Egyptian leader’s first visit to UK overshadowed by Plane Crash
President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi’s first official visit to the UK was met with a bitter welcome from scores of protestors who accuse the Egyptian leader of human rights violations. On Thursday Sisi met British Prime Minister David Cameron in his residence on Downing Street as protestors dressed in body bags and nooses blocked the entrance. The frosty protest was in response to what they believe is Egypt’s worst human rights crisis where hundreds of people have been killed and sentenced to death since President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown in 2013. Sisi led the military coup as he considered Morsi’s party, the Muslim Brotherhood, to be a terrorist organization.
The visit has been shifted from the human rights violations to talks dominated by last weekend’s Russian plane crash in Sinai on Saturday, killing all 224 people onboard. All British flights to and from the Sinai Peninsula have been grounded, leaving thousands of tourists stranded at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik. The British airline, Monarch, will be returning the tourists today. Germany’s Lufthansa Group and its subsidiary airlines, Eldelweiss and Eurowings, have cancelled flights to Sharm el-Sheikh while other airlines, including Emirates, Qatar and Air France, have stopped flying over Sinai. Russia has continued to fly its planes. This area relies heavily on tourism and the suspension of flights is predicted to seriously affect the already struggling economy.
Despite Russian and Egyptian officials dismissing reports that the plane crashed due to terrorism, Cameron has declared it was ‘more likely than not’ that a bomb caused the crash. US officials have echoed these speculations. Although no conclusions have been finalized, US officials told the Associated Press news agency that intercepted communications from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) planted an explosive device on the plane. ISIL has also claimed responsibly, citing Russia’s recent military intervention in Syria as the reason.
During yesterday’s meeting with Cameron, Sisi said Egypt was ready to cooperate with all investigations. ‘We understood their concern because they are really interested in the safety and security of their nationals,’ he said. Investigators are still analyzing the information from the flight data recorder.
Myanmar’s historic election lacks credibility
Myanmar’s first general elections will be underway on Sunday 8th November. The last national election was held 25 years ago in 1990. At the time, voters had showed considerable preference for the National League for Democracy, the opposition party led by Nobel Prize Laureate and democracy icon Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. The failed election resulted in two decades of military rule and her party is now running against representatives of the former military regime. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest for 15 years. This election will be a test of her popularity despite the Constitution stating that she is barred from presidency as Article 59, introduced in 2008, and thought to have been based on her, says that anyone married to a foreign citizen or whose children are foreigners cannot become president or vice president. Kyi has children with British passports.
Since a nominally civilian government was introduced in 2011, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) led by President Thein Sein has always been military aligned. It is widely hoped that if this nationwide vote runs freely and fairly, it will be a milestone to transform this authoritarian state into an open society that will eventually attract visitors and foreign investment. Donors including the EU, Japan and USA have donated millions of dollars in development programmes to turn this Southeast Asian country into a democracy. But political opponents and advocacy groups are already voicing their concerns.
The lead up to the campaign hasn’t been promising. Election campaign voter lists have been inaccurate. Many people have not been listed and dead people have been included. Embassies around the world are facing their own problems including insufficient ballot papers, understaffed offices, long queues and limited hours. Only 3000 of the 20 000 in Singapore were able to vote. The Union Election Commission (UEC) has denied intentionally disenfranchising voters despite accusations of corruption. David Mathieson from Human Rights Watch said, ‘People don’t trust the UEC. The UEC have done all they can to make people not trust them. They are seen as proxies of the military government and the regime.’
The chairman of the UEC, Tin Aye, is a former army general and Member of Parliament from the ruling USDP. Earlier in June 2015, he said, ‘As a chairman, I am not supposed to have attachment to the party … I have an attachment, but I don’t put it at the forefront of my mind … I want the USDP to win, but to win fairly… not by cheating.’
It is not just voters in foreign countries who are facing troubles – some minorities have been completely barred to vote including the Rohingya Muslim minority. They have been marked as non-citizens and therefore ineligible to vote, highlighting concerns from rights groups who say Buddhist nationalism runs strong amid anti-Muslim sentiments. Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized for not speaking out about this discrimination. Her party needs strong numbers, about two thirds, to gain power. The ruling USDP party only needs 10-15% of the available seats as 25% is allocated to the military.