- Middle East/North Africa
Front-page headlines reflecting fears and confusions about the electoral process have become a common in recent papers, just two weeks ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled to start on 28 November.
“Chaos threatens a civil war before the elections” is the headline used by privately owned Youm7. Its main story points out the exclusion of formerly ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) members from the elections, after a court ruling in Daqahliya nullified the candidacy of toppled regime figures. The daily says that the High Elections Committee and the cabinet's legislative committee are studying the implications of the ruling and how to implement it. But strong opposition stands in the face of such moves, according to Youm7. “They will see what will happen to them,” commented Ahmad Mehanna Amin, a member of the Egyptian Citizen Party – set up by former NDP members – in Alexandria, responding to the government's investigation of the possibility of political exclusion. “That will only happen in la-la land,” he added.
Al-Wafd party paper runs a huge headline about the possibility of elections being delayed by the High Elections Committee in the wake of the court ruling. Privately owned Al-Dostour reports on the violence and chaos that erupted in the Mansoura courtroom where the ruling was announced, as supporters of an excluded candidate broke furniture and windows in response.
Violence transcends the electoral process in today’s papers, warning of the difficulty of holding the elections in such a potentially tense atmosphere. Youm7 shows scenes of violence from the country’s four quarters on its front page. One headline concerns the death of a man as the military clashed with the people of Damietta, who were protesting against a polluting petrochemical factory. A second, psychedelic headline indicates scattered violence across the country, citing three scenes in Aswan, Kafr al-Sheikh and Sohag. In Aswan, the paper reports Nubians storming a hospital after news spread of a Nubian man being killed by a policeman. In Sohag, in-fighting between two tribes, which has killed three people and injured 25, ended with the arrest of 19 suspects. More in-fighting between the people of Balteem and Abu Talat in Kafr al-Sheikh, which killed three people from Balteem and closed an international highway, ended with special military forces re-opening the road.
These scattered incidents of violence are dubbed “the map of violence” by the privately owned daily Al-Tahrir, which adds the kidnapping of a leading fisherman in the coastal city of Port Said and the closure of a vital road by his community as a protest.
Violence aside, political tensions have also been spotted by today’s papers as many parties and political groups expressed their rejection of a supra-constitutional charter that gives additional powers and protection to the military. Privately owned daily Al-Shorouk writes about conflicts between political parties about the best stance to adopt with regards the charter, which was presented to them by Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmy. According to the paper's coverage, Islamic political forces such as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party are in staunch opposition to the document. Meanwhile, secular forces such as Tagammu and the Social Democratic Party are in tacit agreement with it, provided some of its clauses are redrafted in a way that preserves the state from full Islamist control and protects its secular status. State-owned Al-Ahram mentions an ultimatum the Freedom and Justice Party and others gave the government to hold the charter back. The stand-off, Al-Ahram reports, surrounds the charter's binding nature. If it is a non-binding guiding document, then these forces pledge not to reject it. Al-Ahram also adds that these parties, including the Brotherhood, recognize the “special position” of the armed forces and that this position has to be safeguarded in the upcoming constitution, including the privacy surrounding the discussion of military budgets.
In the bottom bar of its front page, Al-Shorouk runs a short piece on why Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and his men are in a state of depression. “The [supra-constitutional] charter shot dead, the security void, bombed gas pipelines and daily nuisances are behind the prime minister’s insomnia.” In the story, Sharaf is quoted as saying that in-fighting and violence within governorates has "intensified much more than in the first months following the 25 January revolution.” Sources close to the prime minister tell Al-Shorouk that Sharaf is in a constant process of changing his agenda, especially after political forces rejected the supra-constitutional charter.
In the wake of this chaos, political scientist Mostapha Kamel al-Sayed writes a column for Al-Shorouk delineating what he calls “a nostalgia for the state.” Sayed doesn’t rant about a revolution eventually causing a state failure as manifested in the fighting everywhere beyond the frontiers of Cairo. He points to a failing state way before the revolution erupted, as popular protests and tribal in-fighting broke out in the presence of a heavy police apparatus. The state he longs for is the one associated with different periods of enlightenment in Egypt’s modern history, such as Mohamed Ali’s rule, or Gamal Abdel Nasser’s. A heavily armed police force is not necessarily a face of this state – a fair and just state where the rule of law is implemented on both rulers and citizens alike would do.
Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt
Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size
Al-Gomhurriya: Daily, state-run
Rose al-Youssef: Daily, state-run
Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned
Al-Shorouk: Daily, privately owned
Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party
Youm7: Daily, privately owned
Al-Tahrir: Daily, privately owned
Freedom and Justice: Daily, published by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party
Sawt al-Umma: Weekly, privately owned
Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Nasserist Party