member of the old regime? It’s become a polarizing question that has deepened divisions in Egypt. Rasha Azab is a prominent activist and protester. She boycotted the first round of the vote and is boycotting the runoff.

RASHA AZAB: [translated] The revolution should have known from day one that our path is far away from elections. We should know that elections or the ballot box won’t make the revolution. The ballot box, in reality, toppled the revolution in Egypt. The elections are a return to Mubarak’s regime completely, hierarchically, up to the post of the president. The president is being returned in the same old way. Everything is in the hands of the military council. Mubarak was the weakest link in the chain. Mubarak, who is now in hospital, is nothing. The regime is still there and still performing. The only difference is we will change from Mubarak to Shafik or Morsi.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The presidential election was supposed to mark the final step in Egypt’s turbulent transition. But the outcome of the first round has only sparked outrage and brought protesters once again to the streets of Cairo and elsewhere. Just weeks from the so-called handover of power from the military to a newly elected president, the future of Egypt is as uncertain as ever.

For Democracy Now! I’m Sharif Abdel Kouddous with Hany Massoud in Cairo, Egypt.

AMY GOODMAN: In a moment, Sharif interviews President Jimmy Carter, in a minute.

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