FaithWorld

Egyptian opposition voters face pitfalls, Muslim Brotherhood cries foul

egypt 1 (Photo: Posters of candidates of the banned Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria, 27 Nov 2010/Goran Tomasevic)

It seemed too good to be true when Amira Antar walked into the polling station to vote for Egypt’s Islamist opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, unimpeded by security forces or hired thugs. She quickly found out it was. After she made her choice, the polling station supervisor unfolded Antar’s ballot, ticked the candidate of President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party and put her now spoiled paper in the box.

“I was standing at the door and I saw what he did and honestly my heart broke. I don’t know what to do or who to complain to. I don’t think I’m going to vote again,” said the 22-year-old, voting for the first time in a parliamentary poll. The Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned but allowed to run candidates as independents, says the vote is marred by mass violations including ballot stuffing and bullying. The government says it has ensured a free and fair election.

Events took a different turn at Sayeda Zainab school in Mahalla El Kubra where Muslim Brotherhood voters scuffled with security men trying to keep them out of the polling station. “Where is the democracy they promised us? Where is the free and fair election?” asked a frustated Abdel Hay Ismail, 50.  Read the full story by Dina Zayed here.

egypt 2 (Photo: A woman voting in Cairo November 28, 2010/Asmaa Waguih)

Opposition charges of ballot stuffing, bullying and dirty tricks clouded a legislative election in Egypt on Sunday in which the ruling party wants to prevent its Islamist rivals from repeating their 2005 success. The Muslim Brotherhood contested 30 percent of lower house seats after winning an unprecedented 20 percent in 2005. But the Islamists expect a lower total this time. Hundreds of their activists were detained ahead of the poll, signalling the government’s determination to squeeze its most vocal critics out of parliament before a presidential vote in 2011. Read the full story by Yasmine Saleh and Marwa Awad here.

egypt 3 (Photo: Election banners in Alexandria, November 27, 2010/ Goran Tomasevic)

President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) has held power for decades. The vote will not loosen its grip. Egypt will also hold its second multi-candidate poll for the presidency next year, but even if Mubarak opts not to run, don’t expect a democratic contest in the most populous Arab nation. Egypt’s political landscape has barely shifted since Mubarak took power in 1981 after Islamist militants shot dead his predecessor Anwar Sadat. That stasis brings its own uncertainty.

Algeria War wounds still bleed in French politics

algiers barricade (Photo: Algiers barricade by French settlers backing General Jacques Massu, January 1960/Michel Marcheux)

Nearly 50 years after Algeria won independence from France, the unhealed wounds of the war of decolonisation keep wrenching at French society and could play a key role in the 2012 presidential election.

The unending Algerian trauma explains why France finds it so hard to integrate its large Muslim minority, why second and third generation Muslims of Maghreb origin born in France often feel alienated from their country of birth, and why politicians continue to find fertile ground in their quest for votes.

“There is an endless battle of memory, both within France and between the French and the Algerians,” said Benjamin Stora, the leading French historian of the Maghreb.

Brazil’s Rousseff survives abortion row, looks set to win presidency

rousseff (Photo: Dilma Rousseff looks up before a television debate in Sao Paulo October 25, 2010/Nacho Doce)

Dilma Rousseff, front-runner in Brazil’s presidential race, appears to have successfully shifted the focus of the campaign away from corruption and her controversial views on abortion and back to the shining economic legacy of her popular former boss, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Rousseff, a 62-year-old career civil servant and former leftist militant, fell short of the majority of votes needed to win the election outright in the October 3 first round as last-minute doubts of many evangelical Christian and Catholic voters about her support for abortion rights probably cost the Workers’ Party candidate an outright victory. Opposition challenger Jose Serra then closed her poll lead to as little as four points.

But her shift in focus appears to have re-energized her base in Brazil’s emerging lower-middle class, which has nearly doubled in size under Lula’s mix of market-friendly policies and social welfare programs, and now accounts for about half the population. Rousseff has promised to stick to Lula’s policies.

Bahrain aims to control vote amid Sunni-Shi’ite tension

bahrainBahrain’s elections on Saturday are unlikely to bring change to an assembly with little clout, but the government is leaving nothing to chance as it tightens security and makes it tougher for majority Shi’ites to vote.

Critics say densely populated Shi’ite areas are not represented in parliament according to their share in Bahrain’s 1.3 million population, and in some cases Shi’ite voters, of whom 300,000 are registered — have been moved to Sunni areas where their votes have less impact. (Photo: Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, December 15, 2009/Stephanie McGehee)

“The types of rules and laws that are passed still favour the Sunni elites over the majority Shi’ite population,” said Theodore Karasik of Dubai’s Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. “The Shi’ites are angered because they want more inclusion in decision-making and they want more jobs in government ministries, but these kinds of legislations don’t come up.”

Brazil’s ugly abortion reality lost in election noise

brazil abortionIt was a little-noticed headline amid the daily crime, violence and accidents in Rio de Janeiro’s rough outskirts — Adriana de Souza Queiroz, 26, dead after a clandestine abortion went wrong. Queiroz, who scraped a living handing out pamphlets and was 3 or 4 months pregnant, last month became one of the some 300 Brazilian women who die each year after back street abortions.

The issue of abortion in the world’s most populous Roman Catholic country has been thrust into the spotlight by a presidential election in which front-running candidate Dilma Rousseff has been punished by religious voters for her past support for decriminalizing the procedure. (Photo:  An anti-abortion march in Brasilia September 10, 2008/Jamil Bittar)

Abortion rights groups have long argued the law does little to prevent abortions in Brazil and mostly hurts poor women who can’t afford safer, expensive underground clinics.

Austrian far-right surges in Vienna vote

vienna elexAustria’s resurgent far-right party won over a quarter of the vote in Vienna’s provincial election as voters took their discontent to the ballot box, reflecting a wider European trend as voters concerned about the economic crisis and integration of Muslims turn to rightist parties. (Photo: Heinz-Christian Strache, top candidate of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), October 10, 2010/Leonhard Foeger)

Vienna’s Social Democrats under Michael Häupl, mayor since 1994, won 44.1 percent, losing their absolute majority while Heinz-Christian Strache’s far-right Freedom Party scooped up 27.1 percent, up from 15 percent in 2005. All the other main parties lost ground. The results suggest Freedom, which has called for a ban on mosques with minarets and on Islamic face veils, is returning to its strength of the late 1990s.

Analysts say that if the centrist parties keep losing support, they might start catering more to far-right concerns on social policy, mulling for example a ban on Islamic face veils in public and stricter limits on immigration.

Rousseff courts Brazil’s faith voters with “for life” comments

dilma (Photo: Brazilian presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia, October 5, 2010/Ueslei Marcelino)

Brazil’s ruling party candidate Dilma Rousseff is playing up her Roman Catholic background in efforts to win back religious voters, whose doubts about her faith and position on abortion rights may have cost her an outright victory in Sunday’s presidential election.

In a surprise shift, many religious voters who oppose abortion, especially evangelical Christians, abandoned Rousseff’s  center-left Workers’ Party to vote for the Green Party’s Marina Silva, who captured an unexpectedly large 19 percent of the vote.

“Personally, I’m from a Catholic family. I am and always was in favor of life,” Rousseff told reporters on Tuesday outside of her campaign headquarters in Brasilia. “I have no problem addressing the religious issue. My project addresses all the religions.”

President Karzai votes for female Hindu candidate in Afghan election: sources

karzaiAfghan President Hamid Karzai chose a female, Hindu candidate when he voted in Saturday’s parliamentary election, two palace officials close to him said. Just two Hindu candidates were on the list of about 600 vying for parliamentary seats in the Afghan capital. Karzai’s choice could annoy supporters in deeply conservative, Muslim Afghanistan. (Photo: President Karzai casts his vote in Kabul September 18, 2010/Andrew Biraj)

His backers include powerful ex-warlords who were fielding their own candidates and religious conservatives who are opposed to female politicians and unlikely to be happy Karzai is backing a non-Muslim.

“It was Anar Kali Honaryar,” one palace official told Reuters, giving the name of a female activist who largely relied on Muslim supporters during her campaigning.

Far-right anti-mosque video game triggers outrage in Austria

The picturesque Austrian province of Styria is overrun by huge mosques with minarets, if you are to believe an online video game designed for the far-right Freedom Party ahead of regional elections on September 26.

In a shooting range-style game, players have 60 seconds to collect points by putting a target over animated mosques and minarets that emerge from the Styria countryside and clicking a “Stop” sign. They also have the chance to eliminate bearded muezzin who call Muslims to prayer. A man reads a flyer during a demonstration against a proposed Islam centre in Vienna June 18, 2010. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

A man reads a flyer during a demonstration against a proposed Islamic centre in Vienna June 18, 2010/Heinz-Peter Bader

New Yorkers see the right to build Islamic center, but also want it moved

mosque signsNew York voters contradicted themselves over a planned Islamic cultural center near the World Trade Center site, with majorities saying both that Muslims have the right to build one but that they should be forced to move it, a poll issued on Tuesday finds.

Fifty-four percent of those polled believe Muslims have the right to build the center and mosque near “Ground Zero” because of American freedom of religion, but a similar 53 percent said that right should be denied because of the sensitivities of relatives of those killed on September 11, 2001. (Photo: Demonstrators in front of theIslamic center  site in New York , August 25, 2010/Lucas Jackson)

The Quinnipiac University poll surveyed 1,497 New York state registered voters from August 23 to 29, at the height of the controversy that Republicans who oppose the mosque have seized on for a political edge over Democrats ahead of November 2 mid-term elections. Read the full story here.