Egyptian Protesters Want Parliamentary Elections Postponed
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It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
And I'm Linda Wertheimer. In Egypt, a much anticipated speech by the top military ruler failed to address the demands of a growing number of protestors around the country.
HUSSEIN TANTAWI: (Foreign language spoken)
WERTHEIMER: The televised address by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi reminded many Egyptians of the indignant speeches former President Hosni Mubarak gave days before he was forced from power. The crowds rejected all of the field marshal's concessions last night, but one could complicate the situation for protestors, and that is the decision to go ahead with free elections. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo and files this story.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Mahmoud Salem and three of his friends unload boxes of donated medical supplies and blankets from their cars. He is one of many candidates in Egypt's upcoming parliamentary elections who suspended his political campaign in a show of support for the throngs of protestors camped out at nearby Tahrir Square. The Square is the epicenter of a growing Egyptian call to immediately end military rule. That's led to violent clashes between security forces and protestors across Egypt over the past five days.
Salem says that given the violence, parliamentary elections scheduled to begin on Monday should be delayed for at least a few weeks.
MAHMOUD SALEM: The majority of Egyptians will not go to vote the polls when they are not seeing any security in the country. So if they want historic elections as they all say, well, the situation needs to be better.
NELSON: But many analysts and other candidates agree with the ruling Military Council that Egypt's first free elections in decades must go ahead as planned. They argue that there can't be a transition to democracy without a duly elected government.
SHADI HAMID: Well, I think postponing elections at this point would be disastrous.
NELSON: Shadi Hamid is research director at the Brookings Doha Center.
HAMID: The problem with delaying elections is that Islamist groups who stand to do fairly well are going to see that as effectively a soft coup against them. And what I'm worried about is a potential radicalization and spiraling of unrest and violence that may result.
NELSON: That conquer and divide approach is what many here believe the Ruling Military Council is banking on, even before Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi delivered his televised speech last night. Key political groups that are expected to do well at the polls say they would be satisfied with the military handing over power after the elections. Mahmoud Ghozlan is a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement that is projected to pick up as many as a third of the parliamentary seats.
MAHMOUD GHOZLAN: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: He says the Brotherhood considers lingering military rule dangerous, but that at the same time, a transition to civilian power can't happen without a new parliament and president. The Brotherhood and other political forces met with the Ruling Military Council yesterday to work out a deal. Many protestors were even more dismayed after Tantawi spoke. He never once addressed their demands. Instead, he warned that standing against Egypt's ruling generals hurts national interest.
He also offered to hold a referendum on military rule if people have a problem with it. Some like political activist Mohammed Waked interpreted the referendum call as another tactic to delay the transfer of power and derail the election process. That in turn could turn political forces like the Brotherhood against the protestors, Waked says.
MOHAMMED WAKED: There are no winners because we are now going to all of a sudden have to fight a very different group.
NELSON: But even with the announcement that elections would be held as planned, it's uncertain that they will. That's because the unrest has left Egypt's interim rulers with little time to prepare for the elections. With only six days to go, there are no details on where voters will cast ballots, whether those ballots are even printed, of if there's an actual candidates list. Continued unrest will only make things worse, says analyst Shadi Hamid.
HAMID: And that's why I think we have to start really entertaining the possibility that elections may in fact be delayed or canceled. If that happens, I think Egypt is in store for a very troubling few weeks and few months.
NELSON: Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.