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Egyptian Politics - Background

The Egyptian public is polarized between the secular, leftist and Christian opposition and the more numerous and better organized Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and its allies. The Muslim Brotherhood, President Mohamed Morsi's former party, supports the new constitution. Members of Egypt's liberal, secular and Christian opposition, however, fear it will erode civil liberties because it increases the role of Islamic law and does not mention women's rights. Egypt's judiciary, appointed by Mubarak, refused to accept the popularly elected government and has become the active center of opposition to it. Senior judges have angered the Islamists by annulling election laws and acquitting officials who served under the ousted president, Hosni Mubarak.

The greatest threat to domestic stability in Egypt results from popular frustration with the country's economic performance and lack of economic opportunity. Approximately one-fifth of Egypt's 80 million people live below the poverty line, despite a per capita GDP of almost $6,200 [2010 PPP estimate]. Officially, unemployment rates rose from 7.9 percent in 1999/2000 to 9.7 percent in 2010; independent estimates, however, place the real extent of unemployment at somewhere between twelve and twenty-five percent of the labor force. In 2010, the government spent more on infrastructure and public projects, and exports drove GDP growth to more than 5%, but GDP growth in 2011 is unlikely to bounce back to pre-global financial recession levels, when it stood at 7%. Despite the relatively high levels of economic growth over the past few years, living conditions for the average Egyptian remain poor.

The declared state of emergency [repealed on 31 May 2012] had been in place since 1981. The state of emergency allowed internal security services to renew periods of "administrative detention" indefinitely. Egyptian human rights organizations estimated in 2007 that 4,000 to 5,000 people remained in prolonged detention without charge under the law, though Minister of Interior Habib Al Adly stated that the total number of political prisoners and detainees does not exceed 1,800. There were varied and conflicting estimates of the number of "extraordinary detainees" (citizens held by the government, often without trial, for alleged political crimes). In 2006, credible domestic and international NGOs estimated that there were between 6,000 and 10,000 such detainees in addition to the prisoners in the ordinary criminal justice system. The government held detainees, including many MB activists, for several weeks to several months or longer, and did not permit international humanitarian organizations access to political prisoners.

In November 2011 the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) took many by surprise when it won 47 percent of seats in Egypt’s lower house of parliament. By early 2012 Muslim Brotherhood politicians dominated both houses of parliament, after initially pledging to contest a minority of seats, and the prospect of an executive branch under the group's control raised fears that the country had ousted one authoritarian government only to replace it with another.

Since the Muslim Brotherhood’s victory in Egypt’s first democratic elections in six decades, the once-banned Islamist group has been faced with the task of cleaning up the corruption and reversing the political repression that flourished under Mubarak. Progress has been slow, at best.

The country’s transition to democracy continued to be beset by political turmoil, as well as the breakdown of law and order and established social norms. This breakdown had the largest effect on society’s most vulnerable elements, including women and minorities, who often became the target of violent attacks. The most significant human rights problems during the year were: a) threats to women’s rights, with an increasingly challenging environment in which women faced assaults and sexual harassment and often were unable to assemble peacefully without male protection; b) failure to prosecute perpetrators of violence against religious minorities and in some cases to protect minorities from violence; and c) threats to freedom of speech, press, and association, as security forces assaulted, abused, and arrested journalists who sought to cover clashes between the military and protesters while the SCAF was in power. Courts convicted persons charged in private lawsuits with “insulting” religions, government figures, and the Prophet Muhammad, and “harming national unity.” A restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) law continued to hinder freedom of association.

The lower house that was elected at the end of 2011 was dissolved in mid-2012 after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the election of one third of its seats had been invalid because they should have been reserved for independents without overt party affiliation. The Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and ultra-conservative Salafi parties dominate the upper house; two-thirds of its seats were elected in early 2012, on a very low turnout, and the remaining one third of its members were appointed by Morsi, who sought to lessen the Islamist bias by selecting several notable liberals and Christians.

On 24 June 2012 Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi was declared the winner of Egypt's presidential run-off. Egypt's election commission announced that Morsi won nearly 52 percent of the vote, beating former prime minister and Mubarak-era official Ahmed Shafiq. The President is elected by absolute majority vote through a two-round system to serve a 6-year term. The Prime Minister is appointed by the president with the approval of the parliament.

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