Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Letters from Egypt: Election Update & Procedures

Source: The Telegraph
This just in: Muslim Brotherhood winning in Egypt’s Parliamentary elections BUT hold on, guess who the source is? The Muslim Brotherhood (MB). How would the MB know that they’ve reportedly secured 40% of the vote when a) other governorates have yet to vote b) no official representative has released the results so far and c) run-offs for individual seats will take place later?

So please, for all of you posting articles touting these claims, remember to look at the initial source. The UK’s Telegraph reported that a member of the Egyptian Bloc said that in Cairo, one area that voted on Monday and Tuesday, had 40-50% of the votes going to the MB and 20-30% of the votes going to the Egyptian Bloc. Hmmmm…

The election is spread over six weeks encompassing three phases, followed by  run-off.

First, you need to understand how the voting works – which is absurdly confusing, but remember, it is the first “democratically-held” elections ever. There are some highly organized parts though. Like in the US, registered Egyptian voters are required to vote in a certain district. To find out which precinct a voter is registered, (s)he may call 140 to find out the exact location and voter registration number which allows voters to bypass the sometimes lengthy lists to find name and number and/or location.

There are two sheets of paper full of candidates representing the district. An appointed judge is only individual that is allowed to administer the ballots. Once the voter has given their registration number and is handed the ballot, (s)he marks their choices via a cubicle-type desk and then dips their finger in a special ink to seal. Once the polling station is closed for the evening, the judge uses red wax to lock down the votes with the military guarding throughout the night. This could be seen as suspect and easy for military personnel to stuff ballot boxes although military nor police are eligible to vote; however, keep in mind that it is the FIRST time for this procedure to take place.

The fear of the MB becoming the ruling party has my Facebook newsfeed full of pictures depicting a Saudi-type Cairo with women all wearing the full niqab. The stories from many Egyptians that I spoke to regarding voting said the process was lengthy, but without problems. As detailed in an earlier post, stories of buying votes for a particular party have been running rampant. I cannot confirm this, but I will say that I met up with a group of individuals Monday night at a café in Maadi and was pleasantly surprised.

One of the photos in my Facebook newsfeed depicting the change of women if the MB takes control
Most of my friends voted for the Free Egyptian party (symbol: eye), the most liberal party in the running. Then again, do you think many people that are very conservative necessarily associate with me? That being said, throughout the world, voters in a metropolis are known for being more liberal than those from smaller cities (New York state is known for voting primarily for Democrats while Mississippi is conservative voting mostly Republican) so I think that the majority of votes in Cairo and Alexandria can undoubtedly be expected to have a more liberal outcome than areas like those in the Suez governorate.

While accompanying a male Egyptian friend of mine at the café, I was introduced to the table that was composed of four men and two other females (a Christian and a veiled Muslim). After awhile talking about each person’s voting experience, many left to return home leaving my friend and I sitting around discussing everything. He told me, “The guy sitting by the female is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.” I was shocked. First of all, I was under this impression that all MBs were prejudice against women, particularly foreigners. While I didn’t have a complete conversation with him, he was seated next to the Christian woman and was extremely polite to me when I introduced myself. One of my other Egyptian friends informed me that he, too, had a good friend that was affiliated with the MB.

The modern MB is taking on a completely different look from what it used to be, possibly to acquire younger members. My friend said, “You would have no idea that my friend was a member of the MB, he’s completely normal without a beard, cultured and polite.” You might think this sounds ignorant, but I guarantee that many of you who have never met someone in the MB had the same preconceived notions I did (that doesn’t mean that I agree with their ideology by any means). I had another Egyptian friend tell me last night that while she didn’t agree with the MB, had to say that their spokesperson was attractive. Sounds to me like the MB had some classes on changing their image and are doing just that, even if their fundamental goals remain the same.

The main point is, so far the elections seem to be running smoothly, but that isn’t to discount the potential uprisings that could occur once the results are announced in January. The other point I want to make is that no one is able to give an approximate percentage of votes for a specific party at this time.

As my father always said: Believe nothing you hear and only half of what you see.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Letters from Egypt: Tales from Voting Precincts


Camera is dead, so this was taken via my mobile outside Victoria College in Maadi
As I was walking to Costa coffee this morning near the Grand Mall, I saw a line composed of all females wrapped around the corner from Victoria College with military personnel standing guard. Women lined up along the front, while men were kept in a different area in case tensions escalated and to combat harassment.

Voting stations are open from 8 am until 7 pm, but have been extended to 9 pm.  At the polling station off of Road 9 in Maadi, one voter told me he stayed for seven hours (his choices varied, but he did say he picked the party symbol, eye). He said, “It’s the first time for me to vote so it’s quite an experience for me.” The ballots are brought to each voting area via a judge, but the judge at this precinct was late. “We waited for the judge for three hours because he has all the documents and is in charge of opening the documents.” He continued to say that when he first arrived, shortly after 7 am, no staff was present eventually all arriving alongside the tardy judge. “Everyone had [the chance] to say his vote and it was really nice, but maybe this is only Maadi.” Please note that Maadi is considered one of the best areas in Cairo, and has the highest concentration of foreigners in addition to a more liberal viewpoint from locals residing in the area

One voter told me he had stood in line from 7:00 am to 9:30 am to mark his ballot (he picked the parties that were represented by the banana, eye and toothbrush). He noted that this time around was better than the referendum voting which took place in March. The referendum in March had many discrepancies, including one source telling me that while her illiterate mother with only a grammar school education had people in line telling her that a vote for no was a vote for the Christians. She voted yes to the referendum to avoid the 'Christian' outcome.

Today’s vote was more organized, but inside the polling stations suffered. However, it is important to note that in a country with a large population like Egypt that has been under dictator rule for over 30 years, complete organization is going to be a long way off. Standing in line took awhile so once inside, there are different lines for voting which were ambiguous according to my source. Many people would wait in the line they thought was correct only to be told they must relocate.

There have been rumors that voters were solicited with cash to cast their ballots in favor of a certain party. I cannot confirm this so I refuse to mention the party associated with this rumor, but I will say that this is to be expected: allegations toward certain political parties that continue to unnecessarily flood the rumor mill. If you can’t confirm it, no need in spreading it.

Another source of mine said he woke up late and is waiting to place his vote tomorrow at a precinct outside of Maadi. He will vote for the Free Egyptian party (Al-Masriyeen al-Ahrrar) which also seems to be a favorite based on its leader, Naguib Sawiris. Sawiris, a Coptic Christian, is a telecommunications mogul that has expressed that his party is open to everyone despite religious orientation. The party believes in a separation between religion and government, women's rights and overall equality. The party supports competitive bidding for government contracts, minimum wage and the expansion of microfinancing programs and implementing tax credits for Zakat and tithe to reward social cooperation (which I believe is similar to the US: allowing religious institutions to be exempt from paying taxes).

I will update this as I speak with others about their experiences from outside of Maadi, so make sure to check back periodically.

Letters from Egypt: How Illiterate Egypt Votes

Parliamentary elections started this morning in Cairo and other select governorates in Egypt with crowds swelling by the minute to cast their vote. I will update this blog throughout the day as I receive more stories from those who have gone to vote, but first I want to highlight campaign signs and parties/alliances.
If you are in Egypt, particularly Cairo and Alexandria, you will notice the campaign signs in abundance in all the squares (medans). Look closely and you will see symbols on each of them that include guitar, strawberry, eye, toothbrush, banana, etc. These symbols represent a particular party and help the high number of illiterate Egyptians vote via symbol association.

With a population of over 82 million people, one in every four Egyptians is illiterate and nearly 17 million adult Egyptians can neither read nor write according to 2010 government statistics.  There are several parties and alliances that have cropped up after the overthrow of long-time leader Hosni Mubarak. While this blog isn’t long enough to list all of those parties and alliances, you may go to Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to gain a more in depth look at Egypt and all its political glory. In the meantime, I am only going to list the main parties, symbols and alliances.

*Please note I’ve only highlighted main points, for a more detailed view please visit the Carnegie website and/or each party’s site*

Al Wafd (Delegation Party)
Symbol: Palm Tree
The Wafd party succeeded a once powerful organization disbanded by former president Nasser in 1952. The party has many stances in three areas: political, socio-economical and foreign policy. It would appear that the Wafd party has taken a US history book and molded its policies like imposing a two-term limit on presidency, enforcing a separation of power among three branches (the US has executive, legislative and judiciary branches) and also giving the parliament the right to accept or veto any bill without presidential approval. Other stances include a stop on monopolies, deregulating the banking industry and educational reform (although the step-by-step process is not defined, just like all contending parties).

Most of the Wafd’s foreign policy is directed at the US and Israel. The party claims it will respect all international agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israelis, but it will pressure Israel “through all means” to withdraw from occupied territories while rejecting the “US bias toward Israel”. In addition, the strategic alliance between the US and Egypt will remain strong but will be realigned, according to the party, to reflect a more “balance of interests.” Wafd also seeks to reappropriate the aid coming from the US, saying that currently the use of US aid to Egypt since the peace treaty of 1979 is only to serve the US and Israel. And lastly, it will force the US to announce a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Al Hurriyya wa al-‘Adala (Freedom and Justice Party)
Symbol: Scales
This party is the political faction of the Muslim Brotherhood, formed in May 2011, and is the top Islamist party in Egypt. With all the controversy and leeriness surrounding the group, it formed the Democratic Alliance with other liberal parties. It supports Sharia, or Islamic law, although it says that it supports a civil state not run by the military or a theocracy. This statement is contradictory as the party wishes to use Islamic law as a determinate to all legislation, which would indicate a theocratic government. The party does say it will support women’s rights by passing legislation that criminalizes favoritism towards men. Socio-economic policies include eliminating poverty, unemployment, fraud/corruption and monopolies; spreading and deepening the concepts and values of Islamic law throughout Egypt; and raising the standards of education and scientific research.

Unlike the Wafd party, the faction has strayed away from specifically naming the US in its foreign policy issues which include securing the sources of the Nile River. A colonial era treaty in 1959 gave Egypt 87% control over the Nile with the remaining 13% going to Sudan, and now controversy shrouds the pact as Ethiopia is forging ahead to build the Millennium Dam and a Nile Basin Initiative was signed excluding Egypt and Sudan. The Freedom and Justice party also seeks to confront the “aggressive and expansionist Zionist party” upholding peace treaties only IF passed by a referendum voted on by Egyptian citizens. It supports the Palestinian right to self-determination, including the right of return for all refugees (CIA World Factbook notes that in 2007, Egypt had 70,198 Palestinian refugees). And interestingly enough, the party wishes to have a public release of all national security documents after 25 years.

Al-Nour (Light Party)
Symbol: Lantern
The Nour party, which is one of the most Islamic parties, represents the conservative Islamic faction known as Salafi. It was a member of the Democratic Alliance, but left and founded the Islamist Alliance. It supports Islam as the country’s religion and also the implementation of Sharia, preserving fundamental rights and freedoms in correlation to the framework of Islamic law. Similar to the Wafd party, it supports a three-prong system including a separation of executive, legislative and judicial branches. The party supports the complete independence of al-Azhar from the government and restoring its prominent role throughout the Islamic world; however, it also supports religious freedom and personal status laws for non-Muslims.

For foreign policy, only two issues are outlined: funding foreign relations on mutual respect and equality and a greater role for Egypt in the Arab world as well as among Nile Basin countries – particularly Sudan.

While photos were hard to obtain via the party website, videos were abundant. In the video that I will attempt to embed (if not working, please click the You Tube hyperlink), the party describes what it will do if elected touching on the Islamic society, education and separation of al-Azhar (that is the best English translation I can provide, sorry my Arabic is limited). 

 
Other symbols for political parties include a briefcase, crocodile, fork, guitar, tennis racket, toothbrush, umbrella and many MANY more. As previously stated, this blog isn't long enough, you would lose interest and I've provided all the necessary links for further research at your discretion. While using symbols for illiterate individuals is nothing new in Egypt, I do find the exact symbols and overall concept interesting.

Next up: Tales from the Voting Precincts

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Letters from Egypt: AUC Professor’s Thoughts on Tahrir

Source: Happier Abroad
“I believe the army should rule for five years with a plan to integrate civil structure. During this period, there should be an educational mechanism to define the term democracy.”

Words spoken by a friend of mine, a professor at the American University in Cairo (AUC).  I met Samir* at a café last night and naturally the main topic of discussion was the escalation of events in Tahrir Square. Many of his students have taken to the Square to protest, jumping on the bandwagon according to him. However, there is another side too.

“Many believe in the revolution, but not the execution,” he said adding that some students that are committed to the protest have either been victimized or are taking up for fellow students. Samir is forced to continue going to the Katamaya campus as classes are still in session despite little to no attendance. Unfortunately, without students, he is left sitting in his office biding his time.

On November 20, a rumor circulated around AUC that a curfew was going to be implemented at 4 pm local time. This caused many to avoid the campus altogether; although Samir admits that any excuse to get out of class is common. I was a college student once, I remember that vividly. Thursday is a holiday (Thanksgiving) with Saturday meant to hold compensation classes; however, now that is cancelled. Monday was proclaimed another holiday in light of the elections, but everyone is now anticipating Sunday classes to be cancelled. Even if classes are not officially cancelled, the likelihood that students will attend is slim.

Samir’s idea about military rule with the integrated plan of civil rule is a good point. It would give the political parties time to properly organize their campaigns while a temporary constitution, mandated by the military, could be established. I am not suggesting that the military take full control with a working constitution set for a 30-year limit before review. I’m saying that the military could take control over the immediate constitutional reforms like term limits, political party stipulations and candidacy guidelines, establish a proper voting technique (the UN spent an estimated $400 million on state-of-the-art biometric IDs in Cote d’Ivoire) – all of which will help prepare for a proper voting system. While nothing will ever be 100% transparent, this would give time for methods to ensure accuracy and as much transparency possible to take place.  After the elections, then the new government would be in charge of creating a new constitution to reflect upon the ideals and goals among the Egyptian people.

The Egyptian military is a business venture already, so why not let them handle the economy for five years until civilian rule is implemented? The military’s exact assets are confidential, but estimates run at about 5-45% of Egypt’s total economy. Am I suggesting the military is honest? Not by any means, but the way I view it as of now and others may agree, there is not a viable leadership option for Egypt at this time. The country needs to regroup, figure out its ultimate goal, and one of the most important issues: establishing a step-by-step policy toward educational reform.

Many say that the military council has “prolonged the transition to democracy.”  And this goes back to the education – even for the university students. Others watch MTV Arabia which televises shows like “My Super Sweet 16” and instantly think that the US, which in their minds represents democracy, is full of 15 and 16-year olds all receiving a nice new Porsche and flying to Paris to get a dress for the million-dollar party. Little work and all money is the image that comes across, but that isn’t democracy. Some will tell you that democracy means to them freedom, mainly freedom to express themselves via media and the like. However, that’s not entirely true either. It’s one part, but there are many things that the US had to work for and continuously needs to work on. No country is without flaws and that includes the US.

One Egyptian friend of mine told me that one reason she liked the US was because we were allowed to be whatever we wanted. She said that in school here, people just tell you what you’re going to be; however, in the US if you decide you want to fly helicopters, you can make that dream a reality.

The important thing to note is that Egyptians are saying that the military has halted the country’s transition into democracy, but democracy can’t happen in six to 10 months. It has to evolve and the only way it can begin to evolve is to teach others the meaning. But Egypt needs to find its own meaning. You can’t take a system from another country and expect it to work for you, it needs to be modified to fit the needs and demands of those inside the country.

Samir added, “Running around like headless chickens throwing bricks isn’t the right way to establish democracy. If I went to a zoo, monkeys would behave better.”

*denotes name change to protect anonymity

Monday, November 21, 2011

Letters from Egypt: Women are Deficient in Intelligence

Muna Saleh is running in the parliamentary elections as a female Salafi candidate. Progressive? Not when you consider her statement regarding women in authoritarian positions: “Women are deficient in intelligence.”

Excellent. I certainly wish I could vote in the upcoming elections so I could cast my ballot for her immediately. I know that I want a woman in office that really gets it. She represents a bold movement and ideology that will continue the legacy of what is already prevalent in this society: suppression.

I received an email from a friend with this article from The Blaze that highlights Saleh’s viewpoint. She goes on to say that her bid for parliament is that it would allow her a ‘partial’ rather than full authority. She told al-Sharq al-Awsat that if she wins, she hopes to implement Sharia, or Islamic law, including cutting off the hands of thieves, preventing the mingling of men and women, and specifying black clothes for women and white clothes for men.

Is this a joke? I wonder if Saleh has thought about relocating to Saudi where all her dreams can come true.

However, there was a comment on this story that struck me:

Walkabout posted on November 18:
“If she got elected, served a few years, other women got elected & she sat thru several graft & corruption scandals involving men, I think her thinking would shift more to what we consider normal.”

Maybe that’s just what she needs.

Perhaps she has been holed up in her house for far too long, never mingling with the opposite sex other than her male family members. Certainly I find it appalling that she would make such statements, but if she doesn’t know any better, how could I chastise her thinking?

Cropped photo of Aliaa Elmahdy's nude picture in protest
However, while Saleh has presented a viewpoint that is seen by many as horrifying, there is the extreme opposite found in liberal Aliaa Elmahdy who has created a ruckus throughout the Arab world. Elmahdy posted a nude photo of herself on her Twitter in protest for “real freedom.” Many liberals feel that she has hurt their hopes for parliamentary control in the upcoming elections. Islamists are using her as a way to say, “See what happens when you don’t follow religion? See what happens when you’re influenced by the West?”

And if she didn’t incur enough threats and harassment in her home land for her controversial picture, 40 Israeli women took off their clothes to show support for Elmahdy. What will happen next? The connection to Israel will begin fueling rumors of Elmahdy’s ties to Israel, probably provoking the typical reason: “She is an Israeli spy.”

I thought that Elmahdy should have been more cautious in her presentation, given the fact that she is well aware of this society. Then I stumbled upon an interview with her in CNN and while I would never have the courage to post a nude photo of myself in show of my beliefs, I respect some of what she had to say in her interview.

She candidly discussed how she was uninterested in politics, but first joined the protests on May 27 because she “might be able to change the future of Egypt and refused to remain silent.” As many against her photo have accused her of being part of the April 6th Movement, an Egyptian political group that gained recognition during the revolution, she said that she’d made it clear that she was not part of the group. The group later released a statement saying that Elmahdy was not part of their organization because she was atheist and they do not accept such non-recognition of a higher power. She said, “Where is the democracy and liberalism they preach to the world? They only feed the public [what it] wants to hear for their [own] political ambitions.”

There is a point to her words which should let everyone know that the so-called liberal faction is just as intolerant as the Islamists.

On the taboo topic of sex, she said that most Egyptians are brought up thinking that sex is something bad. “Sex to the majority is simply a man using a woman with no communication between them and children are just part of an equation. To me, sex is an expression of respect, a passion for love that culminates into sex to please both sides.”

I felt her views on that were dead-on. Children are just a part of the equation, and I’ve seen it in so many unions here. However, what really struck me were her thoughts on women after the Arab Spring. She said, “I am not positive at all unless a social revolution erupts... The (sexism) against women in Egypt is unreal, but I am not going anywhere and will battle it 'til the end.”

I'm with you Aliaa, but please don't anticipate me stripping down - no one should that ;)

Letters from Egypt: A Different Vantage Point on Tahrir

It seems like a million years since I took this picture on February 11
Tahrir Square. Déjà vu.

Well, not entirely.

Many of you are looking at the images plastered across various news sites and television stations, and I’m sure most are horrified at the brutality being seen and wondering why.

However, perhaps some of you have forgotten and others are unaware of a couple of key elements.

Reason #1:
Obviously the slap on the wrist that has been in place since protests restarted on May 27 (the Day of Rage Part II) was ineffective. That is approximately 146 days of occupiers in one of Cairo’s most heavily congested areas. While I feel it safe to say that not all demonstrators are aggressive in their campaigns, that saying ‘one rotten apple’ is applicable in this case. *Please note the original total is 176, but 30 days have been subtracted as demonstrations were called to a halt in recognition of the Muslim holy month, Ramadan*

Violence rippled through Egypt’s Tahrir Square on November 19, a week shy of the country’s first Parliamentary elections after the toppling of the Hosni Mubarak regime. Protesting has included religious themes and the repeated calls for the resignations of key government officials which have included the former Interior Minister, former Finance Minister, and the Prime Minister Essam Sharaf. And now groups are calling for the resignation of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) field marshal Hussein Tantawi. Protestor Ahmed Hani told the AP, “The violence [November 19] shows us that Mubarak is still in power.” He continued, “We have a single demand: the Marshal must step down and be replaced by a civilian council.”

It feels like every Friday has the same familiar theme: *Government Official of Your Choice Here* Resign NOW!

There is another side to the story that media and the like seem to have conveniently forgotten.

Reason #2:
Many of the police seen in Tahrir now are new graduates. After February 11, many enrolled with the same hopes that carried out the revolution: to have a different life. In mid-May, 1,500 new police graduates entered into the workforce three months early to combat the security shortage and reflect a change in the system. Many that chose this career after the revolution hoping for change must fight the very people that were the reason for their career choice.

It hardly seems fair.

It’s easy to want to blame authoritarian figures, but I empathize with the young police and military. Many of these guys are barely 20-years old and from villages all around Egypt.

The issue lies in the anger that continues to flow through the veins of many protesting. Many see this as their potential time to shine – possibly being the poster child of the revolution like Khaled Mohamed Saeed (the Alexandrian man brutally beaten and killed by police). Yet if you were to ask individuals why they were angry, what exact change they wanted and the result from the change, you would get someone talking in circles yet still unable to give a clear viewpoint. Ask one of the university students occupying the Square their thoughts, the so-called ‘enlightened’ youth, and you begin questioning the education altogether.

As I was writing this blog, the above photo cropped up in my newsfeed with the statement "We are all Khaled Saeed"

My cab driver the other day previously worked as a driver for USAID. He began telling me how he was for the revolution originally because he never thought life could be worse than with Mubarak. Mohamed said that after Mubarak left office, USAID was forced to cut their budgets and he lost his job. Had he not had an old black and white cab which he was able to trade in for a newer white model, he wouldn’t have a job at all. He said, “I wanted Mubarak to leave, but now life is so bad. It isn’t safe. There’s no money. And no respect.”

Social media websites were a catalyst to the revolution, and continues to strengthen the Tahrir escapades. One Egyptian living near Tahrir Square used Facebook to post videos claiming that the police were aiming rubber bullets at civilians’ eyes and updates including the electricity in the Square being shut off around 4 am local time on November 20. While I’m sure some people were hit in the eyes, I don’t think that was the overall intention.

And many are growing tired of what they feel is an empty argument taking away from the original movement. Another Egyptian posted from Tahrir that many were angry because of a reported deal struck in accordance to the elections between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Muslim Brotherhood. The poster said, “…almost 75% of the people I saw do not know what’s going on.” The Egyptian said that the protesters were only looking to gain recognition and pretend they were apart of the original movement.

And with all this anger and accessible artillery/weapons, it is amazing that more violence hasn’t happened. Just remember that there are three sides to every story, as I’ve stated here numerous times: hers, his and the truth. Many media reports are only getting statements from protestors, and even if Tantawi and other government officials gave statements – trust will take years to regain after Mubarak. It’s easy to want to side with the underdog and especially when a nice media package appears showing a poor lonely soul looking to have what is rightfully his; however, there are wrongs being committed on the protesters’ side as well. Not everything is black and white.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Letters from Egypt: Maadi Thugs Use Stun Gun to Attack Females


Watch out for a dark blue Mitsubishi with three males around the age of 25-30-years-old who are now using a stun gun to attack.

Photo Source: youoffendmeyouoffendmyfamily.com
It’s no secret that crime rate has skyrocketed in Egypt post-revolution, but the petty thefts that were occurring seem to have taken a new, dangerous tone.

In the Maadi area around Sakanat, Mustafa Kamel and Road 13 there are three stories that are similar and confirmed, but last night a new twist was added.

There is a car with men patrolling this area looking for easy targets: women. The other day, a woman was standing near her friend’s home with her purse strapped across her shoulders when a car pulled up pretending to park. All of the sudden, the guys jumped out and pushed the female to the ground and attempted to take her purse. A group of drivers were nearby and came to the woman’s aid and the culprits immediately jumped in the car, unsuccessful in their attempt, and drove away. Escalation #1: The thugs saw the other men standing nearby and were not deterred.

It gets worse. Yesterday (November 15) a car with the same MO (although it could be a group of people committing the same actions with various cars) was scouting the same area. The car is a dark blue Mitsubishi with three males around the ages of 25-30 years old. The attack happened at 11 am, but the daylight bit with all the people on the street isn’t even the worst part. The worst part is that now a stun gun is being used. The female was attacked by a stun gun while the men attempted to get her in the car. Unsuccessful, they tried for her purse and ended up dragging her from Road 13 to Mustafa Kamel street. They did get her purse and she is currently in the hospital. My thoughts and prayers go out to her.

Another similar, but unsuccessful attempt was made on another woman in the same area.

The problem is that despite onlookers being present, the thugs seem to have no qualms about executing their actions. God only knows what would have happened to this poor woman should they have gotten her inside their car. The more worrisome aspect is how more violent behavior is being used.

This is one of the many problems post-revolution and it will only get worse as elections near. When many of you watched from afar the media reports, you saw stones being thrown and sticks being used as weapons. Now it is relatively easy to find artillery and the like. In fact, I’ve seen an AK-47 and hand grenades just lying about at a house. The EVEN MORE worrisome aspect is that people don’t know how to properly use this equipment which makes me fearful of the violence that could ensue during elections or in the likely event that the elections are delayed again, the out lash from various people.

Ladies, please begin keeping some weapon on you at all times. Even if you don’t believe in a weapon per se for fear it might be used against you, please have some self-defense gear ready and don’t expect the men on the street to come to your defense. It isn’t that they won’t, but don’t count on it. And if you can avoid it, do not walk alone.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Letters from Egypt: UPDATE on ESMA’s Financing

I’ve held off on this blog waiting for a response; however, I’m ready to tackle other issues so this is my update. If more information is provided, I will post later blogs. But for now…

Cleo was rescued and taken to Hurghada where she is on her way to recovery. Photo: Continental Rescue and Rehab
With all the responses to the blog questioning the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals (ESMA) and its donation allocation, I have conducted further research on its US fiscal sponsor Animal Diplomacy. I’ve already highlighted the discrepancies with Animal Diplomacy’s website, ie leaving out pertinent information including founder(s), date established, mission statement or even basic information as to its purpose.

You may look up Animal Diplomacy via a Google search and click on the second listing from PetFinder.com and you’ll find the organization’s creator, Kristen Stilt. The address listed is an apartment building and the phone number seemed to be that of a mobile after it was called. Stilt, an Associate Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law and an Associate Professor in the History Department, was named a Carnegie Scholar for her work on the constitutional establishment of Islam in Morocco, Egypt and Malaysia. She is the author of Islamic Law in Action: Authority, Discretion, and Everyday Experiences in Mamluk Egypt (Oxford University Press, 2011). I think that covers her relationship to Egypt/ESMA (all information found from Northwestern University).

I sent an email and Facebook message to Stilt on October 19 inquiring more information about Animal Diplomacy. I have yet to hear a response; however, given her background above – I think it’s completely understandable that she has her hands full.

So I went a step further and contacted the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to verify that the organization had tax exemption status, in addition to inquiring about financial statements. I also contacted a former employer of mine that is with one of the largest newspapers in Illinois – the state for which Animal Diplomacy has a registered address. My former employer directed me to Guidestar.com to check the current status of the organization. The organization was listed, but no information provided.

And then I heard back from the IRS director of tax exemption, Lois Lerner.

IRS records show that Animal Diplomacy has been exempt under section 501(c)(3) since June 11, 2009.  You can use the IRS website to see for yourself if an organization is exempt under section 501(c)(3) by checking Publication 78 at http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=96136,00.html.  You will notice midway down that page the number for our call site, 1-877-829-5500. They also can give you the latest information about an organization's exempt status. 

Like almost all exempt organizations, Animal Diplomacy has an annual filing requirement with the IRS.  If they fail to file the required return or notice for three consecutive years, their exemption will be automatically revoked.  You can learn more about that requirement and also check to see if an organization's exemption has been automatically revoked at http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=239696,00.html. Currently, Animal Diplomacy's exemption has not been automatically revoked. 

Section 501(c)(3) organizations are required to disclose certain information to the public, which includes some financial data.  You can learn more about what Animal Diplomacy is required to disclose to you at http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=135008,00.html.

I hope you find this information helpful.

Lois G. Lerner
Director of Exempt Organizations

In 2009, Animal Diplomacy claimed that donations were not above $25,000 – which means there are certain forms that do not have to be filled out for the IRS. The past two filings show that donations did not exceed over $50,000.

The information that Animal Diplomacy is required to provide to the general public include:
  • Exemption Application Form 1023/Form 1024
  • Copy of the organization’s annual return (including Form 990-T) for the years of operation

An email was sent on October 26 stating:

Dear Ms. Stilt,

Could you please provide Animal Diplomacy’s exemption application Form 1023/Form 1024 and a copy of the organization’s annual return (including Form 990-T) for the last three years? In addition, do you have a fact sheet or any document explaining the organization's work?

Kind Regards,

It is comforting to know that Stilt has gone through the proper channels as to ensuring the organization is legally registered in the US and I’m not so biased that I won’t report that. What you might find interesting to know is that all PayPal donations going through ESMA are supposed to be funneled through Animal Diplomacy first. This means that although Animal Diplomacy might be properly documenting its donations, to which all go to ESMA, it still leaves up to debate where ESMA is allocating the money and how the Egyptian organization is reporting its figures to Animal Diplomacy. Also, this leads back to the legislation passed in Egypt listed on the previous blog about donations from abroad. And lastly, the donations received in Egypt are usually cash. So are those going unrecorded?

UPDATE:

Stilt did respond to one query from another party saying:

Thank you for your email.  I normally only send such documents to foundations or donors, and the application form itself is not something that either is interested in.  If you are simply wanting to confirm AD’s charitable status, I am happy to provide the IRS EIN number, which is 26-2933425.  And, according to IRS requirements, I have only been obliged to date to file a 990 postcard.

The organization only has a very simple website at this point, but I do hope to improve that in the near future.  The group’s main purpose is to support animal shelters and welfare societies in the Middle East and Egypt in particular.

Please feel free to provide me with more information about your interests if you would like to discuss this further and I would be happy to do so.

Sincerely,
Kristen

Judge for yourself, but while given Stilt’s background, I’m going to throw my weight behind her legitimacy. However, that doesn’t negate my leeriness toward ESMA. It’s suspicious to say the least that an organization will be so evasive about such documentation, yet have no qualms about handing out insults. As with any argument, it’s wise to back up your claims with substantial, factual documentation. And to date, there hasn’t been anything.