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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La fonde des Egyptiens contre la vie chère

by Hassane Zerouky

Egypt : Wind of Revolt Against the High Cost of Living

Translated Tuesday 15 April 2008, by Isabelle Métral

Cairo: Tuesday’s municipal elections took place in an atmosphere of social tensions exacerbated by soaring basic food prices

The death of fifteen-year-old Ahmad Ali Hamada during clashes between police and demonstrators last Sunday and Monday in the industrial city of Mahalla in the Nile delta is an emblematic example of the tense social climate that prevails in Egypt. According to a trade union official, Mustapha Fodda, quoted by AFP a French news agency, police las Monday dispelled demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets, wounding eighty-eight people. According to the trade-unionist, the clashes spread overnight to two villages near Mahalla. Calm was restored in this town, which is considered as the main centre of social protest in the country, despite the manifest tension.

The sudden rise in the prices of basic necessities that hits the poorest sections of the Egyptian population especially hard has caused the social discontent to erupt into street demonstrations in Cairo and several localities. Yet the call by the Kefaya movement (Enough) to stage sit-ins against inflation in 26 provinces, Cairo included, coupled with a call that was launched on the web for a general strike on Sunday has had no effect. It seems the warning issued by the Interior Ministry has deterred Egyptians from answering them.

Whatever the reason, one thing is sure: the few emergency measures taken by the government – rice exports are suspended for six months- have not been enough to curb the dramatic inflation that has pushed up household expenses by 50% and feeds the exasperation of a majority of Egyptians.

On April 10th polling stations therefore opened for the election of municipal councillors in a context of high social tension. As these elections were the last thing on their minds, Egyptians did not rush to the polling stations. Turnout will probably be one of the lowest ever. But it is precisely the rate of abstention that is mostly at stake: according to the Middle East News Agency, the National Democratic Party was sure to sweep 70% of the seats, owing to there being no other candidates but the governing party’s in many places.

A call to boycott the elections

Indeed President Mubarak’s party was practically the only party to put up candidates in this poll and its only adversaries were the thousand candidates of the Wafd (liberal) party and the ex-communist Union Party. As to the main opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose existence, though not officially recognized, is tolerated by the authorities, it finally threw in the sponge and called for a boycott.

Yet this poll was crucial to the Islamists. They had been expecting to field independent out-party candidates in at least 20% of the districts so as to gain enough seats to be in a capacity to present a candidate in the 2011 presidential election: under Egyptian law a presidential candidate must be endorsed by 68 deputies and 148 municipal councillors.

If the Islamists, who have 88 deputies in Parliament, can meet the first condition, they are no longer in a capacity to meet the second: out of the 5,700 candidates to the elections only twenty were authorized to stand. Asphyxiated by diverse administrative measures coupled with hundreds of arrests, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose aim is to institute sharia (religious law), have been kept out of the race by the government.

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