Highlights From Today’s Jimmy Carter Presser

Former US President Jimmy Carter was back in Egypt this week as part of the Carter Center’s witnessing mission of the Egyptian presidential election. This afternoon, he held a press conference to announce the center’s preliminary findings in the same room he announced those for the parliamentary elections back in January, an event I reported on for Global Post. Carter offered a stinging, if diplomatic, rebuke of the conditions observers were forced to operate under. The Carter Center only received formal approval from the Presidential Election Commission, the controversial body overseeing the election, to witness the elections on May 1 and was issued its credentials May 16, one week before the start of voting. Nor were the center’s observers allowed to freely roam; instead they were restricted to pre-selected polling sites for a maximum of 30 minutes at a time. In addition, observers weren’t permitted access to the aggregation of the final national tallies. Carter said that of the 90 elections he’s observed, he’s never been subjected to such constraints. However, he decided to participate anyway given the stakes of the election and his longstanding relationship with Egypt. Still, he concluded that his team had found no evidence of systematic fraud in this week’s elections and expressed confidence that Egypt’s next president, set to be either the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi or former prime minister Ahmed Shafik, would move Egypt closer to fully-functioning democracy, though he declined to comment on any specific candidates.

Some other highlights from the presser:

On the peculiar circumstances of the election…“This is the first time I have participated in an election for president where there was no description of the future president’s duties.”

On allegations of fraud…“There was no pattern reported…that showed the procedure favored a particular candidate….There were many violations…but I think collectively they did not violate the basic integrity of the election.”

On whether he would give advice to the new Egyptian president…“I used to give advice to Anwar Sadat, advice that he didn’t always take. He had a mind of his own.”

On the future of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty…“My opinion is that the treaty will not be modified in any unilateral way.”

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Post-Election Blues in Cairo

Early this afternoon, I walked the several blocks from my apartment to Tahrir Square. Each Friday, for the last few months, thousands have flooded the world’s most famous traffic circle in anticipation of Egypt’s first post-Mubarak presidential election. Today, the square was all but empty, save a few older men huddled under tents, reading the newspaper, and a lone television presenter filming a spot as the occasional car sped by. Some might put this down to election fatigue now that the first round of voting is at long last over. Others would no doubt take a less charitable view: Tahrir is empty, they’d say, because the revolution is dead.

Egypt woke up this morning to the not-entirely-shocking but nonetheless convulsing news that the top two vote-getters in the election appeared to be Mohamed Morsi, the flag-bearer of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Ahmed Shafik, the former commander of the Egyptian Air Force and Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister. Until just a few weeks ago, pundits gave neither much of a chance. Both were late entrants into the race. The Brotherhood originally registered Morsi as its backup candidate to its first choice, the Deputy Supreme Guide of the 84-year-old revivalist Islamic organization, Khairat Al Shater, who was later disqualified from the race due to criminal convictions under Mubarak. Morsi, an uncharismatic Brotherhood insider, was derided as a “spare tire” and polled in the single digits in pre-election surveys.

Shafik not only embodied the derogatory feloul label attached to “remnants” of the former regime, but seemed to relish it. He vowed to save Egypt from the rise of political Islam using whatever means necessary. (The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the ultraconservative Salafists together won some 70 percent of the seats in the parliamentary elections that wrapped up earlier this year.) For months, it has been another feloul candidate, former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, whom most have considered the frontrunner. But while Moussa downplayed his decades working under Mubarak and pledged to midwife a transition to full democracy, Shafik pledged to restore a government reminiscent, if not necessarily identical, to the one he once served. This morning, Shafik’s spokesman made it plain to the New York Times, “The revolution has ended,” he said.

In many ways, Morsi and Shafik’s respective surges arose symbiotically. Morsi, whose momentum in recent weeks owes largely to the Brotherhood’s unrivaled ground game and organizational prowess, tacked sharply rightward on religion, promising a faithful implementation of Sharia law and depicting himself as God’s chosen candidate. Shafik, in turn, seized on fears of an Islamist takeover; it’s no surprise that some of his strongest support came from Egypt’s large Christian minority. Combined with rival feloul Moussa’s extraordinary flameout (he looks to have won only about 10 percent of the vote), shockingly low turnout (around 50 percent), and a split in the liberal-secular vote between the moderate Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and surprise third-place finisher, the Nasserite socialist Hamdeen Sabbahi, the election’s two most polarizing figures now look set to contest the runoff in mid-June.

There could yet be more drama in store. The official count is still taking place, including in the most populous areas of the country, and Sabbahi’s camp claims it will have the edge over Shafik when all is said and done. On Twitter, though, despair is already rampant among liberals and revolutionaries, apoplectic at the prospect of a either a hard-core Islamist or an unapologetic remnant of the old regime assuming the presidency. Lazy headline writers have for months been referring to Egypt’s “unfinished” revolution. If the current results hold, many will find a new adjective more appropriate: “lost.”

Anger lingers among Abbasseya residents after clashes

Cross posted from Egypt Independent.

<p>Abbasiya Square a day after violent clashes between military forces and protesters, Cairo, May 5,2012. Military forces imposed curfew after clasehs which left  one killed, and dozens of injured protesters.</p>

Photographed by Tahseen Bakr

Two days after the military drove protesters from their sit-in in front of the Defense Ministry, Mostafa Hashem surveys the damage from the previous week’s clashes. The front window of his gas station is destroyed, save a single shard of glass clinging to the frame. Scorch marks and gaping holes dot the now-useless pumps.

“They were insisting on making a fire here,” Hashem says, as he recalls bearded men briefly setting the station alight two Saturdays ago. “But we don’t know who is for Hazem Salah and who is not. They don’t wear labels,” he adds, referring to Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, the former Salafi presidential candidate whose supporters launched the sit-in to protest his disqualification from the upcoming election.

Others are less equivocal in their narratives of the street battles that gripped Abbasseya for much of last week. The station manager recounts men with beards taking control of the balconies of local apartments and opening fire. Sherif Tawfiq, 35, who says he was throwing stones at the demonstrators, admits it was difficult to make out what was what in the fog of battle but swears he saw protesters with machine guns.

On Monday morning, Abbasseya is quiet. The traffic on Ramses Street flows easily past the towering Nour Mosque, right outside of which at least 10 armed military vehicles are parked. In the alleys that branch off from the main street, men sit around small tables sipping tea and smoking shisha, as a TV tuned to Al Jazeera flashes images of the coffin of a soldier killed in Friday’s fighting.

In the guest room of a nearby house sits Khaled Mohamed, whose nephew Rafat al-Haty, a first-year student at Moqattam Academy, died in the fighting last Wednesday between protesters and Abbasseya residents that left at least 11 people dead. Haty had stayed inside for the first four days of on-and-off confrontations between protesters and residents, Mohamed says, but left the house early Wednesday morning to help a friend who had been injured. Mohamed pulls out the death certificate to reveal Haty’s cause of death: a bullet to the back of the head, passing directly through the skull, exiting clean out the front.

Stylized renderings of Haty’s boyish face now appear on the side of almost every neighboring house. At least two other young men from the neighborhood died in the clashes, residents say. One, Mostafa Ismail, was also shot early Wednesday morning, according to his lifelong friend Ibrahim Hussein, who was watching the battle from his family’s fifth-floor apartment. Hussein ― also a friend of Haty’s ― noticed a green laser darting back and forth several minutes before seeing Mostafa felled by a gunshot to the head. He doesn’t have any idea where it came from.

Khaled Mohamed, on the other hand, is certain that his nephew was killed by an Islamist. He points to photos in the newspaper showing Mohamed al-Zawahiri, the brother of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawhiri, in Abbasseya last week. Zawahiri was acquitted in March of planning militant attacks after spending most of the last 13 years in prison. He has acknowledged visiting the sit-in but denied going there to stir up trouble. Khaled Mohamed fumes, saying he would rather have an Israeli for a neighbor than a Salafi or a Muslim Brother.

Though calm has returned to Abbasseya for now, its residents describe themselves as a community under siege. They wonder aloud why demonstrators insist on coming to their neighborhood and disrupting their lives. They angrily denounce the media’s depiction of them as thuggish revanchists.

Few, however, make a secret of their politics. Mohamed says he doesn’t trust any of the presidential candidates to deliver security. He would have voted for Mubarak’s former spy chief Omar Suleiman but now wants a president from the military ― namely, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. Sherif Tawfiq exclaims, “Hosni Mubarak is good!” before rattling off all the ways things were better under Mubarak’s regime.

Abbasseya’s residents insist they didn’t initiate last week’s violence and were merely defending their homes. They eagerly make their case. A hulking young man with close-cropped hair named Islam shows off his forearms, each pockmarked by marbles he says demonstrators shot at him using improvised devices.

Khaled Mohamed maintains, “It’s not the truth that people have automatic weapons here.” Rather, he claims, Abu Ismail supporters and members of the April 6 Youth Movement and other revolutionary groups had the guns. As he speaks, a neighbor enters the house with an almost meter-long machete that he says he took off one of the demonstrators.

Ibrahim Hussein isn’t a fan of the protesters.

“They help Hazem Salah, but they destroy the country,” he says. “The protests don’t change anything. … Tahrir is better for them.”

But he concedes that his fellow locals aren’t wholly innocent either. After the revolution, he says, many people in Abbasseya acquired guns. He says that in front of Dar al-Shefa Hospital, where victims were rushed, a local resident killed a wounded protester before he could enter the hospital. It was, Hussein explains, a case of “one for one.”

Mohamed warns of future troubles, relaying rumors of impending marches on Abbasseya. Amid simmering anger and resentments, few see the calm as anything but a lull in the storm.

Egypt can open World Cup qualifying at home

CAIRO (AP)—Egypt has been allowed to open its World Cup qualifying campaign at home next month but it’s still uncertain if fans can attend, a team official said on Thursday.

Samir Adly, the team administrative officer, said the Interior Ministry agreed to the Egyptian Football Association’s request to host Mozambique at Borg El-Arab Stadium in Alexandria on June 1.

Permission was granted on Wednesday, Adly said. However, with little sign of political violence easing in the country, the ministry had not yet decided if supporters would be let in.

“We sent an official letter to the security forces and they said OK we can play the match, but they didn’t say about the supporters,” Adly told The Associated Press. “We are waiting for the last decision for approval.”

Security officials did not indicate their criteria for opening up the game to fans, Adly added.

Egypt hasn’t played an international at home since October, and all domestic football was suspended after 74 people died in a riot at a league game in Port Said on Feb. 1.

Egyptian teams have played in continental club competitions this year but they have been behind closed doors on the orders of the Interior Ministry.

With presidential elections approaching following the revolution that overthrew longtime lead Hosni Mubarak last year, street clashes have continued and at least 11 people were killed this week near the Defense Ministry in Cairo.

Egypt, under American coach Bob Bradley, has played friendlies in Qatar, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates in preparation for a busy June schedule of 2014 World Cup and 2013 African Cup of Nations qualifiers.

Egypt will travel to Guinea a week after the Mozambique match in another World Cup qualifier and then take on Central African Republic home and away in African Cup qualifying.

No decision has been made on the home game against Central African Republic on June 15. The first leg of the tie was put off from February because of the violence in Port Said, where rival fans fought on the pitch in violence linked to politics.

But Zak Abdel Fattah, Egypt’s goalkeeper coach and one of Bradley’s assistants, wants the ministry to relax its no-fan policy.

“We’re hoping that the government changes its mind (and allows) at least five, ten thousand people,” he said. “I’ve been to lots of countries around the world, and I never see fans like Egyptian fans. They cheer with love, they cheer with honor … and for sure we will miss that.”

Egypt, a record seven-time African champion, has suffered in the wake of the turmoil and failed to qualify for this year’s African Cup in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

The under-23 team has won a place at the London Olympics, however.