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Egyptian president strong-arms voters

International | Abdel Fattah al-Sisi uses coercion and threats, just like his predecessor
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 4/03/18, 03:11 pm

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday won his second four-year term in an election in which he faced no serious opponents. His victory follows an electoral process marred by reports of coerced voting, media censorship, and growing frustration with his governance.

Official results revealed al-Sisi emerged the winner with more than 97 percent of the vote after a 41 percent voter turnout, matching his total in the 2014 elections when he became Egypt’s first elected president following the Arab Spring protests.

Al-Sisi thanked the voters in a televised address and vowed to work for all Egyptians. “Egypt is large enough for all Egyptians so long as our differences of opinion do not adversely affect the nation,” he said.

Mousa Mostafa Mousa, the only other candidate and a one-time al-Sisi supporter, garnered less than 3 percent of the votes. Ahead of the three-day vote that began March 26, the Egyptian government arrested al-Sisi’s main opponent, and at least four others pulled out of the electoral race.

In an bid to legitimize the election, the government worked to increase voter turnout. A March 20 memo from a large Islamic school in Qalyoubiyah instructed leaders to escort staff members to polling stations and monitor the voters “until their return when they verify that everyone has a finger stained with phosphorus ink.” District heads also promised increased services to the regions with the highest number of voters. Fatima Abdel-Latif said a charity run by a pro-government lawmaker promised $5.70 to her and other residents of el-Aqwaz village who showed their ink-stained fingers.

The Egyptian Supreme Council for Media Regulation on Sunday fined the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper $8,537 after it published a front-page article that said the state rallied voters for the election. The council called for an investigation into the newspaper’s actions and for it to apologize to the National Election Authority.

“Al-Sisi’s presidency is frankly more brutal in its authoritarianism and intolerance of critical speech than what we witnessed under [former President Hosni] Mubarak,” Timothy Kaldas, a nonresident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, told Bloomberg.

Despite the Arab Spring reforms, many Egyptians remain dissatisfied. Egypt has faced subsidy costs and higher living expenses amid the government’s ongoing crackdown that has jailed thousands of Islamists and activists. Pamela Abbott and Andrea Teti, analysts from the University of Aberdeen, said al-Sisi’s attempt to shut down all forms of opposition could eventually cost the country its stability.

“We must stop assuming their leaders will forever be able to simply repress dissent and stop assuming that such repression doesn’t come with costs and risks, both human and political,” they wrote for The Conversation. “Far from being a sign of strength or stability, remaining deaf to the needs of the people makes things worse in the long run.”

Associated Press/Photo by Hassan Ammar Associated Press/Photo by Hassan Ammar A boy helps in his father’s shop in Aleppo in January.

Easter in Aleppo

Civil war shrunk the Christian community of Aleppo, Syria, by two-thirds, but hundreds of believers still joined a traditional Good Friday processional ahead of Saturday vigils and Easter Sunday services. Images shared on Twitter showed worshippers packing a roofless St. Elias Cathedral, where scaffolds reminded them of war damage done.

Before Easter, Monsignor Abou Khazen Georges, the Roman Catholic apostolic vicar of Aleppo, told AsiaNews they live in a “mixed climate” of hope for peace and skepticism as war continues in other cities. Referring to attacks in Afrin, Khazen said, “We hope for the best, but the feeling is that they are stripping this poor country bare and are dividing its spoils.”

Although liberated from the extremist groups Al-Nusra Front and ISIS in 2016, Aleppo still needs rebuilding. In mid-March, the Blue Marist Catholic friars of Aleppo wrote that “cautious optimism” had turned into a “growing pessimism” over continued fighting and foreign attacks. Looking ahead to Easter, they invited prayers for God’s peace, including “a peace of justice and forgiveness” and “a peace that refuses violence.”

Aleppo’s Orthodox Christians marked Palm Sunday two days ago and celebrate Easter this coming Sunday. —Julia A. Seymour

Getty Images/Photo by Cristina Aldehuela/AFP Getty Images/Photo by Cristina Aldehuela/AFP Protests last week in Accra, Ghana

Ghana protests U.S. military deal

Thousands of Ghanaians took to the streets last week to protest a military deal with the United States. According to the two countries’ agreement, the United States will offer the Ghanaian military training and equipment worth $20 million. Ghana, in return, will give the United States permission to deploy its troops, access to its airport runways and radio channels, and the ability to run its own telecommunications system.

Some in the country view the agreement as a slight on their sovereignty. “Having partaken in the struggle and fight towards our independence, we can never sit unconcerned when it comes to an agreement which has the tendency of compromising our sovereignty and integrity,” Frank Amoako Hene, president of the National Union of Ghana Students, told The New York Times.

The United States is increasing its military presence across Africa. On March 24, it carried out its first drone strike targeting al-Qaeda militants in Libya. In Niger, the United States is investing more than $100 million to construct a drone base. U.S. Ambassador Robert Jackson told reporters in Ghana last week that the deal will neither threaten the country’s independence nor risk its security. “We have nothing to hide,” he said. —O.O.

Ethiopia appoints prime minister from native ethnic group

The Ethiopian Parliament on Monday swore in Oromo native Abiy Ahmed as the country’s new prime minister in a bid to douse ethnic tensions in the country’s Oromia and Amhara regions. Abiy is the first Oromo official to serve as prime minister since the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Front assumed power in 1991. Oromos make up the country’s largest ethnic group and have long complained of marginalization. Anti-government protests began in 2015 and increasingly turned violent as the government responded with force and detained more than 6,500 people. Ahmed assumed the office after former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced his resignation last month, saying he saw his departure as “vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy.” Ethiopia is under its second state of emergency amid persisting protests. —O.O.

Pakistani Christian family killed in attack

Islamic State (ISIS) on Monday claimed responsibility for an attack in southwestern Pakistan in which gunmen on motorcycles killed four members of a Christian family. The attackers opened fire on the family as they traveled in a rickshaw in Quetta city, capital of Balochistan province. ISIS claimed the attack via its Aamaq news agency. In a separate attack in Quetta, unknown gunmen killed five Muslims in a shooting incident. Minority Christians and Shiite Muslims repeatedly face attacks in the majority Sunni Muslim nation. Pakistani army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa on Monday confirmed a military court convicted 10 militants of multiple attacks that killed 62 people. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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