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PortThe next morning we travel to the town of Altagracia. The election has arrived to Ometepe. With it, unseen divisions in Nicaragua start to emerge. People group around the two forms of the main political parties: the ruling Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) and the opposition Partito Liberal Constitucionalista (PLC). Deep lines, which normally subtly mark daily life, appear like fences constructed urgently overnight. Allegiances are strong,territory is marked and tension heightens. We walk around the main part of the town. On the other side of the central square, the election results have just been announced and the town is fighting over the four votes which won or lost the seat. The winners gloat, fly party flags and explode firecrackers.

“We won!“ says a man from the FSLN in the square, leaning too close and wiping the sweat from his face, as if even the risky thought of change came a little too close this time.

The losers demand a recount, claim that there was rigged voting, that it wasn’t fair, that not everyone got a chance. The crowds stir. Mothers mutter, the unemployed grumble, the opposition will seek redress. We wonder how many of them will be heard.

In the church in Altagracia they sweep the town’s dust into heavy piles which they beat out into the garden. We walk around the church, and make note of its calm white interior and the wooden pews lined up in careful harmony. In the garden a chicken pecks on the ground. A PA system lifts music from the central square where a small cluster of victors celebrate with Cumbia music, shaking black and red FSLN flags. They play their part in a political process which reaches beyond their shore to Managua where they rarely go; to a President’s hand that they will never shake. As we drive away from the church, the voices and music fade. For those in Managua, for those watching from abroad, those voices will be quieter still.

This is an extract from ‘Waves’ published in Kweli Journal. Do visit their site to read the whole essay.

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An article from BBC Media Action in Myanmar Making a World Debate Local which explores the view of ordinary people in Myanmar about the current changes in the country.

The changes over the past eight months in Myanmar seem to mostly manifest themselves in the form of new apartment blocks, shopping malls, extra cars of the roads and meetings about the change.

“What is really changing for ordinary people?”

This article discusses an event in the World Economic Forum where recordings by BBC Media Action researchers were put to members of the government, NLD and Mizzima.

Here is an extract from the article with some of those voices and those questions:

“If we work, then we eat”

….A motor-cycle taxi driver in Rangoon … said that Burma’s much celebrated economic transformation has had no positive effect yet on his own daily life.

“For people like us, there is no change,” he said. “No change because if we work today, then we eat today.”

The government representative on the panel was challenged by questions on issues of corruption, lack of investment in rural communities and energy supply. A day labourer, for example, asked,”Myanmar doesn’t get enough electricity so why do you sell [energy] to our neighbours? When will Myanmar get electricity?”

A woman who runs a flower stall in Htauk Kyat Market on the outskirts of Rangoon also took the chance to urge government ministers to find out what was really going on in the country.

“In order to help people who really suffer,” she said. “The country minister should come down, check and analyse every quarter (of the township). They should share the feeling of what is happening in the quarter.”

Manal El-Tibi the only Nubian member of the drafting Constitutional Committee, withdrew frustrated with a non-inclusive process in which certain parties dominated. Nubian requests were not included: for the right of return to their traditional lands, for the development of historical Nubia, and for the protection of a diverse Egypt, where Nubian history and
language would be taught in schools. Within the power struggles in Cairo, the Nubian voice blends with other rights demands, but in Aswan, the Nubian voice is impossible to ignore.

In Aswan Egypt’s ancient links to sub-Saharan Africa are clear. Alexandria collects the winds of Europe; Sinai hears the desert songs of Arabia; Cairo catches the breeze from the Maghreb. In Aswan, the Nile brings Africa tangible and buoyant into the middle of town. Africa is bold in Aswan. The Nile has travelled far to reach this point, it transports invisible burdens from the countries it has penetrated. It heaps Sudan into Lake Nasser, drops Ethiopia by the Aswan promenade; unleashes Uganda into the soil.

Read the full article in Guernica Magazine: The Capital of Nubia.

“Egypt: ‘Constitutional amendments amount to coup’

Tensions have soared in Egypt after the military dealt a number of blows to the democratic process in the form of court decisions and constitutional amendments. In a column on theallAfrica.com site, political analyst Catriona Knapman notes that the latest and most blatant of these is the Constitutional Declaration, issued on 17 June, which grants the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) legislative powers as well as greater control over the constitution-drafting process. ‘Lawyers and activists were left to grapple with the legality and implications of what many now describe as a coup d’état. The military made its first move on 13 June by issuing Decree No. 4991, which grants the military power to arrest civilians for an extensive list of crimes, including acts disrupting traffic and public protest. A coalition of human rights groups and activists described it as ‘a legal shield for army intervention in the daily life of Egyptians’.

The second move came on 14 June , two days before the final round of the presidential elections, as the Supreme Constitutional Court announced its verdict on two major decisions. The first concerned the Political Isolation Law whose goal is to deny political rights to persons associated with Mubarak’s former regime. The court declared the law unconstitutional, allowing Ahmed Shafiq, who was Hosni Mubarak’s interim Prime Minister in 2011, to run in the final round of the elections. As a candidate supported by SCAF, the political ramifications of the decision were inescapable.’ Knapman says the second decision claimed the parliamentary elections for the Lower House last year had been unconstitutional as party members had been allowed to contest the one third of seats reserved for independent candidates. ‘This thus called for parliament to be dissolved until fresh elections. Debate is still ongoing on whether or not there is now a functioning parliament. The Constitutional Court judgment declared that one third of parliamentarians were illegal, but doubt remains as to whether this requires the complete or partial dissolution of Parliament,’ she added.

 

“The formation of Egypt’s constituent assembly can be seen as an illustration of the many groups vying for representation within Egypt’s new democracy. Yet, the struggle to include women representatives within the assembly is demonstrative of the traditional power struggles which continue to be played out in the country.
Women’s groups are continuing to fight another battle in a long war, but it is apparent that they are just one party that has found itself excluded, and their fight is one in which many others are now joining. Yet, care must be taken so that public debate on women’s issues is not lost, if SCAF attempts to gain a tighter hold on the Constitution-drafting process.”
For full article see ACUS.

“This week’s events suggest that Egypt’s new democracy has not quite shaken off its old regime habits. Louisa Lovelock at Chatham House notes that “each case is ambiguous, but it is not the individual decisions, but the body of decisions which points towards an ideological trend”. This trend suggests a clear shape of military power, which the procedures of court rulings and Constitutional Declarations only thinly veil.”

For the full article see Think Africa Press.

Republished by Amandla NewsallAfrica and European Partnership for Democracy.

“After the official results were announced on May 28, revolutionary groups protested in Tahrir Square, contesting the results and particularly calling into question the success Shafik, who was nominated prime minister by Mubarak’s during the 2011 revolution. It is still early days for democracy in Egypt and for the grassroots revolutionary movements – credited as the catalysts for the revolution – just the start of a process to convert street activism into the political leverage needed to lay the foundations for a democratic culture.”

Read my full article on The Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East’s Egypt Source Blog.

It is the eve of the Presidential elections in Egypt. In some ways everything seems so quiet. There is not the flurry of campaigning which I expected. Indeed, campaigning is not very present across  Cairo. It seems to be concentrated in specific areas of the city. Many of the main candidates seem to also be focusing on towns and rural areas outside of the city, where they think there campaign will more easily be able to influence voters and have a bigger impact.

The campaigns make themselves felt in bursts throughout Cairo, a flyer thrust into hands outside of metro stations, a heated debate on a midnight metro between strangers, a group of youths tearing down posters in downtown, passing by coffee shops shouting: “No to Shafik!”

This seems to be a feature of the campaigns. They focus on ‘No’ to certain candidates rather than rally support around one. The 6th April Movement, made a concentrated effort to support boycotting candidates linked to the previous regime. (See Egypt Independent).

This brand new President will have a strong influence over Egypt’s future. Not just in the traditional way, will his political preferences determine national programme and law-making. In Egypt’s current context any President elected will incite reaction from civil society. His religious sway will decide relations with a predominately Islamist Parliament; his political sway will provoke the reactions of determined and strong groups of activists, and his support of the previous regime will assure (or not) willingness of the army to withdraw from power.

With this in mind, it seems that campaigning is not the place where activists and Egyptians are really fighting for their future. It seems this new democracy will be asserted in post-election activism, not pre-election campaigning. For now, Egypt is waiting.

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