The Middle East Channel

Third day of clashes in Egypt bring elections into question

Third day of clashes in Egypt bring elections into question

What started as peaceful protests in Egypt's Tahrir Square on Friday have escalated to clashes with security forces spreading to at least seven other cities over the past three days. The protesters are calling for the end of military rule by Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who have been in power since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. They are criticized for seeking "supra-constitutional" powers in the drafting of a new constitution and for their proposed timetable keeping them in power until 2013. In battles between the army attempting to clear the square of protesters and rock-throwing demonstrators, an estimated 24 people have been killed and over 1,700 wounded, some of whom were injured by live ammunition. Meanwhile, though the SCAF has said parlimentary elections would proceed as scheduled, some key political parties have stopped campaigning, including the Muslim Brotherhood. A State Information Service news conference scheduled for Monday to inform the public on final arrangements for election day has been postponed and has not been rescheduled. 

Headlines  

  • After the Arab League rejected Syrian amendments to their peace plan, the ruling Ba'ath party's headquarters was attacked, however the Free Syria Army denies responsibility.  
  • Syrian soldiers reportedly attacked a bus of Turkish pilgrims, increasing tensions and causing a condemnation by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
  • Jordan's King Abdullah showed support for the Palestinian Authority and statehood in his first visit to the West Bank in over a decade.
  • Qaddafi's spy chief Abdullah al-Sanussi was captured a day after the seizure of Qaddafi's son Saif al-Islam, both of whom are wanted for alleged war crimes in Libya.
  • U.S. officials acknowledged the suspension of some of its activities in Lebanon, including spying on Hezbollah, after being compromised by the arrest of several informants in the past year.

Daily Snapshot

An Egyptian protester cover his face from tear gas during clashes with riot police at Cairo's landmark Tahrir Square on November 20, 2011. Several hundred Egyptians occupied Cairo's Tahrir Square with sporadic clashes between protesters and the police following a night of deadly violence, an AFP correspondent said (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images). 

Arguments & Analysis

'The hatred, and hope, for Arab Christians in Egypt' (Anthony Shadid, New York Times)

"Rare is the Arab politician today who would specifically endorse secularism; the word itself in Arabic is virtually a synonym for atheism. In an otherwise triumphant tour of North Africa, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey unleashed invective from all stripes of Islamists when he endorsed a rather tame take on secularism, namely that the state would treat all religions equally. Across the region, the climate seems to have grown more inhospitable, more dangerous. In places like Egypt and Syria, authorities have cynically fanned fears and biases to fortify their power. In the military's bloody response to a Christian protest in Cairo in October, Egyptian television referred to Copts as though they were foreign agitators bent on subversion, calling on "honorable citizens" to defend the army. Religious stalwarts often speak rightly of Islam's long tolerance of minorities. But these days, the talk feels condescending; minorities are asking for equality, not benevolent protection."

'Jordan starts to shake' (Nicholas Pelham, New York Review of Books)

"In its increasing subservience to reactionary Gulf emirates, the kingdom could increasingly come to resemble one. As elsewhere in the Gulf, a minority of Arab Bedouin clans would rule the roost, while the nonindigenous majority would find themselves relegated to second-class citizens or guest workers. Hopes of political and economic reform will be put on ice, and Gulf largesse will relieve pressure to hold to account those parts of the state budget that are currently outside parliamentary review, like military expenditure. Already the Central Bank looks increasingly powerless to investigate allegations of high-level corruption. When the Central Bank's governor tried last month to do just that, he was sacked and his office surrounded by the Mukhabarat to prevent him entering it. "When the state is working against those who are working against corruption, and sending thugs to attack them, where are we going?" says Leila Sharaf, the governor's mother and long-standing legislator, who tendered her resignation in protest." 

'Defining a culture in Doha's desert' (Hugh Eakin, New York Review of Books)

"To give shape to a more fully-fledged idea of national culture, Qatar's new museums will have to embark on the kind of research that gets beyond beautiful buildings and objects to connect with people and how they view themselves. For the moment, there is a risk that places like the Museum of Islamic Art-which still lacks a true curatorial department-will do far more to dazzle visitors than to bring new light on the country's traditions. But as Qatar increasingly seeks to address a world audience-whether through Al Jazeera, or sporting events, or high culture-maybe it doesn't ultimately matter...Qatar's leaders seem to have discovered that the cultural institutions of their cash-rich country can serve as a congenial series of screens, on which to project whatever images they find most suggestive of the nation they want to create." 

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