7.10.2007

News Concerning Middle East Reform

This is the news section of the latest issue of Arab Reform Bulletin (June 2007) Published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

Headlines:

  • Egypt: Shura Council Elections and Other Political Developments
  • Jordan: IAF Members Arrested Ahead of Municipal Elections
  • Algeria: Election Results
  • Morocco: Crackdown on Activists
  • Kuwait: Ministers Questioned about Corruption
  • Saudi Arabia: Morality Police under Pressure
  • Qatar: Second Doha Conference on Democracy and Reform
  • Bahrain: Activists Arrested
  • Yemen: Press Censorship
  • Press Freedom: Journalists Criticize Limited Access
  • Upcoming Political Events

Contents:


Egypt: Shura Council Elections and Other Political Developments

In June 11 elections for Egypt's upper house of parliament, 587 candidates competed for eighty-eight seats in twenty-four provinces. According to preliminary results, the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) won the majority of the seats, the leftistTagammu party won one seat in Alexandria, and the Muslim Brotherhood did not win any seats. The NDP won forty-five seats in seventeen provinces; twelve seats were uncontested and went to candidates from the NDP. NDP candidates wil participate in runoff elections on June 18 in nine provinces. Only one seat went to a female candidate. Clashes between ruling party supporters and independents outside polling stations resulted in the death of an opposition supporter in the northern Nile Delta region. Domestic election observers stated that polling station officials only permitted NDP supporters inside the polling station in many provinces, prevented opposition supporters from casting ballots, and prohibited observers from entering some polling stations. Click here for a preliminary report in Arabic by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.

The National Democratic Party (NDP) fielded 109 candidates, twenty-one more than the eighty-eight seats up for grabs. Competing in Shura elections for the first time, the Muslim Brotherhood presented nineteen candidates. Most other opposition groups did not participate. Eleven of the eighty-eight seats were uncontested and went to candidates from the NDP. Only 176 members of the Shura Council are directly elected for six-year terms, while the president appoints the remaining eighty-eight. Elections and appointments are executed on a rotating basis, with one half of the council renewed every three years.

Egyptian police detained more than 200 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including as many as 100 on election day, in the last month as part of a crackdown against the opposition group in the lead up to Shura Council elections. The detainees, who include six candidates for the elections, are accused of membership in a banned group, campaigning before the official start of the campaign period, and using religious slogans. The Brotherhood campaigned under its traditional “Islam is the Solution” slogan despite a recent constitutional amendment banning any political activity on a religious basis. Shura Council Speaker Safwat al-Sharif asked the recently-formed Electoral Commission on June 5 to remove the names of seventeen candidates from the ballot because of their affiliation with the Brotherhood, but the commission declined.

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 1,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were detained between March 2006 and March 2007, and over 800 are currently imprisoned. Blogger Abdel Monem Mahmoud was released on June 2 after a forty-five day detention on charges of belonging to the Brotherhood and defaming the government. The Egyptian government on June 3 refused to allow human rights groups to observe the military trial of thirty-three members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The court adjourned until July 15. Click here for details.

The Shura Council's Political Parties Committee granted on May 24 a license to the Democratic Front, a liberal party formed by appointed Shura Council member Osama al-Ghazali Harb, a former member of the ruling National Democratic Party, and former cabinet minister Yehia al-Gamal.

A Cairo court rejected on May 31 a bid by Ayman Nour, the former head of the opposition al-Ghad party, to be released from prison on medical grounds. Nour was convicted in December 2005 of forgery and sentenced to a five-year term.

Egypt was elected to the UN Human Rights Council, the UN's highest human rights body, on May 17. A briefing paper (English text, Arabic text) by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and Human Rights Watch argues that Egypt's “terrible human rights record made that country a poor choice for membership” but “welcomed the Egyptian government's public pledge to improve its practices domestically and to strengthen the capacity of the council.”


Jordan: IAF Members Arrested Ahead of Municipal Elections

Jordanian security forces arrested nine members of the Islamic Action Front (IAF) between May 21 and June 5 for engaging in acts “threatening national security.” Seven remain in custody. According to the head of the IAF, Zaki Bani Irsheid, the activists were arrested for promoting the party's candidates ahead of the July 31 municipal elections. The IAF announced in April it would participate in municipal elections despite its opposition to some elements in the new municipalities law. The party announced on June 4 it will participate in legislative elections expected to take place in November.

For the first time in Jordan's history, a woman judge, Ihsan Barakat, was appointed as head of an appeals court on May 28. Jordan has had women judges since 1996.


Algeria: Election Results

Algeria's ruling alliance—the National Liberation Front (FLN), the National Democratic Rally (RND), and the Movement of Society for Peace (HMS)—maintained control of the new parliament after winning 249 out of 389 seats in the May 17 legislative elections. Independent candidates obtained thirty-three seats, the Workers' Party won twenty-six seats, and the Rally for Culture and Democracy nineteen seats. In total, twenty-two political parties constitute the national assembly. Click here for detailed results. Sa'id Bouchair, the head of the Independent National Political Commission of Election Surveillance, initially reported that ballot boxes in the Algiers District and the southern city of al-Oued were being stuffed with FLN ballots, and that observers were being prevented from attending. He later retracted his statement and apologized. Approximately 15 percent of the 6.6 million ballots were void. The Constitutional Council rejected appeals regarding the election on May 30.

Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni announced on May 30 that the electoral law will be amended and that municipal elections will be held in three months.


Morocco: Crackdown on Activists

Moroccan authorities cracked down on Western Sahara independence activists after a group of students held a sit-in on May 7 at a university in Agadir to demand better healthcare and housing and voice their support for the Western Sahara independence movement Polisario ahead of U.N.-backed talks on the territory's future. Twenty-five students remain in prison. Moroccan police arrested three leading human rights campaigners in Western Sahara on May 20: Brahim Elansari and Hassana Douihi, members of the Saharawi Association for Human Rights Victims (ASVDH), and Naama Asfari, president of the Paris-based Committee for the Respect of Human Freedoms and Rights in Western Sahara. A court also extended prison terms on May 22 for Brahim Sabbar and Ahmed Sbai, leading members of the ASVDH.


Kuwait: Ministers Questioned about Corruption

Kuwait's oil minister, Sheik Ali al-Jarrah al-Sabah, a member of the ruling family, will be questioned in parliament on June 25 for telling a newspaper he had sought advice from a previous oil minister implicated in a corruption case. Al-Jarrah apologized for his statements on May 30, but parliament's Popular bloc (populist) and National bloc (liberals) insisted on questioning him. Previous motions to question ministers in parliament have led either to cabinet resignations or to dissolution of the legislature. A number of Salafi MPs are also pushing for interpellation of Minister of Religious Endowments Abdullah al-Matouq regarding financial transgressions.

In another development, Islamic Constitutional Movement (ICM) Secretary General Badr al-Nashi announced the establishment of a new ICM office for women, which will support legislation to protect the civil and social rights of women and children.


Saudi Arabia: Morality Police under Pressure

Saudi Arabia's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice announced on June 10 the creation of a “department of rules and regulations” to ensure the activities of commission members comply with the law, after coming under heavy pressure for the death of two people in its custody in less than two weeks. Eighteen commission members (mutawa‘in) were detained and questioned June 3. The governmental National Society for Human Rights criticized the behavior of the religious police in May in its first report (Arabic text) since its establishment in March 2004. In May 2006, the interior ministry issued a decree stating that “the role of the commission will end after it arrests the culprit or culprits and hands them over to police, who will then decide whether to refer them to the public prosecutor.” Mutawa‘in had until recently enjoyed unchallenged powers to arrest, detain, and interrogate those suspected of moral infractions.


Qatar: Second Doha Conference on Democracy and Reform

Qatar hosted the latest gathering of democracy advocates in the Middle East. More than 300 civil society activists, professors, journalists, and political party members from across the region met May 27-29 in Doha for the second conference of its kind sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Human Rights Committee (the first took place in June 2004). The forum called on Arab nations to eliminate restrictions on freedom of speech and press, and urged Arab governments to deepen foundations of democracy and expand public participation in the political field. It also established the Doha-based Arab Foundation for Democracy to monitor Arab governments' progress on reform and to track the fate of other reform initiatives. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, announced he will contribute $10 million to the foundation. Click here for details.


Bahrain: Activists Arrested

Fifteen Bahraini Shi'i activists were arrested between May 16 and 20 following demonstrations against the police. Thirteen remain in custody, according to the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. Ali Said al-Khabaz and Hassan Yusif Hamid were released on June 7 after Human Rights Watch (HRW) asked Bahrain's government to investigate allegations of police torture in connection with their detention. Click here for details.


Yemen: Press Censorship

News websites in Yemen are being censored in the wake of clashes in the northern province of Saada between government forces and Shi'i rebels, according to the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate. The Ministry of Telecommunications blocked two news websites for “covering the war in Saada in a way that runs counter to official media reporting.” The annual report of the Yemeni Centre for Training and Protecting Journalists' Freedoms reported on 500 violations against journalists in the country over the past four years. Click here for details.


Press Freedom: Journalists Criticize Limited Access

The New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) criticized the Iraqi Interior Ministry's May 13 decision to limit journalists' access to scenes of bomb attacks. According to a CPJ letter to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, “journalists in Iraq believe the ban is intended to limit their coverage to information that is filtered through the Interior Ministry, obstructing their ability to report independently.”

The CPJ also expressed concern that journalists have been prevented since May 21 from entering a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon during clashes between Islamist militants and the Lebanese Army. Attacks against journalists were also reported. Click here for details.


Upcoming Political Events
  • Egypt: Shura Council Election runoffs, June 18, 2007.
  • Jordan: Municipal Elections, July 31, 2007; Legislative Elections, November 2007.
  • Syria: Municipal Elections, August 2007.
  • Morocco: Legislative Elections, September 7, 2007.
  • Lebanon: Presidential Election, September 25, 2007.
  • Algeria: Municipal Elections, October 2007.
  • Oman: Shura Council Elections, October 2007.
  • Qatar: Legislative Elections, 2007 (date to be determined).


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