Election Day in Egypt: Celebrations and Concerns

Egyptian protestors wave national flags

© STR/AFP/Getty Images

After decades of authoritarian rule, any opportunity for a popular election in Egypt should be a moment to celebrate.  But today’s national parliamentary election, while representing another step toward democracy, is also one that comes with significant concerns.

The underlying news today is that the strong turnouts, marred by four-hour delays at some sites, is a sign of the deep and passionate need of Egyptians to have a full stake in their political future. There are thousands of examples, but one that touched me was hearing from Radio Masr of an 82-year-old woman who was so happy that she was voting for the first time.

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Activists – and State Department – Respond to Bahrain Twitter Action

A huge thank you to supporters of our Bahrain actions over the last few days calling on the US State Department to speak out  more forcefully on unfair military trials.

More than 16,000 people have signed our online action. Further, the response to our Twitter action was absolutely fantastic, with people not only from the US but from around the world magnifying our call (go crowd!).

The Twitter action was a first for me and I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of response or outcome. I was positively surprised with both. I decided to use a new, very useful tool called storify to track the action—and the response to it!

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In Times Like These, Poetry Is a Road to a Bahraini Jail

Bahraini poet Ayat al-Qarmezi. © Private

In this season of uprisings throughout the Middle East and North Africa, governments consider even poetry subversive.  Now a young Bahraini student is looking at a year in jail for reading a poem criticizing the Bahraini king.

Ayat al-Qarmezi, 20, a poet and student was convicted by a military court after an unfair trial. She was charged with taking part in illegal protests, disrupting public security and publicly inciting hatred toward the regime. She was arrested in March for reading out a poem at a pro-reform rally in the capital Manama.

The poem’s lyrics include the lines:

“We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery/ Don’t you hear their cries, don’t you hear their screams?”

She was forced to turn herself in to the authorities on March 30 after masked police raided her parents’ house repeatedly and reportedly threatened to kill her brothers unless she did so.

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Blood in the Street, Injustice in the Courts, Silence from the US

While Bahraini authorities are silencing activists, opposition leaders and even medical personnel in military courts, the United States Government remains silent. We have seen the US respond to the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, yet government officials so far have remained relatively silent on the crackdown in Bahrain – imposed on the streets and in the courts.

The most recent indications for this silent acceptance of human rights violations include the (rather secret) meetings of high level US government officials with the Bahraini Crown Prince yesterday, and the recent refusal by the State Department to testify before the Congressional Human Rights Commission.

The United States’ failure to act in Bahrain represents a tragic double standard in US Middle East policies. In Obama’s May 19th speech on the Middle East and North Africa, the President won applause for rhetoric admonishing the Bahraini Monarchy’s repression of dissent, stating that “you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.”

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Bahrain Security Forces Go After Doctors, Nurses

When demonstrations broke out in Bahrian urging political reform, first the government’ s security forces went after protesters.  Then they went after the doctors, nurses and other health professionals who treated the injured protesters.

Now they’re going after the health professionals who are speaking out against the security forces’ actions.

Even to long-time observers of Middle East human rights issues, the attacks on health professionals to prevent them from treating injured patients is surprising, a sign of the extent to which the governments are willing to respond to the Arab Spring by going after even the most fundamental of rights.

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