Stretching My Gambes

Posts Tagged ‘Egypt

ElBaradei the nucleus

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Published on the newstatesman.com (25/02/2010)

The Muslim Brotherhood has historically provided the main opposition to Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak. But as April’s parliamentary elections approach, their internal struggles and the return to Cairo of a key reformist figure suggest that the colour of Egypt’s opposition is changing.

The return of Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has increased speculation that he will challenge Mubarak in the 2011 presidential elections. Mubarak has yet to announce whether he will run and commentators have suggested he is grooming his son Gamal Mubarak — head of the ruling National Party’s policy committee — to succeed him.

That ElBaradei has not been associated with corruption and comes with a good international reputation makes him a popular contender. Further, as Magdi Abdelhadi, the BBC’s Arab affairs analyst, notes, ElBaradei’s appeal lies in being a civilian. Egypt has been controlled by the military since 1952.

Although he has suggested he would stand if the election could be guaranteed to be fair, or if he could run as an independent, amendments to the Egyptian constitution in 2005 make ElBaradei’s challenge ineligible.

Candidates must be members of political parties that have been in existence for at least five years. Alternatively, they must be independents, endorsed by parliament and the local councils. As both forums are dominated by Mubarak’s ruling party, an endorsement for ElBaradei seems somewhat unlikely.

Yet while it may be difficult for the ex-IAEA chief himself to stand, and even though he has been somewhat noncommittal about his plans, he has offered encouraging signals to Egypt’s reform movement. This week he met with various opposition groups to form the National Front for Change and has opened membership to anyone demanding an alternative to the National Party.

Reports indicate that the meeting, which took place at ElBaradei’s house, was attended by a mix of prominent Egyptian activists, intellectuals and politicians: leaders of the Democratic Front, the liberal Constitutional Party, the Ghad party, a faction of the Wafd party, as well as representatives of the Kefaya movement and the Sixth of April Youth. Although the Muslim Brotherhood are rumoured to have attended the meeting, which took place on Tuesday, their dominance in Egypt’s opposition would appear to be waning as the focus shifts to the new man.

This is certainly not helped by divisions within the Brotherhood. The party leadership elections in late 2009 demonstrated the split between the party’s older conservative elements, who invest their energy in religious and social programmes, and the largely reform-minded younger members. While the conservatives won, the reformists continue to advocate engagement with other democratic, secular opposition movements. The reform faction is preparing candidates for the April elections.

It would be foolish to expect one man to lead the charge against Mubarak and the presumed succession by Gamal. However, ElBaradei has galvanised the opposition and given it fresh momentum in the lead-up to the elections. It will be interesting to see if the presence of this new focal point for the opposition helps it shed its familiar Islamist guise.

Written by Henry Smith

17/03/2010 at 23:54

Obama’s language

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Obama’s speech at al-Azhar University in Cairo illustrated his well-documented ability as a masterful orator, reminiscent of his earlier speech on race during the US elections. However, how excited can we get about words?

Whilst there are many important and interesting aspects of Obama’s speech, incorporating policy and philosophy, I will leave these aside here. I found Mark Lynch’s blog a particularly worthwhile read. I am in agreement with Lynch that ‘this speech is an essential starting point in a genuine conversation, a respectful dialogue on core issues.’

However, there were no tangible commitments in terms of policy or timeframes in the speech. A continued military presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan may have been the only exception. Obama maintained his stance on illegal Israeli settlements, but did not illuminate as to how this issue was to be dealt with; further the American–Israeli bond was highlighted. However, whilst not wishing to develop this point too much here – the very fact that he called the Palestinian situation an ‘occupation’ is unprecedented for a US politician. Further, he emphasised that the security of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians are intimately tied up with each other.

Whilst it is easy, albeit correct, to claim that rhetoric needs to be supplemented with action…

Khaled Meshal (HAMAS leader) made this point when speaking to Time: ‘[undoubtedly] Obama speaks a new language. We are looking for more than just mere words… We are keen to contribute to this. But we [believe that this cannot happen] merely with words.’

…one should not ignore the importance of words.

The way Obama has framed the debate, and the nature of the discourse he is attempting to establish, changes the nature and terms of cultural, political and social engagement. Rather than the bellicose and fear-inducing language of Bush and his ‘Global War on Terror’, there is an inclusive and respectful dialogue emerging that rightfully locates violence on the fringe of Islamist politics, and recognises the important contemporary and historical contributions of Muslims and Islamic history, rather than buying into the notion that buying into the neo-con/religious right myths about the barbarity and violence of Islam.

However, I believe that this shift has been apparent before Obama’s inauguration. Almost five months down the line, there has been little tangible change to accompany the rhetorical break with the Bush administration. Thus, whilst it is hard to get too over-excited by words, especially when one observes the recent history of Western Asia, I do feel that this speech is clearly part of a discursive shift in the White House; and whilst we shouldn’t sniff our noses at it too quickly, let us hope that Obama’s actions do not go one to give us good reason to.

Written by Henry Smith

05/06/2009 at 11:56