Archive for October, 2014

October 26, 2014

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisians expressed tentative hope for the future as they lined up early Sunday to choose their first five-year parliament since they overthrew their dictator in the 2011 revolution that kicked off the Arab Spring.

The past three and a half years have been marked by political turmoil, terrorist attacks and a faltering economy which has brought disillusionment to many over the democratic process, even though Tunisia is widely seen as the country that has the best chance for democracy in the Arab world.

“We are proud to vote. It’s our duty as citizens and I am optimistic,” said Zeinab Turabi, a lawyer in the affluent Tunis neighborhood of Sukra. “If you don’t vote, you’ll get Libya,” he added, referring to the neighboring country which has been taken hostage by violent militias since the downfall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

At polling stations in the 27 districts across Tunisia, citizens have a bewildering array of candidates to choose from with more than 50 choices laid out on enormous ballots, though the Islamist Ennahda Party is expected to do well.

The election in this country of 11 million is for the 217 seat parliament and the largest party will get the right to form a government. Presidential elections are in November. “I came to vote to save my country from many things, primarily terrorism, and then inflation and unemployment,” said Wafaa Masmoudi, a civil servant voting in the Tunis suburb of Carthage.

As recently as Friday, police stormed a house full of suspected militants after a 24-hour standoff, killing five women and a man, all described as “terrorists” by the government. The Ennahda Party did well immediately after the revolution, though many criticized the Islamists’ turbulent two years in power and they later stepped aside in favor of a transition government ahead of elections.

“I don’t want the same people to stay in power, that is why I came to vote to prevent that from happening,” said Amira Medeb, a bank director who admitted she was afraid for the future. In the lower income Tunis neighborhood of Yasmina, voters chose to separate themselves into male and female lines while waiting to vote, officials said.

“We wanted this separation because it is not logical for men and women to be mixed in the same line, we must respect each other,” said Mohammed Saleh Mellouli, a middle-aged man with a beard. He cited the economy as his main concern in the election.

Despite Sunday being a weekend in Tunisia, people woke early to vote, citing the five hour long lines in 2011. “The last three years have been really bad, but we’re hoping it will get better,” said Mehdi Omar, a taxi driver, his finger stained blue from the indelible ink used to mark voters.

Associated Press writer Bouazza ben Bouazza contributed to this report.

October 25, 2014

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — In a raucous cafe in a Tunis slum, men talked in loud voices and paid little attention to the politicians debating on the television mounted on the wall. Qais Jebali swiftly made espressos behind the bar and explained why no one in the gritty neighborhood of Tadamon cared about the upcoming elections.

“We’ve had five governments since 2011 and nothing has changed on the ground,” he said, arranging the cups of strong black coffee on a tray with a bowl of sugar. “The poor people don’t trust the government because they are marginalized, harassed by police and don’t have money to pay bribes.”

Outside, members of the National Guard in bullet-proof vests and carrying assault rifles waved cars through a dilapidated traffic circle. Security was heightened because a standoff with suspected militants was taking place just a few kilometers (miles) away.

On Sunday, Tunisians will vote for their first five-year parliament since they overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, marking the end of the democratic transition that they alone among the pro-democracy Arab Spring uprisings have managed to achieve. Now, many Tunisians are expressing disillusionment over democracy.

They say it has not brought prosperity and seems largely to involve squabbling politicians and attacks by Islamic militants, raising fears that many may not turn out to vote in a country that has been described as the best chance for democracy in the Arab world.

“There is a depression after these three years of seeing rulers lying, not keeping their word, not doing or not even trying to do what they promised to do, and especially, in the midst of a dire economic situation,” said Chawki Gaddes, a political analyst at Tunis University.

In 2011, the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party dominated elections and formed a coalition government with two secular parties. Over the next two years, the country was buffeted by punishing inflation, attacks by radical Islamists, assassinations and the daily spectacle of squabbling politicians in a country accustomed to a half century of one-party rule.

As the government and opposition deadlocked amid the rising political acrimony — and against the backdrop of a military coup against the Islamist government in nearby Egypt — the Islamist-led government stepped down at the end of 2013 in favor of new cabinet of technocrats.

Polling from the Pew Research center in Tunisia has seen support for democracy as the best form of government drop from 63 percent in 2012 to 48 percent, while the demand for a strong leader rose from 37 percent to 59 percent.

The disaffection is particularly strong among young people, the group that so spectacularly took to the streets to fight Ben Ali’s riot police and force him out of power three years ago. In the neighborhoods like Tadamon, it’s difficult to find any young people registered to vote. According to Mouheb Garoui of the election monitoring group I Watch, some 60 percent are undecided just days before the election.

“There were so many promises in 2011 and now the same promises are being made in 2014,” he said. “There is discontent and apathy among youth.” The Islamist-led government managed to lay down many of building blocks of a new political system and, together with the opposition, write a constitution described as one of the most progressive in the region. Yet the turmoil and deadlock kept away foreign aid, tourism and investment.

“The question of the economy was neglected in the three years of the revolution — it was years of political wrangling and political transition,” Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, the interim prime minister that succeeded the Islamist government, told The Associated Press. He says his administration, which succeeded the Islamist government, has begun the necessary economic reforms to stabilize the country. Under his watch, foreign aid has flowed back to the country.

In the past year, security forces have also carried out a string of attacks to dismantle suspected militant cells, most recently on Friday when a counterterrorism operation in the suburbs resulted in the deaths of six alleged militants — five of them gun-toting women, according to police.

The party most hoping to capitalize on voters’ disaffection is Nida Tunis (Tunisia’s Call) run by charismatic — albeit 87-year-old — politician Beji Caid Essebsi, who is clearly trying to evoke the good old days of an educated, modern Tunisia without the dictatorship.

Formed after the revolution, the party brings together trade unionists, businessmen and more than a few politicians from Ben Ali’s time that are united by little more than opposition to the Islamists. The main message of their campaign has been that their party represents progress in the face of what they call the reactionary policies of Ennahda.

“We needed a party to bring back the middle class that was pushed to the side by the aggression of the Islamists and their beliefs,” said Mustapha Ben Ahmed, a member of the party’s executive bureau. “This historical bloc can restore the prestige of the state.”

The party is probably the only one that can compete with Ennahda’s impressive organization around the country and is running equal in polls. With the anti-Islamist vote divided among many parties all promising jobs and stability, Ennahda likely will have to be part of any future coalition — a possibility Ben Ahmed fervently condemned as an “unnatural alliance.”

The leader of Ennahda, however, has said his party is ready to make a coalition with whomever else the voters choose, though Nida Tunis would not be his first choice. Rachid Ghannouchi told AP that the lesson he has learned from the party’s first experience in power was the need for an even broader-based coalition to carry out the difficult reforms need to get the country on track.

“Before when we came to power we were just activists and not statesmen but today we have both activists and statesmen,” he said. “We have gained experience and become more realistic with a better understanding of the problems of the people.”

At a massive Ennahda rally in the heart of downtown on the iconic Bourguiba Avenue on the eve of the election, thousands cheered and waved flags, showing none of the flagging enthusiasm for politics found elsewhere.

For supporters of the party, any past missteps are made up for by the belief that the Islamists have their best interests at heart. “They were learning,” said Kamal Ali as he drove his car through downtown. “Do children on the first day of school already know how to read and write?”

He gestured at the still damaged husk of the old ruling party headquarters nearby. “The others they knew how to do politics, but they also knew how to steal — morals is the most important thing.”

Associated Press writers Bouazza ben Bouazza and Sam Kimball contributed to this report.

By Jamel Arfaoui in Tunis for Magharebia


To prepare for all surprises on the real election day, Tunisia held a test vote last Saturday (October 18th).

“Preparations have reached final phases,” said Mohamed Chafik Sarsar, who heads the Independent High Electoral Commission (ISIE).

“ISIE employees and cadres are putting the final touches before election day on October 26th,” he said.

The election dry run, attended by ISIE representatives and civil society groups, was held in the Tunis suburb of Ben Arous.

The test starting with receiving election documents, tools and printed materials at the polling stations.

It then simulated the experience of voters, from the time they arrive to cast their ballots: identity checks, receiving the ballot, entering the voting booth and putting the ballot in the box.

Other practice runs focused on preventing voter fraud at the ballot box level.

These included carrying the ballot boxes to the collection center (there is an assembly center in each constituency) and the attendees learning how to take down the results based on sorting reports received from polling stations. This is to be conducted manually, with the data later entered into a computerized system.

“For a moment, I felt as if it was a real election day,” Abir al-Saidi, who took part in the dry run, told Magharebia. “The scene was well organised, and our army and police forces were present in the place wearing their official uniforms.”

Her colleague Tarik Bouziane urged citizens to abide by instructions and to go to polling stations early on October 26th.

“We all have to take advantage of this day to confirm our patriotism and cherish our right to freely choose those who will represent us in parliament,” Bouziane said.

More than 5 million citizens have registered for the vote.

Security forces have been deployed around polling stations to provide protection until the end of voting and sorting.

The dry run capped a training course for some 50,000 workers who will secure the poll, the ISIE chief said. The initiative was launched after some expressed concerns about potential technical and human disruptions.

ISIE member Nabil Bafun said that the election would take place smoothly and that the commission was prepared for all surprises.

“ISIE will also respect election law by announcing the election results within three days,” he told TAP.

“The supervising electoral committee has gained enough experience to make the vote a success on October 26th,” voter Samia El Alaoui told Magharebia.

Source: Magharebia.



The Shura Council of Islamic Youth officially launched its own court in Derna, Libya Herald reported on Wednesday (October 22nd).

The former al-Qaeda affiliate and Ansar-al Sharia branch, which recently declared allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS), set up the Sharia court in the legal aid building next to King Idris library.

Daesh signs are now on buildings across Derna. Another banner saying “Islamic Police” was put up at one station. Police vehicles also bear the new markings.

The Yemeni head of Derna’s new Sharia court, Abu Taleb Al-Jazrawi, reportedly demanded that schools stop teaching foreign languages, physics, chemistry and biology.

The group on Saturday flogged several young men for drinking alcohol. In late August, the Shura Council of Islamic Youth staged a public execution at the local football stadium.

Source: Magharebia.


By Nadia Radhwan in Benghazi for Magharebia


Libyan army forces on Wednesday (October 22nd) entered Sidi Khalifa in the eastern suburbs of Benghazi with little resistance from Shura Revolutionary Council fighters.

The army’s reconnaissance vehicles were met with cheers and applause by citizens in the al-Wahaishi and al-Salam neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, the air force on Wednesday evening targeted the headquarters of Raf Allah al-Sahati brigade, one of the biggest terror strongholds in the al-Hawari area.

Fighter jets also attacked the al-Quarshah gate, another terrorist stronghold. Supplies coming from western Libya to terrorist groups in the east pass through the gate.

The Libyan army said terrorist Tawfik Makhlouf al-Hejazi and his son were killed following desperate resistance after he refused to turn himself in. The event capped several developments on a tense day in the Deriana area, east of Benghazi.

A suicide bomber attacked a security checkpoint in the same area early Wednesday morning, AFP reported. One person was killed and four were wounded in the car bombing.

At least 10 others were slain in Benghazi on Wednesday, bringing the death toll in the recent clashes to 110 people.

The army declared a curfew in Benghazi from 7:00pm Wednesday to 7:00am Thursday and warned that it would open fire on any movement, especially in areas where the terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia is active.

Benghazi district youths shared a circular on social networking websites in which they warned about three large garbage trucks loaded with snipers and suicide bombers on their way to al-Salam neighborhood where the army’s reconnaissance vehicles entered. Pictures of al-Hejazi going around that area Wednesday evening were also shared on social networking websites.

Meanwhile, a Libyan soldier was killed Wednesday evening as he dismantled a landmine in Sidi Mansour, east of Benghazi.

Two decomposed bodies were also found in Sidi Mansour as the army combed the area and cleared explosives and landmines.

Skirmishes continue around the February 17th Brigade camp as remnants of the Islamist forces battle the Libyan army’s 204th Tank Battalion and 21st Special Operations Battalion. The army is combing the area, prompting fierce battles between the Special Forces and the extremists at the university campus, which they penetrated after their February 17th Brigade base was captured by the army. As a result, shells hit the public administration building.

The army also said it had cleared Benina and Sidi Faraj of extremist militias, which had controlled them for months.

“We express our respect and appreciation to our army’s officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers for their great sacrifices for Libyans,” commented Marwan al-Kharam, a 35-year-old journalist. “We pray to God to have mercy on those who died for the true Islam, not the Islam of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), and on those who died for truth, homeland, pride, honor and dignity.”

For her part, lawyer Najlaa al-Zaydi said: “The internal security and intelligence agency must be activated as of now in Benghazi. We call upon all former security agencies to return to work.”

“We also call upon all honest people and heroes, all those who love Benghazi, the cradle of revolution, our land and home, which has always been generous to everyone, all military units and all those whose hands haven’t been stained with blood, to return to work and join the army. Those who fail to do that will be deemed as traitors who have no place among honest people,” she added.

“This is the hour of decisiveness,” al-Zayda said.

Source: Magharebia.


Dubai, UAE (SPX)

Sep 15, 2014

A high level delegation from the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST) visited recently the National Space Agency of Kazakhstan, Kazcosmos. The delegation, headed by H.E. Yousuf Al Shaibani, Director General of EIAST, also included Eng. Salem Al Marri, Assistant Director General for Scientific and Technical Affairs.

The UAE delegation met with their counter parts in the Kazcosmos and a number of representatives from space science and space industry institutions including Talgat Mussabayev, Chairman of Kazcosmos; Marat Nurguzhin, Acting President of JSC – National Company, Kazakhstan Garysh Sapary; Viktor Lefter, President of National Center for Space Communications; and Zhumabek Zhantayev, President of National center of space Communication and Technology in Kazakhstan.

The purpose of the visit was to enhance and strengthen cooperation between both parties in the field of remote sensing and establish mutual benefits through laboratories and satellite manufacturing cooperation, including image use of both DubaiSat-2 and Kazakhstan satellites, in order to accomplish their common development goals.

This visit comes following an official Kazakhstan delegation that came to EIAST recently during which parties discussed opportunities of cooperation between them in the field of exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes.

During that visit, the Kazakhstani delegation discovered the latest achievements realized by EIAST with the launch of Dubai Sat-1 and Dubai Sat-2; in addition to current and future projects, including the building of KhalifaSat which will be developed in the UAE by Emiratis.

Following the discussions, Al Shaibani confirmed that the UAE has reached an advanced position in the field of space sciences and intends to build on these achievements by keeping up with the latest space science research and by exchanging technical and scientific skills with leading local, regional and global institutions in the field.

He further stated that “EIAST seeks to keep up with the rapid growth of advanced technology and space industry to meet the needs of the UAE. The statement follows the recent announcement of the establishment of the Emirates Space Agency by, which will officially signal the start of exploration in outer space. This will be the first Arab probe to Mars with a team of Emiratis in the coming seven years.”

“We value the achievements made by Kazakhstan, as it is one of the advanced countries in the field of space science. It has modern satellites and extensive experience in space science and we look forward to having a solid cooperation with Kazcosmos and to activating the strategic partnership. Likewise; the Kazcosmos team admired the achievements of the UAE and the advanced level of the country in terms of space activities and ambitious future plans”, he added.

During the visit, Al Shaibani and al Marri visited the headquarters of Kazcosmos, Kazakhstan Garysh Sapary, the National Center for Space Communications and the National center of space Communication and Technology. They were also briefed about the main projects, achievements and future plans of each entity.

In December 2011, EIAST signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Kazcosmos, aimed at enhancing a better exchange of scientific skills and the development of human resources in the fields of space science, remote sensing, space communications, and global satellite navigation systems.

By virtue of this MoU, both parties will cooperate to use the infrastructure needed for space researches and all other activities related to the manufacture and launch of satellites.

EIAST was established by the Dubai Government in 2006 with the goal of promoting a culture of advanced scientific research and technology innovation in Dubai and the UAE, and enhancing technology innovation and scientific skills among UAE Nationals.

It is mainly involved in outer space research and development, satellite manufacturing and systems development, space imaging, and ground station services and support for other satellites.

Source: Space Mart.


July 08, 2014

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — As the world’s third-largest democracy prepares to elect a new president Wednesday, Indonesians are divided between two very different choices: a one-time furniture maker and a wealthy ex-army general with close links to former dictator Suharto.

Just a few months ago, the election was considered firmly in favor of Joko Widodo, who rose from humble beginnings to become the governor of Jakarta with a squeaky clean political record. But the race is now too close to call after a late surge by Prabowo Subianto, who has wooed legions of supporters with his calls for nationalism despite allegations of widespread human rights abuses during his military career and his connection with Suharto — his former father-in-law.

When the polls open to around 190 million eligible voters on Wednesday, analysts say those who are undecided will determine the winner. The two candidates are vastly different in their policies and styles. Widodo, known by his nickname Jokowi, is a soft-spoken man who likes to wear sneakers and casual plaid shirts, listen to heavy metal music and make impromptu visits to the slums. Seen as a man of the people who wants to advance democratic reform even though he lacks experience in national politics, he represents a break from the past as the first candidate in direct elections with no connection to Suharto-era politics.

Subianto is known for his thundering campaign speeches, a penchant for luxury cars and having trotted up to one rally on an expensive horse. He has the support of the most hardline Islamic parties and has sparked concern among foreign investors worried about protectionism and a possible return to more authoritative policies.

“Many Indonesian Muslims prefer Prabowo’s strong and dynamic character, which can stand up in facing the foreign policies of neighboring countries and the U.S,” said Ikrar Nusabhakti, a political analyst from the Indonesia Institute of Science. “While other people are responding positively to Jokowi’s caring and earthy traits.”

Black campaigns, as smear tactics are known here, have surfaced in both camps. But Widodo, 53, has blamed his fall in opinion polls — from a lead of more than 12 percentage points in May to just around 3.5 points now — on character assaults that accused him, among other things, of not being a follower of Islam. He has denounced the charges as lies, but says it’s hard to undo the damage it caused in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

“I think these black campaigns were effective enough to convince communities,” said Hamdi Muluk, a political analyst from the University of Indonesia. “And that has directly ruined Widodo’s image.” But he added that Subianto’s past, including ordering the kidnappings of pro-democracy activists prior to Suharto’s fall in 1998, have not gone unnoticed and some voters fear a return to the brutal dictator’s New Order regime. Details about the abductions surfaced recently after the official findings of an army investigative panel were leaked.

“Considering the role models and figures behind Widodo’s team, I believe many new voters tend to support Jokowi,” Muluk said. “A return to the New Order is not popular among youngsters or new voters. They are interested more in change.”

The race is the country’s third direct presidential election, and has played out with fury in the social-media crazed country of around 240 million people. There has been a frenzy of “unfriending” on Facebook pages belonging to users who support different camps.

For the first time in its 31-year history, the English-language Jakarta Post last week endorsed a presidential candidate. In choosing Widodo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, the paper said it simply could not remain silent because the stakes were too high.

“Rarely in an election has the choice been so definitive,” it said in denouncing Prabowo. “Never before has a candidate ticked all the boxes on our negative checklist. And for that we cannot do nothing.”

But Subianto, 62, of the Great Indonesia Movement Party, has been gaining allies. Outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s ruling Democratic Party, which said it was neutral earlier in the campaign, openly endorsed Subianto just two weeks before the election.

Yudhoyono, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term after 10 years in office, has ordered an increased police and military presence on election day to thwart potential violence. Subianto’s vows of tough leadership and promises that “Indonesia will become an Asian tiger once again” have also gained footing with some voters fed up with Yudhoyono, who has been criticized for being ineffective and weak on some issues, including those involving neighbors Australia and Malaysia. The president’s party has also been plagued by a string of recent high-profile corruption scandals.

Yudi Koesnaedi, a 19-year-old college student, said Indonesia now needs a firm and authoritative leader to solve domestic problems and to answer global challenges. “I’ll go and cast my vote for the first time for president,” he said. “And I think Prabowo Subianto is the most logical person to lead this country.”

Associated Press writers Margie Mason and Ali Kotarumalos contributed to this report from Jakarta, Indonesia.

April 09, 2014

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Polls opened Wednesday for nearly 187 million Indonesians eligible to vote in single-day legislative elections, a huge feat in the still-young democracy that’s expected to help clear the path for the country’s next president.

After three weeks of peaceful outdoor campaigning, voters across three time zones cast their ballots for members of national as well as local legislatures and representatives. The voting took place at more than a half million makeshift booths from the eastern restive Papua province to the devout Muslim province of Aceh in the west.

For many, the election was more about supporting a specific party than voting for individual candidates, to help boost the chances for their favorite presidential hopeful in the July 9 elections. Parties need to secure 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives or 25 percent of the overall vote to nominate a presidential candidate. Otherwise, a coalition must be formed with one or more parties to enter the competition.

Many believe Jakarta Gov. Joko Widodo, known affectionately as Jokowi, is a shoo-in for the top job. The newcomer is adored by the masses for his simple style and willingness to meet and connect with the poor. He was topping opinion polls months before his party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, announced that he would be their presidential nominee in March.

On Wednesday, he cast his ballot alongside his wife in the sprawling capital. Both were wearing white button-down shirts, jeans and sneakers as they were thronged by a pack of around 200 journalists. “I’m very confident that my party will do very well,” said Widodo in English. “My party will win very strong, and my party will take the majority.”

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, and his ruling Democratic Party has been ensnared in a spate of high-profile corruption scandals. Indonesia, a nation of 240 million, is the world’s third-largest democracy after India and the United States, and is the most populous Muslim nation — although there are no fundamentalist parties. The 12 main parties are either secular nationalists or moderate loosely based on Islam. A recent survey showed support for Islamic parties had plunged.

There also are no left-wing groupings, and the once-formidable Indonesian Communist Party — which long-time strongman Suharto’s U.S.-backed dictatorship decimated in the 1960s — remains banned. Some 200,000 candidates were vying for nearly 20,000 slots in Wednesday’s elections, including 6,607 competing for the 560-seat House and 945 for regional representatives or the Senate. The rest were competing for provincial and local councils.

The ballots were transported on everything from warships and helicopters to motorbikes and horses across the archipelago of 17,000 islands. The election marks only the fourth time Indonesians have had the opportunity to pick their leaders following three decades of brutal rule that ended when Suharto was overthrown in 1998.

“There is no political figure who deserves to get my vote but Jokowi,” said Titis Astrini, 29, casting her vote in Jakarta. “So, for the first time I will vote for his party.” She added that in the past she had always voted for Islamic-based parties because she was impressed with their commitment to create a clean government.

“But it has been proven that religious parties can also do wrong and be involved in corruption,” she said. Many of the candidates invested their life savings, in some cases offering up their homes and property, for their campaigns. Because the stakes are high for so many, some hospitals brought in extra staff and opened special rooms for treatment in case losers needed counseling for depression or stress.

Despite fresh excitement and energy surrounding Widodo’s presidential bid that is expected to bring out new voters, getting people to the polls remains a challenge in a country plagued by cronyism and rampant graft that continues to blight high-ranking members of political parties.

Exit polls — generally considered reliable indicators of winners — were expected after voting closed Wednesday afternoon. Official results will be announced May 9.

April 05, 2014

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Doni Wilson, a 38-year-old Jakarta taxi driver, has voted only once in his life and swore he’d never do it again after feeling a huge letdown by Indonesia’s current president.

But he’s changed his mind after being gripped by a fever that has energized many previous non-voters to head to the polls Wednesday and cast their ballots in legislative elections, mainly to try to boost the chances for the country’s most popular politician to become president.

Jakarta Gov. Joko Widodo, known affectionately as Jokowi, has attracted legions of supporters, especially among the young, igniting the same type of hunger for change that galvanized many previously apathetic American voters to turn out for Barack Obama in 2008. The soft-spoken former furniture producer wears simple button-down shirts with no tie or jacket and has developed a reputation of getting up close and personal with the capital’s poor, from wading into floodwaters to visiting slums.

Many consider Widodo a shoo-in for the presidency — he was leading opinion polls months before his nomination was announced in March — but his Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle first needs to win 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives for him to enter the presidential race. Otherwise, a coalition must be formed with one or more parties to put candidates forward for the July 9 election.

“His presence has brought fresh air and new hope for a better Indonesia,” Wilson said. “I will vote for him because he is a good leader and we have to support him.” About 200,000 candidates will compete for more than 19,000 slots in Wednesday’s elections. In addition to voting for the House, Indonesians will also elect a regional representative council that advises the government and local legislative councils.

It’s a huge feat for a vast archipelago of 17,000 islands that became a democracy only 15 years ago after holding its first free elections following three decades of brutal dictatorship that ended when strongman Suharto was overthrown in 1998. Indonesia, home to more than 240 million people, is the world’s most populous Muslim nation and the third-largest democracy after India and the United States.

But even though this year marks only the fourth time Indonesians have had the opportunity to pick their leaders, encouraging voters to visit the polls remains a challenge amid cronyism, money laundering and rampant corruption scandals ensnaring even politicians once largely believed to be clean.

Analysts say getting young people excited about the election is an even bigger challenge, especially with Twitter and Facebook exploding with negative comments about candidates in one of the world’s biggest users of social media.

Of the 53 million to 60 million young voters, about half are considered golput, or abstainers, said Election Supervisory Committee member Nasrullah, who like many Indonesians uses one name. But Widodo’s down-to-earth approach as an outsider who’s not connected to old-school politics has attracted a storm of attention. Many young voters are perceived to be drawn to this so-called Jokowi effect, which could drive voter participation up 5 percent in the legislative elections, said Ikrar Nusabhakti, a political analyst from the Indonesian Science Institute, adding that overall turnout is expected to be as high as 80 percent. It was 71 percent in 2009 elections.

“He is a fresh face among the well-worn politicians, businessmen and controversial military men in public positions,” Nusabhakti said. “He offers a distinct appeal to the common man on the street and is also known for championing small people’s rights. … No wonder so many people are keen to support him.”

Jokowi’s campaign rallies have drawn thousands of flag-waving supporters wearing red shirts with large bull’s heads, his party’s symbol, though the candidate has appeared more comfortable making impromptu visits to markets and neglected areas of the country.

As mayor of the central Java city of Solo from 2005 to 2012, Widodo turned the city into a regional center for arts and culture that attracted foreign tourists, while instituting reforms to fight corruption. He won re-election with 90 percent of the vote in 2010.

Since taking over as governor of Jakarta, he has raised the minimum wage in the city by 40 percent, to around $230 a month, rolled out a new health insurance program, expanded free schooling for the poor and started construction on a long-awaited subway line.

Widodo’s party, chaired by former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of founding President Sukarno, has topped most opinion polls for months as the most electable. His name was formally tossed into the running on March 14.

The latest survey by the Center for Strategic and International Studies showed the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle — which ranked third after the ruling Democratic Party and the Golkar Party in 2009 elections — currently leading the pack.

The face-to-face survey of 1,200 respondents across 33 provinces from March 7 to 17 forecast Widodo’s party winning 20.1 percent of the popular vote, trailed by Golkar with 15.8 percent and the Great Indonesia Movement “Gerindra” Party with 11.3 percent.

It also found that Widodo held a big lead as a presidential hopeful and would win 31.8 percent of the vote if the election were held today. The next contenders were Prabowo Subianto of the Gerindra Party, who had 14.3 percent, and Wiranto of the Hanura Party, with 10.3 percent, both of whom are former military generals with more political experience than Widodo. The margin of error was plus-or-minus 2.8 percent.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, and his party has been rocked by a number of high-profile corruption scandals. The 12 parties competing nationally in the upcoming elections comprise either secular nationalists — such as Golkar and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle — or moderate parties loosely based on Islam.

Public opinion polls have indicated that no party will win an outright majority in the legislature, and parties are likely to enter an intense period of coalition building ahead of the presidential election.

Although nearly 90 percent of Indonesia, or 210 million people, are Muslim, there are no fundamentalist parties. There also are no left-wing groupings, and the once-formidable Indonesian Communist Party — which Suharto’s U.S.-backed dictatorship decimated in the 1960s — remains banned.

With so many parties running, new voters are being courted. Nearly 22 million Indonesians will vote for the first time this year, out of 187 million registered voters, according to the General Election Commission. And not all of them are decided.

“I want to vote for the first time,” Anneke Carolina, 18, said while hanging out at a Jakarta mall with friends. “But I’m still confused. I don’t know anything about the candidates, and no party has a good reputation.”

Sarah el-Sirgany

August 14, 2014

CAIRO — Nour was 17 when he heard about the death of his teacher and nine friends in the span of few hours. He was at Rabia al-Adawiya Square on Aug. 14, 2013. “Seeing brains pouring out of people’s heads had become the norm for us that day,” he said. His account of the day is as disjointed as it is gory. It was like “a sea of blood. We stepped on the body parts of dead people.”

More than 1,000 were killed that day during simultaneous crackdowns on two sit-ins supporting ousted president Mohammed Morsi. At least 817 were killed in the eastern Cairo encampment of Rabia Square, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report that described it as “one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history.”

“We used to hear the buzzing sound [of bullets] around us, worse than any video game or action film,” Nour said.

Saved on his phone are pictures of his friends and his mentor Ahmed Ammar dying. The name also adorns a poster over his bed. According to testimonies collected by HRW, Ammar was killed by four bullets to the chest.

The high school student wants to make sure he doesn’t forget that day.

Before he left for Doha with his family in January, he was a regular at street marches. A four-fingered hand — Rabia is the name of a historical, reverend woman, but also means four — became the symbol of the massacre. It was flashed in victims’ funerals in August and quickly became a logo carried alongside Morsi’s posters.

“In the Rabia sit-in, the main demand was the return of legitimacy and the reinstatement of Morsi. After the dispersal, this demand remained for a while, but then the blood increased,” said 18-year-old Ahmed, who remains active in street demonstrations that have seen a dip in numbers over the past months. He agrees with some protest leaders that Morsi’s name should be avoided to attract sympathizers.

There are different viewpoints about political demands, but blood is the one goal everyone is united behind, he explained.

Neither Nour nor Ahmed has an idea of how justice can be achieved. A regime change is key in their loosely constructed scenarios of retribution. “The new regime has to be Islamist,” Ahmed said. Prosecuting or investigating those deemed responsible for the crackdown would require their removal from office.

The HRW report argues that Rabia wasn’t a mere case of disproportionate and indiscriminate force, but a planned operation against political opponents, ordered and approved by the current president and then-Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim among other officials. Ibrahim said in an Aug. 31 interview the ministry anticipated about 2,000 fatalities.

Both men, especially Sisi, are regarded by many as heroes who saved Egypt from the Muslim Brotherhood.

A political resolution was needed first before justice could be achieved, argued Karim Ennarah, a researcher of transitional justice and security sector reform who documented the Rabia massacre and the communal fighting before it.

“We are not post- anything. We are not in a democratic transition. We live in a conflict. … We need political resolution to end the conflict,” he said.

The intertwining of political demands with calls for retribution, however, impedes the momentum that a massacre of this magnitude could have gathered, especially among part of Morsi’s opposition.

Noha, a 34-year-old designer, lost her 32-year-old brother and 23-year-old cousin. Both were gunned down in Rabia on Aug. 14. They were critics of Morsi, but against the military coup that ousted him and the deadly crackdowns on his supporters that preceded Aug. 14. Her brother was against the sectarian discourse promoted in Rabia. Her family refused to give the Muslim Brotherhood permission to use their pictures in banners commemorating victims. She refuses to join any of the marches despite expressing respect for protesters’ courage.

“I won’t go carry Morsi’s picture,” she said.

She spent many sleepless nights thinking of the blank box in her brother’s death certificate. Morgue employees who played pro-army songs on loop as families processed the bodies of their loved ones refused to write the cause of death.

She wants at least to know the names of the killers, but like others she has no confidence in the judicial system, a sentiment echoed by rights groups who see the judiciary and the prosecution as largely biased and politicized.

“People ask me if I had done the legal work. Who am I going to ask for justice from? The people who have killed and continue to kill?” she said.

In an interview last week, Interior Ministry spokesman Hany Abdel Latif said Aug. 14 will commemorate 114 policemen killed “in their battle against the terrorism of the Muslim Brotherhood in the dispersal of the Rabia and Nahda sit-ins.” He said 64 policemen were killed on that day. An earlier forensic report said only eight officers were killed in Rabia. The rest were killed in retaliatory attacks by Morsi supporters on 180 police buildings and 22 churches across the country.

HRW alleges that police officers were given guarantees they would not be prosecuted and were later awarded with bonuses. A monument for their efforts was erected at the square.

The government has dismissed the HRW report as “biased and negative.” It said that it ignored that an officer was the first to die on Aug. 14 — an issue addressed in the report.

Member of the Anti-coup Alliance Hamza Sarawy notes a “horrifying” transformation in ideology among youth languishing in prison. The Islamic State doesn’t have to come to Egypt, its ideology will find rife soil here, he said.

As the Rabia anniversary approached, the government warned of anticipated terrorist attacks, signaling a spate of ongoing violence that precludes any political solutions. Data collated by Ennarah indicate that 207 police personnel were killed in the second half of 2013, as opposed to 45 in the first half, and at least 122 were killed in 2014. On the other side, activists ridicule political initiatives calling for reconciliation as the death toll from subsequent clashes and crackdowns exceed 3,000, according to Wikithawra.

The violence hasn’t abated since Aug. 14, 2013, although its frequency and impact fluctuated from massive explosions damaging security directorates to ineffective IEDs. Extremist groups have occasionally referred to the treatment of pro-Morsi supporters by the police as justification for their targeting of security forces.

Individuals interviewed for this report said they understand why others are resorting to violence although they wouldn’t partake in such actions.

“If I were a different person I’d find a terrorist organization to join,” Noha said. Her only vindication would be the prosecution and execution of Sisi and Ibrahim.

The HRW report called for the UN to investigate what’s likely to be a crime against humanity. “The message sent so far is that Egypt can get away with mass murder. That is a disastrous message to try to build a genuine democracy,” said Kenneth Roth, HRW executive director. Justice is needed “for the sake of victims of yesterday and of possibly tomorrow.”

Source: al-Monitor.