Attack on Angolan activists augurs badly for new elections

Angola’s president today announced national parliamentary elections for August 31, but a vicious attack on pro-democracy activists (left) by pro-government thugs suggests that the poll is unlikely to be free or fair.

“In 2010, Angola’s parliament changed the constitution so that parliament, not the people, would elect the president,” AP reports. “Critics had said giving parliament such power will only further entrench President Eduardo Dos Santos, who has been in power since 1979. Dos Santos says the method others in the region use to pick presidents is more efficient and less costly.”

Africa’s longest-serving ruler after Equatorial Guinea’s dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Dos Santos “has yet to disclose whether he will lead his party in the election, but is widely expected to do so after saying last year that he was ready for any mission which the party gave him,” Reuters reports. “His administration has long been accused of clamping down on dissent, disregarding human rights and doing little to fight widespread graft and poverty in Africa’s largest crude producer after Nigeria.”

A 15-strong pro-government militia gang has violently attacked young pro-democracy activists who coordinated protests against President José Eduardo dos Santos, writes Rafael Marques de Morais (right). The youths have held regular demonstrations since March 2011, protesting Dos Santos’ 32 year rule:

Shortly after 10pm on Tuesday night the attackers, armed with pistols, machetes and iron bars,  burst into the home of rap artist Casimiro Carbono in Luanda’s Nelito Soares neighborhood, where ten youths had gathered.

With pistols in their hands, the attackers violently beat Gaspar Luamba, Américo Vaz, Mbanza Hamza, Tukayano Rosalino, Alexandre Dias dos Santos, Jang Nómada, Massilon Chindombe, Mabiala Kianda, and Jeremias Manuel Augusto “Explosivo Mental”. Their host, Casimiro Carbono, avoided the attacks as he had gone outside a few moments earlier to take a telephone call.

Afonso Mayanda, known as “Mbanza Hamza”, 26, said the attackers carried out the attacks in a quick and businesslike manner as soon as the door was opened. “They beat me with an iron rod on the head and all over my body, and pointed pistols at us so we wouldn’t resist the beating,” he said. Mbanza Hama needed 12 stitches in his head, and suffered fractures to his skull and right arm.

Gaspar Luamba was also severely beaten on the head with an iron rod, needing eight stitches, and his arms were broken. One of the pro-government thugs also struck Jang Nómada on the head with an iron bar, severely injuring him in addition to the beating he received to his entire body.

The rapper Jeremias Manuel Augusto “Explosivo Mental”, 25, tried to fight off the blows aimed at his head, and ended up with swollen arms, a broken finger on his right hand, and bruises all over his body. Massilon Chindombe, who tried to hide in the bedroom, said one of the attackers pointed a pistol at him when he was trying to close the door. “We said we were calling the police, and he laughed and replied ‘what police?’”. Chindombe said they took the wounded to the Américo Boavida Hospital after the attack. “Luamba and Mbanza Hamza had lost a lot of blood and were semi-conscious.

Eyewitnesses said that when the militias were leaving the scene of the crime they fired three shots to disperse the neighbors who had begun to gather in the street, and drove away in Toyota Land Cruiser vehicles allegedly belonging to National Police officers.

Since Monday, the demonstration organizers have had the use of a bi-weekly program on the opposition station Rádio Despertar, where they have tried to promote freedom of expression and to talk about the protests. Carbono Casimiro said the activists who were attacked this week had gathered in order to “devise new strategies for our radio programmed and we were also discussing other problems to do with internal organization and projects”. Rádio Despertar has been broadcasting since 2006 in accordance with the terms of the peace agreement that allowed the former rebel movement UNITA to transform its Voz do Galo Negro (Vorgan) radio station into a commercial broadcaster. It is permitted to broadcast only in Luanda on FM, and its distinctly anti-regime editorial line has served to increase its listenership.

TPA broadcasts are carefully screened by the government and the reading of a statement by an unknown group boasting of having committed a crime would in no circumstances have been allowed without the approval of the authorities. Pro-government extremists are drawing inspiration from Arab fundamentalist organizations to spread terror.

Read the rest.

*Rafael Marques de Morais is a former Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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US-Russian Reset, Future of Burma, Delivering Change by 21st Century Diplomacy….

…. and other events listed below.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012. The National Conversation: Putin’s Return and the U.S.-Russian Reset.

Speakers: former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski; David Kramer, president, Freedom House; Nina Khrushcheva, professor, international affairs at The New School; Blair Ruble, director of the Kennan Institute and Comparative Urban Studies Project; Susan Glasser, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy. 12:30 p.m.

Venue: Woodrow Wilson Center, One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue:  NW, Sixth Floor, Auditorium, Washington, D.C. Further details: 202-691-4100.  RSVP

Wednesday, May 23, 2012.  Visions of Europe in an Election Year.

– 1:30 p.m.: Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon delivers keynote address on President Barack Obama and Europe – The Record So Far

– 2:45 p.m.: Panel discussion on European Visions of the Crisis

– 4:30 p.m.: Ellen Tauscher, vice chair of the Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council; Julie Finley, former U.S. permanent representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE); and Jonathan Laurence, nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, participate in a panel discussion on Differing American Visions of Europe.

Venue: Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, D.C. Further details: 202-797-6105, events@brookings.edu

Wednesday, May 23, 2012. – Democratization in the Caucasus: Elections in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.; Tom de Waal, senior associate at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Cory Welt, associate director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University; Christopher Walker, vice president for strategy and analysis at Freedom House; Stephen Nix, regional director for Eurasia at the International Republican Institute (IRI); and Anthony Bowyer, program manager for the Caucasus and Central Asia at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). 2 p.m.

Venue: The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), 2203 Rayburn House Office Building, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC. Further details: Shelly Han, 202-225-1901, shelly.han@mail.house.gov

Thursday, May 24, 2012. An Invisible World: The Lives of Slaves in Modern Asia.

Radio Free Asia holds a discussion and film screening. 6 p.m. Venue: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., NW, Fourth Floor, Washington, D.C.

Further details: Rohit Mahajan, 202-530-4976, mahajanr@rfa.org RSVP to rsvp@rfa.org

Thursday, May 24, 2012.  The Future of Burma and the Role of Women.

Speakers: Kelley Currie, senior fellow at the Project 2049 Institute; Myra Dahgaypaw, human rights activist and campaign coordinator at the U.S. Campaign for Burma; Robert Herman, vice president for regional programs at Freedom House; and Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Venue: Embassy of the Czech Republic, 3900 Spring of Freedom Street NW, Washington, D.C. 6:30 p.m. Further details: Jana Racova, 202-274-9108.  RSVP required to jana_racova@mzv.cz

Friday, May 25, 2012. America’s Role in the World

11:00am – 12:30pm. Speakers: Benjamin Wittes, Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, Brookings Institution; Edward-Isaac Dovere, Deputy White House Editor, POLITICO; Bruce Jones, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution; Homi Kharas, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, Global Economy and Development, Brookings Institution; Strobe Talbott, President, The Brookings Institution, Arms Control Initiative.

Despite America’s longstanding status as the world’s only superpower, rapid globalization and new global security threats have raised questions about America’s role in the international order. The U.S. must contend with the rise of strong economic actors like China and Brazil, while volatile regions like the Middle East and the Korean peninsula remain dependent on America’s international security presence. The next president will have to manage these dual realities while protecting American interests at home and abroad.

Register with host Location: Brookings Institution 1775 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, D.C. 20036. Website: http://webfeeds.brookings.edu/~r/Brook… 

Monday 28th May 2012. Delivering Change Effectively: The Obama Administration and 21st Century Diplomacy.
Speaker: Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University; Director of Policy Planning, US State Department 2009-2011.
President Obama ran on a ticket of change, but it was clear early on the Obama administration would not only seek to change the US’ political course but also its governing culture.  Obama’s campaign famously utilised the internet to an unprecedented extent and was the harbinger of an administration seeking to take fresh policy approaches to intractable problems set in the seemingly insurmountable structural constraints of international affairs.

By kind invitation of Baroness Neville Jones, The Henry Jackson Society is pleased to invite you to a discussion with Professor Anne Marie Slaughter.

Professor Slaughter was a key player in implementing the State Department’s new approach to Diplomacy under Secretary Clinton.  Co-chairing the Princeton Project on National Security, Professor Slaughter was instrumental in creating what became the blueprint for much of the Obama administration’s wider National Security thinking, before going on to become Director of Policy Planning at the State Department.  In her time at State, she shepherded and launched The First Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, a major statement of intent and implementation aiming to elevate the levers of civilian power in US external policies and apply them in a manner fit for a fast changing 21st Century international arena.

She will seek to illuminate the realities and challenges of governing effectively in the 21st Century, and share insights into her time in the Obama administration as well as her views on the work that remains to be done and the specific policy challenges the US faces in general.    1 – 2pm, Monday 28th May 2012. Committee Room 4a, House of Lords, London, SW1A 0AA To attend please RSVP to: chloe.petrich@henryjacksonsociety.org

 Thursday, May 31st. The Lady (view trailer above).

The Lady (trailer) is the extraordinary story of Burmese pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. The film documents the beginning of Suu Kyi’s political involvement, the subsequent years she spent under house arrest as a result, her peaceful quest against a violent regime, and the painful personal sacrifices she had to make for the hope of democracy.  The Lady is a story of devotion and human understanding set against a backdrop of political turmoil that continues today.

6:00 – 6:30 PM Networking Reception. 6:30 – 8:45 PM. Film Screening 8:45 – 9:30 PM  Discussion and Q&A. Discussants: Win Min, Vahu Development Institute, Voice of America; Ellen Bork, Foreign Policy Initiative. Venue: Navy War Memorial, Arleigh & Roberta Burke Theater, 701 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC. Click here to RSVP.

Speaker Biographies: Win Min is a senior research associate at the Vahu Development Institute and a journalist at the Voice of America. From 2004 to 2010, he was a lecturer for various Burmese programs at Chiang Mai University and for the Thai and Southeast Asian Studies Program at Payap University from 2007 to 2010 in Thailand. Prior to that, Mr. Min was a researcher at the Burma Fund from 2001 to 2005. Between 1988 and 2000, he was a student activist in Burma and a member of the All Burma Students Democratic Front. Ellen Bork is the director of Democracy and Human Rights at the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI). She came to FPI from Freedom House where she worked on projects assisting activists and dissidents around the world. She previously served as deputy director of the Project for the New American Century, a foreign policy think tank, an adviser to the Chairman of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, as the professional staff member for Asia and the Pacific at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and at the Bureau of Latin American Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Ms. Bork has been published in publications, including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and The Weekly Standard.

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Democratization in the Caucasus

This week’s attacks on diversity campaigners in Armenia, civil society calls for political integrity in Georgia and Eurovision song contest-linked campaigns to highlight rights abuses in Azerbaijan are highlighting the challenges to advancing human rights democracy in the Caucasus.

On his recent visit to the US, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili presented Georgia’s Rose Revolution as a test case for post-Soviet democratic transition.

“Despite all the shortcomings and mistakes we have made, we have created a new alternative model for governments in the post-Soviet space,” he said.

But his critics charge that political space is shrinking, as Saakashvili and his allies adopt increasingly illiberal practices to curb dissent.

“Countries in this region range from among the best to among the worst in the world with regard to respect for human rights,” says the recently released 2012 Freedom in the World survey from Freedom House.

“Most states in the non-Baltic former Soviet Union rank at or near the bottom of Freedom House’s ratings for political rights and civil liberties, while the democracies of Central Europe have established institutions that generally protect most fundamental rights, despite some recent backsliding.

In the rights watchdog’s Global Rankings for Media Freedom, the three South Caucasus states lag in the bottom half of the table. Georgia is ranked 110th place as ‘partly free’ alongside Bangladesh and Mauritania; ‘not free’ Armenia is 149th, while Azerbaijan is deemed not free in 172nd place, next to Russia and Zimbabwe.

Democratization in the Caucasus is the subject of this afternoon’s hearing by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) which will examine the elections in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Speakers include Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.; Thomas de Waal, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Cory Welt, associate director of George Washington University’s Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies; Christopher Walker, vice president for strategy and analysis at Freedom House; Stephen Nix, regional director for Eurasia at the International Republican Institute*; and Anthony Bowyer, program manager for the Caucasus and Central Asia at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.

2 p.m. 2203 Rayburn House Office Building, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC.

Further details: Shelly Han, 202-225-1901, shelly.han@mail.house.gov

*IRI is a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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Eurovision spotlights Azerbaijan’s ‘work in progress democracy’

Credit: Index on Censorship

Azerbaijan has detained leading pro-democracy activists in central Baku just days before the former Soviet republic comes under the global spotlight for hosting the Eurovision song contest.

“Azerbaijan sent an ominous message about the government’s commitment to fundamental freedoms as the police violently dispersed two peaceful protests,” Human Rights Watch said today. “Police rounded up dozens of peaceful demonstrators, forcing them onto buses and beating many of them in the process.”

The authoritarian regime has gone on a PR offensive following criticism from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and local democracy activists.

“Azerbaijan has also come under fire from some Western NGOs for its human-rights record and for the pace of democratic change,” but its democracy “remains a work in progress,” claims Elmar Mammadyarov, the country’s foreign minister.

“Each parliamentary and presidential election has been an improvement over its predecessor. Opposition newspapers can and do now criticize the government on a daily basis,” he writes in the Wall Street Journal.

“A survey conducted last year by Populus, the British polling company, showed that 70% of Azerbaijanis believe that their country has improved in terms of freedom and democracy over the last 15 years, while nearly 80% supported the general direction of policy.”

But local activists dispute the regime’s claims and plan to use the Eurovision contest to highlight the government’s poor rights record.

The song contest “must be yet another tool to promote Azerbaijan’s European integration, first of all through the improvement of the situation with human rights,” says Rasul Jafarov, of Sing for Democracy.

“Ever since the Azerbaijani duo Ell and Nikki walked away with the top prize at the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest, the country has been preparing to host this year’s homage to kitsch, tight shirts and sequins with a seriousness more befitting a G20 summit,” Courtney Weaver writes from Baku:

To the government, for nearly two decades the fiefdom of the late Heydar Aliev and now his son Ilham, Eurovision is a chance to push the Caspian country into the limelight and promote both tourism and its bid to host the 2020 summer Olympics… [But] local activists claim hundreds of Baku residents were removed from their homes illegally to make way for new construction projects, including the Eurovision concert hall.

“When else can we make noise? Eurovision is it – at no other time would anyone pay attention to us,” says Nurija Halikova, who was kicked out of her home in downtown Baku and given compensation that she says was no more than two-thirds the market price.

Afag Ismayilova, a doctor similarly forced out of her home earlier this year, says the president’s family “has palaces everywhere. And what do I have? I had one home that they destroyed, even though I had two court injunctions in my hand”.

The “Sing for Democracy” campaign is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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Islamists vs. ‘regime remnants’ in Egypt’s presidential face-off

As Egyptians prepare to vote in tomorrow’s presidential poll, the diversity of candidates disguises what is essentially a polarized set of options: vote for Islamists of ‘regime remnants.’

The poll will nevertheless represent the start of a significant new stage in Egypt’s troubled transition.

“Free and fair elections and the installation of a civilian president would be a step in the right direction,” said Samer S. Shehata, an Egypt expert from Georgetown University. “It will be the first step in the retreat, or hopefully the removal, of the military from executive power.”

Each of the leading candidates has established a niche, says Shadi Hamid, an analyst at the Brookings Doha Center. “Amr Moussa is the ‘Change but not too much change’ candidate. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh is the Change and ‘Let’s transcend partisan divisions’ candidate — the sort of Obama thing. Mohamed Morsi is the ‘We vote the Muslim Brotherhood’ candidate,’” he says. “And Ahmed Shafik — he’s the ‘Nostalgia for the old order candidate.’”

With many secular and even Christian voters flocking to former Muslim Brotherhood official Aboul Fotouh, his candidacy has become the Rorschach test of Egyptian politics, says Hamid.

“Whoever is elected, and who SCAF accepts [as president], will be made aware of the balance of power between the president, the army and its rulers,” said Amir Salem, a human rights lawyer and longtime activist. “The transition has not yet reached a point where the president can act as a strong, independent entity.”

The failure of secular liberals, including the media-hyped Facebook liberals, to field a credible candidate reflects a combination of political naivety, strategic myopia and lack of organizational capacity, observers suggest.

Some of the leading self-styled revolutionaries agree.  

“Before and after the revolution, we should have had a plan for what we would do after Mubarak left,” says Ahmed Maher, a founder of the April 6th movement that supported an outbreak of labor militancy in 2008, a precursor of the Jasmine Revolution three years later.

While the Islamists have sided with the military, supporting the crackdown on pro-democracy NGOs, for instance, Maher believes they are the lesser of two authoritarian evils.

“If there is Islamic rule in Egypt, we can protest, fight, quarrel, file lawsuits, stage demonstrations, but with army rule there is no room for negotiation,” he argues.

The popularity of the Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party has taken a dive since the party won 40 percent of seats in the new assembly. The performance of the Islamist-dominated parliament and the Brotherhood’s sectarian opportunism has led to a decline in support for the Brotherhood from 63% in February to 42% in April, while the group’s FJP also fell from 67% to 43% over the same period, according to a newly-released Gallup poll. The ultraconservative Salafists witnessed a similar – if less dramatic – decline from 37% to 25%, with the Salafist Nour Party falling from 40% to 30%.

With a recent poll placing Morsi in fourth place, there are two reasons why the Brotherhood’s candidate is trailing, says Khalil al-Anani, a senior fellow at Egypt’s al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

“First of all, he doesn’t have charismatic character, which can convince many Egyptians outside the Brotherhood,” he says. “Second thing, there is a sense among Egyptians that the Brotherhood seeks to dominate all the political institutions.”

Furthermore, Morsi is an organization man and will clearly follow the party line of what remains a highly opaque, disciplined, Leninist-type sect.  

“That’s one of the main weaknesses of him, that many people don’t believe that Morsi can act away from the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood,” says al-Anani.

The historically “reactive” Brotherhood has also struggled to make a strategic transition from the politics of protest to the prospect of power, says al-Anani, an expert on Islamist movements at the UK’s Durham University.

“It is a mistake to try to make the jump from a long-banned movement to the main political power in the country,” he argues. “This is a trap and the Brotherhood has been lured into it.”

Some sixteen months after Mubarak’s ouster, Egypt “is still struggling politically, economically, and in terms of security,” writes David Schenker, the Aufzien fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“The election, if credible, has the potential to some degree to help stabilize the state on these fronts. The key will be the process,” he contends:

Egyptians are going to be watching the voting process itself quite carefully. With dozens of American staffers of U.S.-based democracy promotion organizations still standing trial in Egypt in absentia, only a few foreign organizations — including just one U.S.-based organization, the Carter Center — plan to monitor the elections on the ground. As of May 16, however, credentials for these monitors still had not been issued by the Egyptian Higher Committee for Elections. Worse, the Carter Center has already been informed that it will not be allowed to observe any single polling station for more than thirty minutes.

The regime’s prosecution of US-based and US-funded pro-democracy NGOs has had a detrimental effect on civil society’s capacity to monitor the electoral process, say analysts.   

“Because of the whole NGO scandal and sort of the attack on foreign funding, this is going to be at a much smaller scale than it was for the parliamentary elections and than it should be,” said Michele Dunne,* an Egypt expert with the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Washington-based Atlantic Council. “There will be some monitoring going on. It’ll be small scale. And at the same time, the elections themselves will be much larger scale.” The scale of the poll could overwhelm monitors, she fears.

“The presidential election is even clearer and more exciting than the parliamentary elections were. So potentially, there are 52 million eligible voters, we could see 30 million or something like that turning out,” she explained.

Nevertheless, “wholesale fraud” is unlikely, writes Schenker:

Historically, that task has been the purview of the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior, an organization that is not at present working closely with the SCAF. Moreover, thousands of domestic Egyptian monitors are slated to observe the balloting. On Monday, for example, a campaign official working for Abdel Monem Abouel Fetouh told the Egyptian daily al-Yawm al-Saba that the candidate had “nearly 100,000 volunteers and registered representatives” to “follow up on irregularities” during the voting and spend the evening in the polling stations.

The presidential poll reveals Egyptians as falling into three main categories, Haitham Tabei a journalist at Asharq Al-Awsat, writes on EgyptSource:

 1) those who support the revolution or the Islamist current and whose views cannot be changed;

2) a smaller group affiliated with the former regime, who are equally steadfast in their beliefs; and

3) the most important group – those confused voters who have not yet made up their minds, and who determined the parliamentary elections in favor of the Islamists led by the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and Salafi Nour Party.  

Many Egyptians argue that the revolution has not improved their living conditions, but has only increased their misery in light of deteriorating security conditions and protests that no longer satisfy them, the anger against mass protests and demonstrations rose more and more after the killing of a soldier by gunfire in the clashes at Abbasiya. State media reports that the army discovered weapons among the protesters, this instability, chaos and insecurity situation has made many voters inclined to choose a candidate capable of restoring security and order in the Egyptian street, rather than the candidates associated with the revolution.  

The Parliament’s disappointing performance does not bode well for Islamists, who have failed to present solutions to problems of unemployment, low salaries, and inflation. In my conversations with Egyptians in the Delta region who voted in large numbers for the Brotherhood in the parliamentary elections, the perception that the Muslim Brotherhood aspires to control and monopolize all state authorities and institutions is now causing many voters to turn away from the Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Morsi.  

This trend is also pushing voters toward Shafiq and Moussa. The latter enjoys considerable support in the Egyptian street because of his strong stance against Israel during his tenure as Foreign Minister. Many believe that the SCAF is keeping Shafiq in the race despite his initial disqualification by the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC) to galvanize activists against Shafiq, and them more willing to accept Moussa as an alternative. But many activists here are fighting them both equally, and they believe that Moussa is only marginally better than Shafiq.  

In summary, the January uprising has plunged revolutionary forces into a final battle against the former regime, and it is a battle of survival that will determine the fate of the nation. But the war is not only against candidates of the former regime but also against stereotypes that control undecided voters’ perceptions of the revolution and Islamists, which pushed them to vote in favor of former regime candidates although only fifteen months have passed since the revolution.  

Read the rest on EgyptSource.

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