Egypt elect’s a president

It was an historic moment in Egypt. More one year after the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak, many Egyptians took part in free elections to choose their next president. Below is a sampling of my coverage for Al Jazeera English just before, during and after the elections.

In pictures: Egypt’s colourful campaign:

image: Matthew Cassel

In pictures: Aboul Fotouh rallies support:

image: Matthew Cassel

In pictures: Brotherhood mobilises for Morsi:

image: Matthew Cassel

In pictures: Sabahi tours Cairo:

image: Matthew Cassel

The faces of Egypt’s voters:

image: Matthew Cassel

In Pictures: Voting in the Nile Delta

image: Matthew Cassel

Egypt election results spark angry protests:

image: Matthew Cassel



Yes or No?

Na’am willa la?” (Yes or no?) A child shouted at a group of us covering today’s referendum in the Imbaba neighborhood of Cairo. I shouted back, “I dont know, what about you?” He laughed at the Arabic-speaking foreigner with a strange Egyptian accent and ran off with his friends.

Today, more than a month after Hosni Mubarak was forced from office, Egyptians from across the country cast their vote — yes or no — in a referendum on proposed constitutional amendments. The vote has been actively debated from TV stations to street corners. Traveling around the city the past few nights I’ve seen groups of people at Tahrir Square and other public areas standing in small groups debating the referendum. Anyone can join the debate, or, if you’re just passing by and want to hear some differing views, you can easily listen in. Democracy at work, and for the time being everyone is taking part. (Read the Guardian’s report on the referendum for more.)

Of all the various polling stations around town, it was important for me to go to the Imbaba neighborhood today. It’s in Imbaba where I witnessed intense street battles between the people and the police on 28 January. People fought for hours against police armed with tear-gas and other weaponry until the demonstrators forced the police to retreat before marching on to Tahrir Square where numerous other marches from around the city converged. Imbaba is considered one of Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods, and it’s a telling sign of just how inclusive this revolutionary process is to see working class Egyptians from all backgrounds taking part.

28 January 2011:

On 28 January, demonstrators take position atop a building in the Imbaba neighborhood of Cairo during fierce battles with the police. (image: matthew cassel)

19 March 2011:

People wait for hours to cast their vote while a street vendor gets his hookah started (image:matthew cassel)

A voter shows off his marked hand in Imbaba (image: matthew cassel)

A voter in Imababa (image: matthew cassel)

One sign on a vendor's truck says "yes" to the referendum, and a female employee holds another sign reading "no." (image: matthew cassel)

Iran updates

I’ve linked to this blog ( previously, but I must do so again. It has some of the best objective analysis and updates about happenings in Iran. It’s run by an Iranian-American friend of mine, Maryam Monalisa Gharavi who is collaborating with another Iranian-American currently in Tehran, Alireza Doostdar. The blog features “on the ground” reporting, as well as posts responding to the international media’s coverage of Iran.

Who is Mousavi?

Before the next person calls what’s happening in Iran a “revolution,” they should have to talk about who Mir-Hossein Mousavi is and what he stands for. They should also be able to compare and contrast his policies to those of Ahmadinejad. This is getting ridiculous. The world is calling it a revolution without knowing what it’s about!

Here is a very good post on the Mondoweiss blog written by an Iranian-Canadian that gives good background and responds to many of the points made by those accusing Ahmadinejad and co. of fraud.

On the Iranian Election Fraud Allegations

A friend asked me to write something up quickly on the Iranian elections for, so I quickly modified and extended my last blog post. You can also find an Arabic translation by clicking the link at the top right of the page on Meedan’s site.

This was written at 3am when I was also tweeting like a madman, so please mind the typos!

The Internet is going crazy over the happenings in Iran. The response to alleged election “rigging” is being called a “revolution” by everyone from right-wing Americans to left-wing Egyptians. Personally, I am not convinced that fraud did occur in these elections, and that’s not because I pretend to know or understand Iran’s electoral system or what happened when tens of millions of Iranians went to the polls on 12 June. I’m not convinced for one simple reason: If fraud was committed it would’ve had to have been on a massive scale, and voter fraud on a massive scale would mean that there must be at least a shred of evidence. Until now, there is absolutely none.

Everyone outside Iran needs to take a few deep breaths, chill out and get the facts straight before accusing one side or the other of foul play. Say what you will about Iranian “democracy,” Ahmedinijad could very well have been the legitimate winner in these elections, meaning the majority of Iranians voters chose him last week. What’s happening now involves a lot of mostly angry youth who are protesting in Tehran and it’s being reported in a few other places around the country. Before the world jumps behind their “revolution,” let’s discuss what we know.

A blog featuring the reporting of Iranian-American Alireza Doostdar in Tehran breaks down the numbers put out by the Iranian Interior Ministry. Now, one can argue that these numbers are not independent of the government and could therefore be rigged. But at least this does show what the government is reporting by district and explains how it could make sense. No one denies that Ahmedinijad has more support among Iran’s working class and also among those who are more religiously conservative. The protests now are happening in the upper-class north area of Tehran where people are upset by the election results as is clear in the numbers released by the interior ministry.

Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight blog also explains how the results make sense by providing statistical analysis of the elections.

Another important item that indicates there was no need for fraud is a poll conducted by a US non-profit weeks before the elections shows that Ahmedinijad has support at a margin of 2 to 1 just weeks before the elections. It also shows that before the elections Mousavi was not the most popular among Azeri voters even though he “emphasized his identity as an Azeri, the second-largest ethnic group in Iran after Persians, to woo Azeri voters.”

As US President Barack Obama admitted recently in Cairo, the west has interfered in Iranian affairs in the past when he made reference to the US/British-backed coup in 1953. That coup, which overthrew the democratic (and secular) government of Iran put into power the pro-American Shah. More than two decades later Iranians took to the streets en masse and overthrew the Shah in 1979, hence the Islamic Republic of Iran that exists today.

Now, more than 50 years after the coup, there are again powerful forces outside Iran working to see the elected government fall from power. Before citizens of the world also join a campaign against Ahmedinijad we should consider that if it does happen and it’s not the voice of the majority of Iranians calling for it, we can probably expect that the violent images circulating the web will be little compared to those that will follow.

What's up in Iran?

So, the internet is going crazy over the happenings in Iran. It’s being called a revolution by everyone from right-wing Americans to leftist Egyptian activists. Personally, I am not convinced that there was rigging going on, and that’s not because I pretend to know or understand Iran’s electoral system or what happened, but for the simple reason that if fraud was committed it would’ve had to have been on a massive scale. And voter fraud on a massive scale would mean that there must be at least a bit of evidence, which if there is, it has yet to surface. I will write more about this later, but I think everyone outside Iran needs to chill out and get straight on the facts before accusing one side or another of foul play. Say what you will about Iranian “democracy,” Ahmedinijad could very well have been the legitimate winner in these elections, meaning the majority of Iranians voters chose him. What’s happening now involves a lot of angry youth who are protesting in Tehran and I’ve heard in a few other places around the country. Before the world jumps behind their “revolution,” let’s get some facts straight. Here are a couple links attempting to do that (and just to make clear, I know the people working on the first site, and they are by no means Ahmedinijad supporters, the bottom blog is also run by someone who admits he does not like him)

LATEST: Full election results, by numbers

‘These account for a total of 16,565,964 votes. Of these, 9,194,832 belonged to Ahmadinejad (55.5%) and 6,734,204 to Mousavi (40.1%). The national total was 39,371,214, of which Ahmadinejad got 62.5% and Mousavi 33.9%.

‘This leads to the obvious point everyone already predicted: Ahmadinejad did significantly better in small towns and villages, and Mousavi did significantly worse. But Ahmadinejad didn’t do bad in the big cities either (more than 55%). There are some cities, as you’ll see below, where Mousavi was a lot closer to Ahmadinejad, or even beat him (as in the most glaring case, Tehran, and especially northern Tehran).

Statistical Report Purporting to Show Rigged Iranian Election Is Flawed

Like most Americans, there are few things I would like to see more than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s hateful President, to be voted out of office. Elections in thuggish, authoritarian states like Iran need be treated with the utmost skepticism and scrutiny. I can’t say I have any real degree of confidence in the official results, which showed Ahmadinejad winning with some 62 percent of the vote.

There is a statistical analysis making the rounds, however, which purports to show overwhelmingly persuasive evidence that the Iranian election was rigged. I do not find this evidence compelling.

Iran’s election results were reported by its Interior Ministry in six waves. The first wave covered about one-third of the total vote; there were then two relatively large waves that reported about 20 percent of the vote each, and then three smaller waves that reported the remainder of the vote. What other observers have found is that, over the course of the six waves, there is an extremely strong, linear relationship between the number of votes reported for Ahmadinejad and the number reported for his principal opponent, Mir Hussein Moussavi (who had declared victory before any results were officially announced):

Visit both these sites for detailed numbers and charts.

Uncle Fouad does not look happy

At the final rally for the Future Movement before the elections, I took the top image of current Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora and then turned around and moments later took the image of the young man looking to be the next PM Saad Hariri. Siniora was a long-time friend of Saad’s father, Rafiq Hariri.

Gallery on photoshelter.

Fouad Siniora (image: matthew cassel)
Fouad Siniora (image: matthew cassel)l

image: matthew cassel
Saad Hariri (image: matthew cassel)

Is Hizballah upset today?

There are some different rumors going around about Hizballah and the elections. I think most would agree that they are indeed not happy with the results. Many are actually placing the blame on Hizballah head Hassan Nasrallah for the loss after he called the two-day conflict that began on 7 May 2008 a “glorious day.” It’s hard to tell many people above ground in Beirut and elsewhere that 7 and 8 May 2008 were in fact glorious days. I saw how it affected friends who until that point had supported Hizballah, but after those two days felt completely different about the group. “I can’t believe they would turn their guns on the Lebanese” is what many told me. It didn’t matter that in their opinion March 14 leaders and the US had provoked the conflict. Once they saw Hizballah fighters alongside fighters from what they consider more thuggish groups like the Amal Movement and the SSNP on the streets of West Beirut they were immediately reminded of the horrific 15 years of civil war that ended in 1990.

A small number of people have suggested that Hizballah is happy with its place in a minority coalition and does not want the responsibility of governing the country in a majority coalition. This theory makes sense, except now the March 14 groups have been strengthened to continue their demand that the only armed force in Lebanon should be the Lebanese Army. Hizballah argues that they too would like to see this happen in the future, but that the army is currently not capable of defending Lebanon against a future Israeli attack. This issue will surely become a priority for the new government in the coming months. It will be important if Hizballah gets veto power or not in the new government so that they can dismiss attempts to ban their right to bear arms.