Egypt 2010: The Other Way to Monitor Elections

Egypt 2010: The Other Way to Monitor Elections

 

The Egyptian government recently issued a series of control measures that serve to further restrict freedoms of expression prior to parliamentary elections in November, reports Asharq Alawsat. The US government has decided not to intervene in the 2010 parliamentary elections, despite playing a monitoring role in the 2005 elections.

According to Asharq Alawsat, one of the measures will cancel the permits of companies providing live broadcast services if they are not correctly licensed.

The government stipulations on renewed media licenses dovetail with another recent measure which some analysts argued was adopted to quell voices of dissent. According to Al-Masry Al-Youm, only organizations licensed with the Supreme Council for Journalism (SCJ) will be permitted to send news updates to mobile phone users via Short Messaging System (SMS) text messages.

Furthermore, the SCJ must review the content of messages before sending to the public. A source at one company that uses SMS updates claimed that this measure was approved to prevent the dissemination of political news in the period leading up to the elections.

Asharq Alawsat also regards the timing of this new ruling as suspicious, indicating that it could be “an attempt by authorities to tighten their grip on information and media commentary as Egypt’s political scene becomes increasingly tense before the parliamentary vote and a presidential election next year.”

In her blog on the Arab media, Courtney Radsch, a senior program officer for Freedom House, notes that the measures signify a “crackdown on independent voices and citizen participation” in the face of upcoming elections.

Radsch also points out that several journalists have lost their jobs, presumably as a result of openly criticizing the government in the press. She cites Ibrahim Eissa, editor of the popular independent daily El-Destor, as well as Alaa El-Aswani, author of the famous novel Yacoubian Building and weekly columnist at El-Shorouk as recent examples of a government crackdown on dissidents within the media.

The Muslim Brotherhood also appears to be a target of government scrutiny. Agence France-Presse reports that the Islamist group accused the government of an unfair crackdown in the lead-up to elections, citing the arrest of at least 28 members in recent days. According to the AFP, the group’s members have been repeatedly charged for “money laundering and forming terrorist cells.”  The Muslim Brotherhood vehemently denies the charges.

Egypt’s last parliamentary elections took place in 2005. Although the US government played a role in monitoring the 2005 elections, it has no plans to do so this time around. According to Al-Ahram, James Beaver, the director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), announced that the “U.S. government will not pay for foreign election monitors for the upcoming elections.” The US government, Beaver said, does not want to put undue pressure on the Egypt, a key US ally in the Middle East.

However, Michelle Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace suggested in a recent interview that the US government should find a means of balancing security concerns with a consideration for human rights violations. “The United States needs to find a way to show it still wants to work with the Egyptian government on the issues the two have always cooperated on—regional peace, stability, military issues, and counterterrorism,” she said, adding, “but Washington also needs to clearly support Egyptian demands for improved human rights and greater political freedom.”

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