By Joseph Mayton


Cairo, Egypt

With less than two weeks before campaigning begins for what are supposed to be Egypt's first ever free and fair elections, a boycott by opposition activists, some political parties and the country's Christian minority remains on the table as they tussle with the interim military regime over voting rules.

The parties are demanding that politicians belonging to former President Husni Mubarak's now-banned party be barred from running. And, with elections for the lower house of parliament set for Nov. 28, upper house elections in January and the first seating of parliament in March, many activists are objecting to the long lead time to democracy. No date for presidential elections has been set.

Even if the issues are resolved in time for campaigning to get underway, many opposition activists say they are skeptical that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will keep to the promises it has already made to suspend the hated emergency laws during the voting period and end military trials of civilians.

"We've seen this over and over again with our rulers," activist and political organizer Mona Mahmoud told The Media Line. "How can we trust the military when they said it would only be six months they would be in power and now we are in the eighth month since Mubarak was gone? They reactivated the emergency laws and are arresting civilians for speaking. I don't think they have earned our trust."

The elections are the latest point of friction between the generals who have been ruling Egypt since Mubarak was ousted last February and the country's emergent political leaders, who are concerned about the direction Egypt is taking. After a brief efflorescence of freedom, SCAF has revived the emergency laws and clamped down on the media in response to what they say is unacceptable violence and chaos.

Last Friday, as many as 10,000 people took to Tahrir Square, where months ago opposition groups mobilized hundreds of thousands to oust Mubarak, to "reclaim the revolution."

The latest effort to resolve differences was made over the weekend with 13 party leaders meeting with SCAF's chief of staff, Gen. Sami Anan. It ended with SCAF agreeing that party candidates could compete for seats previous reserved for independents and to suspending the emergency laws. But SCAF did no more than promise to look into the issue of barring members of Mubarak's now defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) from running.

SCAF also enraged activist by insisting the parties sign a declaration stating they "declare their full support to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces" and thank the body for "protecting the revolution and working on handing over the power to the people."

Military leaders plan more meetings with political parties to iron out remaining differences, Maj. Alaa Iraqi, a spokesman for the Supreme Council, told the Reuters news agency on Monday. Meanwhile the cabinet was set to discuss the Saturday agreement.

Nevertheless, a day later, the liberal Wafd and Nasserist parties responded to activists' complaints by disavowing the agreement. Hani Shukrallah, a leading member of the Social Democratic Egyptian Party, submitted his resignation on Monday because its leader had signed the agreement.

Naguib Gobrael, the head of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights, said Sunday that Copts may resort to boycotting the coming parliamentary elections in protest at their mistreatment at the hands of Egypt's Muslim majority.

On Thursday, a group of potential presidential candidates issued a joint statement denouncing the continuation of military rule. Led by Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader and popular candidate, the group said any decision or ruling that comes after Sept. 30 based on the emergency laws would be "void of any legal or constitutional legitimacy."

Aboul Fotouh told The Media Line that he was hopeful that the new agreement could finally lay the groundwork for the future of Egypt that could see free elections, a return to civilian rule and an end to the decades of corruption brought onto the country by the NDP.

"I hope this will be a turning point for us because the military appears to have agreed with all the political groups' demands right now," he said. However, he did admit that he understands the activists' frustration and worries over the agreement.

"It's not surprising to see a lot of this country's youth not believing the SCAF because of past actions and how promises have been made and never followed through, but we have to remain vigilant. At the end of the day we have our feet and voices and this has worked in the past," he argued.

For many activists, the waiting game coupled with uncertainty appears to be playing out once again. In July, activists demanded a transparent trial for their former president. Initially, that was exactly what they received, with trial sessions aired on Egypt's national television. But since Sept. 7, SCAF has imposed a blackout against media reporting on the sessions.

"This our future and the lies and empty promises of the military will not be stood for, nor will the political groups if this agreement fails, so we wait and see," said Hossam Kamel, a 34-year-old financial manager at a local consultancy. "We are a broken country and need change for the better. The time for elections and a free country is now."


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World - Boycott Looms as Egyptian Elections Near | Global Viewpoint